Maltese comes to the west

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THIS BUSINESS HAS NOW CLOSED.
Cafe Verdala, 27 Talmage Street, Albion. Phone: 0403 576 373

In the years that Consider The Sauce has been running, I’ve come across quite a few people of Maltese background.

Invariably, I’ve always had the same question: Why aren’t there one or more Maltese eateries in the west?

I need ask that question no longer, as now there’s Cafe Verdala.

This eatery is located in the rooms of the Maltese Cultural Centre in Albion, sharing with other users a very big and stately brick building right by the railway tracks.

A version of Team CTS rocked up on opening day a month or so ago, but we made the immediate decision to return in a few weeks once things had calmed down a little.

It was crowded and very busy!

In the meantime, I made contact with Tony Busuttil, who is leading the crew running Cafe Verdala.

The upshot of an interesting conversation about this new enterprise was Consider The Sauce being invited to return for a complementary meal for review purposes (full disclosure below).

 

 

 

We return on the appointed Sunday – myself, Julian and Christine.

Even better – we have room for two readers.

I just love getting CTS readers involved in such things.

Hence on the day, we are joined by Catherine and Chris.

Fabulously, it turns out that Catherine is very much of Maltese extraction!

Huzzah! We have an expert at our table!

(Chris, her hubby, comes from a Cypriot family.)

The cafe’s long dining room is old-school cosy, with an extra room at the end.

This kind of community-based food and set-up are just the sort of things that get CTS truly excited!

 

 

We start with the tasting platter called platt Verdala ghal-tnejn ($22.50 for two).

This is simple, wholesome fare – Maltese bread (as being baked by Hellfire Bakehouse), broad-bean dip, capers, tuna, olives, caponata, olive oil, the dry Maltese crackers know as galetti and mini versions of the open pies known as qassatat (these ones filled with sausage).

The biggest surprise here is the tomato paste.

I’d heard and read about the seemingly miraculous Three Hills brand Kunserva tomato paste and how Maltese folks simply love it, as is, slathered on bread.

No wonder!

It really is good – in no way bitter, quite sweet and very yummy.

 

 

Alongside are two takes on the Maltese cheese gbejniet – one in a peppery mould form, the other baked.

It’s good and resembles any number of other hard cheeses from Europe and the Mediterranean.

 

 

If Kunserva can be seen as something of a Maltese national food, pastizzi are right up there, too.

Here they’re served, with a variety of fillings, alongside more, full-size qassatat.

Another adored Maltese food?

Rabbit!

We really enjoy the pork-and-rabbit pastizzi (bottom left).

(Heads up: In a few months’ time, Cafe Verdala will host a Saturday night feast celebration devoted entirely to rabbit. Except for the desserts … although you never know …)

 

 

We all go our own way with the main dishes, with enjoyable results.

Two of us relish the simple delights of these “ravjul” ($13.50) – another Maltese staple.

The ravioli are stuffed with a simple mix of seasoned ricotta and served with Kunserva cooked lightly with olive oil and (I think) garlic.

 

 

Maltese pizzas are called gozitan ftria – they’re a good deal deeper and heftier than their Italian cousins.

This one – tagged Mediterranean ($15) – has a potato base adorned with olives, capers, tomato, anchovies and basil.

 

 

This one – potato and ricotta ($15) – is even more substantial.

So deep, it should really be thought of as a bona fide pie.

My friends enjoy their pizzas.

But in both cases, and given all the rest of the food we are being so generously offered, about half of each pizza went home with their respective orderees, destined to be Monday work lunches.

These could easily feed two, especially when partnered with other selections from the menu.

 

 

From the specials board comes stuffat tal-qarnit – octopus stew ($21).

It’s an ultra-lusty outing, the octopus mixing it with potato pieces.

It’s too rich for my liking – maybe it’s the capers – but Chris enjoys it.

 

 

I’m almost dissuaded from trying the Maltese soft drink Kinnie when the word “chinotto” is used for comparison purposes.

But I really like it – it has a nice citrus tang that makes for a very favourable likeness with the bitter fruit soft drinks of Italian heritage.

 

 

Luckily, we’ve behaved like the pro eaters we all are – and thus have left room for some of the famed Maltese desserts.

On the left is the Maltese take on bread pudding – pudina tal-hobz ($6 per serve).

It’s firm, with a chocolate-and-cherry thing going on.

In the wire basket are imqaret – extremely fine deep-fried date slices ($6 for three).

At top centre is a big slice of the Maltese carnival cake called prinjolata. This special defies its pinkish colouring by tasting quite like a rich fruit cake or Christmas cake.

The ricotta-stuffed canoli are devine – in fact, all these treats are all so lovely that the date and sesame rings (top right, $1.50 each) barely get a look in!

 

 

So … Maltese food.

What was I expecting?

Is that what we have been served?

Well, my expectations – given this country’s food was almost entirely new to myself and (most) of the friends who have joined me – were nebulous at best.

I think I may have been expecting more of an African or Middle eastern influence, given Malta’s location in the Mediterranean.

But the true magic of Cafe Verdala – and as confirmed by Catherine and Tony – is that what is served here is Maltese home-cooking.

It’s the kind thing I find myself wistfully thinking of when, for example, I am eating otherwise enjoyable restaurant food of the Lebanese or Turkish varieties.

As Christine says: “It’s really homey, very casual – and it feels like someone’s Mum is in the kitchen!”

 

 

Some advice: Cafe Verdala is being professionally run by staff who are doing a great job. We found the service just fine. But it’s worth remembering that Cafe Verdala IS, in many ways, a community establishment. So some patience and good humour are the go.

Cafe Verdala is open, thus far, for breakfast and lunch on Sundays only.

There are EFTPOS facilities; bookings are advisable.

Check out the Cafe Verdala Facebook page here.

Thanks to everyone at Cafe Verdala for making our day.

Thanks to CTS regulars Christine and Julian once again.

And thanks to Catherine and Chris for joining us – we hope you will do so again!

(Consider The Sauce dined at the Cafe Verdala as guests of management. No money changed hands. Our food was a mix of items chosen by management and mains chosen by CTS and guests. Cafe Verdala management did not seek any editorial input into this story.)

 

St Albans Catering & Classic Cakes

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 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!

Small galletti.

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.