valletta-restaurant07Where else – but in Malta of course!

Where else in Europe can you sit and lunch al fresco in an open-necked shirt or summer top, glorying in bright sunshine against a flawless blue sky and basking in a temperature of 21 degrees – in mid-December? Well, in Malta of course.

Originally constructed some 500 years ago as a strip of warehouses for sea-borne imports, Valletta’s Waterfront had deteriorated into a grim chain of dilapidated, crumbling building edifices ravaged by disuse and the malicious incursions of winds, rains and seas.

Some ten years back the government authorities embarked on an ambitious restoration and makeover programme using identical Maltese limestone, transforming the slums into a cruise liner terminal with ground-floor premises leased as restaurants, coffee shops and bars and the upper storeys leased as commercial offices.

valletta-restaurant02We chose Bistro 516 on the Waterfront as the location for our pre-Christmas seasonal lunch-bash and were favoured by a flawless almost-summery day and with no cruise liners in port, breathtaking views of Europe’s most magnificent Valletta Grand Harbour, a geo-physically natural harbour of deep water, sizeable length and width with a wealth of natural coves and inlets.

The view of the historical Three Cities – Vittoriosa, Cospicua, and Senglea and the smaller Kalkara Creek was simply magnificent with their clusters of yellow limestone houses topped by the paramount structures of their parish churches. And what history and what bloodshed when in 1565 the might of the Ottoman Empire was repelled by the imposing defences constructed by the Knights of Malta and the pluck of the Knights and the Maltese themselves in the Great Siege of Malta. It lasted for three months before the Turks finally withdrew on 8th September 1565. That however, is another story.

valletta-restaurant01Bistro 516 offers an expansive indoor eating area on two floors, comfortably handling 200 covers. Yet, why sit indoors when the sun shines? The al fresco area fronting the entrance comfortably sits 80 covers under a shady canopy easily converted into an enclosed tent if the weather plays up. The view across the harbour justifies the choice as we watch jet-ski water races across the harbour – in December!

The eating fare is typically Mediterranean with a distinct continental touch. The a-la-carte is extensive on a variety of starters and suitably tailored on main courses. I have always felt that the more extensive the main menu, the lesser the quality on the plate.

valletta-restaurant04It’s the Mediterranean and therefore underlines the principle local themes with a splendid array at the cold starter buffet that regularly includes octopus in garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, grilled aubergines, olives, capers, haricot beans tossed in olive oil and parsley, a mash of crushed sun-dried broad beans in garlic oil (known locally as “bigilla”) and the much-sought goats milk cheeselettes covered in black peppers.

My grilled Argentinean rump steak was generous and to-die-for, done perfectly to my rare desire, accompanied by a selection of grilled carrots and aubergine slices and – of course – with lashings of chips, real chips that is, fried potato chips and not the frozen chemical mish-mash sometimes served.

This cost 22 euros which also covers a chicken and broccoli cream soup or the much loved bruschetta. The wine list is extensive offering Maltese, Italian, French, Australian, South African and South American vineyards produce. A decent bottle of Italian Gavi nicely chilled listed at 16 euros.

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Desserts are not on my desire list and I generally miss out but could hardly skip a slice of Baci cake topped with rich dark chocolate slab!
With the richness of ambiance, the generosity of the weather and the satisfaction of the palate the afternoon was rounded off with steaming coffee (espresso, cappuccino etc) and the perfect finale that only an amaretto can offer.

 

About Albert Fenech

Born in 1946, Albert Fenech’s family took up UK residence in 1954 where he spent his boyhood and youth before temporarily returning to Malta between 1957 and 1959 and then coming back to Malta permanently in 1965. He spent eight years as a full-time journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking up a career in HR Management but still retained his roots by actively pursuing freelance journalism and broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel.