216a Main Road East, St Albans. Phone: 9366 6566
Why are there no Maltese restaurants in Melbourne?
Even the most cursory online sleuthing reveals a super cuisine tradition, one that is of the Mediterranean yet quite different from that of its many neighbours – colourful, rich, varied and no doubt delicious.
I once put that question to a Maltese staff member at Stephz Gourmet Deli.
Her reply went something along the lines of the Maltese community is not prone to getting behind and supporting such enterprises, unlike many other expatriate communities.
Charles Sciberras reckons there may be something in that.
With his brother Ron, Charles runs the family business in St Albans.
It was started, at premises in Sunshine, in 1964 by their parents Emanuel and Maryanne.
The brothers became full-time staffers in 1974, and in 1979 the business moved to its present premises in St Albans.
From the mid-’80s to about 1990, a restaurant next door was indeed part of the business.
East End Bistro morphed into East End Reception, and Charles is happy to concede that catering is where the heart of the enterprise continues to lie.
“I can do 400 set menus almost in my sleep,” he quips. “Doing 100 al la carte meals …”
Left profoundly unsaid are the extra stress levels.
Charles was born in Australia, but tells he is more fluent in Maltese than most members of his generation of Maltese descendants because of his ongoing relationship with so many Maltese customers.
While there are only minor Maltese components on the catering menus the company creates for its customers, Charles is nevertheless proud of its product, saying the paramount thing is that the food be “flavoursome”.
“There is nothing bland about our food,” he says.
These days the business is about 80 per cent catering and 20 per cent cakes and pastries.
While the Maltese influence may not be in-your-face in their homely shop, a little snooping around reveals gems that Charles is happy to explain.
They sell quite a wide range of frozen pastizzi, which are sourced elsewhere.
They likewise sell ravioli and qssatat, which look like large versions of crimp-topped yum cha dumplings, are prepared in the oven and contain ricotta, or peas and onions, or – at Lent – anchovies, peas and onions.
Honey ring (top) and mqaret (bottom).
Very yummy are the honey rings, which cost $4.50 and contain a crumbly spiced mixed that involves dates, almonds, citrus peels and spices, all encased in a thin pastry tube.
Even more yummy are the mqaret (date slices), which cost $4.50 for a bag of six. The filling is just about all date and the pastry is very similar to the pimpled, flaky, crunchy variety found in canoli. Yep, they’re deep-fried!
They’re like the date-filled biscuits familiar to many Australians, ‘cept a whole lot better. Charles tells me it’s common for them to be served warm after a spell in the oven. I reckon they’d be great with good vanilla ice cream or yogurt!
Also very Maltese are the galletti, which come in two sizes. They’re very dry, crunchy cracker-like affairs that Charles tells me are commonly eaten with Maltese cheese and wine.
The St Albans Catering & Classic Cakes website is here.