Malta Diary 2. It’s All Go at Rexy
Rexy Bar and Restaurant in Ghajnsielem, Gozo is totally unpretentious – probably the reason why it’s so good as a family-run concern offering a variety of Maltese-style cooking. Having said that, it is difficult to define what Maltese-style cooking actually is.
Let me be more specific. Malta and Gozo are very close to Sicily and Italy and inevitably the sumptuous and varied Latin cuisine from the nearby peninsula has over-spilled so that pasta, pizza, pastries and a variety of cheeses are day-to-day fare. But the Maltese palate also savours fresh rabbit fried in garlic and an optional tomato paste sauce, snails sautéed in garlic and olive oil, various meat stews with Maltese garlic and coriander flavoured sausage the most favoured, or indeed a steaming dish of fresh roast lamb with lashings of oven-baked potatoes. Minestrones and various soups and broths are favoured starters together with lasagne and timpana dishes.
Whatever your tastes, the islands cater for all with an overspill of Chinese, Indian, Turkish Kebab, Thai and continental cuisine restaurants and bistros and if your taste is fish ‘n chips or a Full English – they are widely available too.
But, back to Rexy in Ghajnsielem, very conveniently located in the Gozitan village of Ghajnsielem, an uphill five-minute drive away from the Mgarr ferry port, on the main road to the capital Victoria (also known as Rabat).
Convenient because it is open daily serving lunches and dinners, welcoming Maltese clients who drive to the newly-inaugurated Cirkewwa ferry port on the Malta side, board the 20-minute ferry boat ride and take a bus to Rexy – and back to Malta.
However, the mainstay clients are Gozitans and that speaks volumes as an endorsement to quality and price availability, equally appreciated by tourists.
There is no plush, resplendent interior. It’s very modern steel and aluminium rods, wood, glass and perspex – and spotless – but at the back of the restaurant the kitchen area is presided over by a stone-built wood-fired oven, the facility that produces such wonderful pizza and oven roasts.
The menu is extensive. If you’re not feeling adventurous you can stick to the main shrimp cocktail and fillet steak with chips and salad routine. However, to get the real feel of Malta and Gozo, go for the more substantial stuff, say hand-prepared ravioli stuffed with ricotta goat’s cheese topped with fresh tomato sauce crowned with bright green basil leaves, followed by a slice of lampuka pie.
The lampuka (also known as the Yellow Dolphin Fish, Dorado or Coryphaene) is an abundantly staple seasonal fish keeping Maltese fishermen frantically busy during a season which stretches from mid-July to late September and has great culinary versatility. It is most favoured fried or as a pie-filling but can also be baked, stewed, steamed or kneaded into fried fish balls. The ravioli/lampuka pie tandem works out at a reasonable 12 euros.
A variety of pizza toppings and pasta preparations are available from the plain Margherita to the more elaborate topping of tomato sauce, bacon, fried Maltese sausage, hard-boiled egg slices and onions! Pasta in all its forms is on offer whether plain spaghetti, macaroni, fusilli, fettuce or lasagne.
Ricotta pie is very traditional, a short-crust pastry pie or sleeve, filled with ricotta generously combined with Italian parsley and pepper corns.
The Maltese and Gozitans are substantial eaters and some of the dishes may be heavy on the stomach – so beware.
A typical Maltese meal consists of buffet starters such as bigilla (crushed, dried broad beans with olive oil, garlic and chilli peppers), black olives and gbejna cheeselettes followed by a generous plate of spaghetti topped with a tomato + rabbit sauce sprinkled with parmesan cheese and rounded off with pieces of fried rabbit and endless portions of chips. If you get through all that unscathed, a generous slice of Cassatella alla Siciliana or sweet ricotta tart topped with glazed cherries awaits.
Polish all this lot off with a bottle of wine and a few amarettos and all that remains is to catch the bus and boat-ride back to Malta in a Force Seven North Westerly ….