My girlfriend and I ate at Palazzo Santa Rosa last night, a long awaited treat after a hectic business trip to some of the less spectacular parts of Europe.
It was my first trip to the Restaurant, but since moving to Malta two years ago I’ve heard mumblings about the place. Chef Camilleri writes a monthly article style advert in the Air Malta in-flight magazine where his strong devotion to gastronomy comes across loud and clear. Actually if you read the most recent piece (Feb 2009) his arrogance towards customers that don’t share his highly refined palate also takes centre stage.
Indeed his use of the words ‘then don’t come to a place like Palazzo Santa Rosa’ towards someone whose culinary appreciation is, in Chef C’s opinion limited, really did draw a line in the sand for me. Either this man is a temperamental genius modelled after the Pierre-Whites of the kitchen world, or he has issues with pretentiousness.
Well we arrived slightly early and after working out how to enter the restaurant (the front door sticks and appeared to be locked to us) we were greeted warmly, given a choice of table and handed the menus.
The menus are very nicely done, printed on good quality card with differences in the copy depending on if you are male or female. Only the male menu carries pricing details which is a really nice touch and one which amused us both no end.
However, whilst I am no prude the use of the F word in one of the lengthy anecdote like descriptions of a dish was a little over the top. Whilst this is presented as the initial F then the required number of random symbols, it has no place on a menu in a restaurant which aspires to a Michelin star. I agree that a good steak shouldn’t be overcooked but frankly there is no need to swear about it to paying customers.
Perhaps Chef C really is a temperamental gastronomic genius, well we shall soon see.
Whilst we were looking over the menus and wine list we were offered a bread basket with a small bowl of olive oil which I understand they make on the premises from their home grown Olives. This was without doubt one of the finest olive oil’s I’ve ever tasted, if not the best. We asked for a refill once we had rapidly worked our way though the initial offering. I cant say enough good things about this wonderful olive oil.
I ordered a ravioli of Beef, Pork and Veal and a cut of milk fed Veal cooked Sous-Vide, a technique involving vacuum sealing ingredients and heating to a consistent temperature in a precisely controlled water bath. Sous-Vide is a technique championed by three star chefs such as Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal so I was very interested to see what Chef C could do.
My partner ordered Asparagus soup to start followed by a Vegetable Risotto (ah the joys of dating a vegetarian). To drink a bottle of 2000 Guado al Tasso was ordered. I did see a favourite of mine, the Tignanello on the wine list but sadly they only had the 2005 which is a disappointment after the superb 2001 and 2004 vintages, perhaps in a few years it will improve.
Sadly this is where the evening starts to disappoint. The wine remained in the bottle and a decanter was not in sight. The wine did greatly improve with aerating, slow as that process was whilst the wine remained in the bottle, but the slight sediment in the final glasses could have been avoided by using a decanter.
As we were enjoying the initial glass of this nice but not life changing wine the starters arrived. A small bowl of ravioli appeared, presentation was not overly clever but I was really looking forward to the dish. Sadly it was bland, the filling was overly dry and lacked anything specific in taste, even seasoning. The tomato and garlic sauce was nice but again had little wow factor. I was expecting something more spectacular after all I have read about Palazzo Santa Rosa.
My partner’s soup was pronounced as nice and that was as much as I delved into that. It is fair to say at this point that I began to suspect that a recent bout of flu had impacted my palate but it didn’t seem to affect my enjoyment of the olive oil or the wine so I have my doubts about that.
In due course the Veal arrived. My initial thoughts were that the presentation was dull (a lump of mashed potato with the Veal presented on top), accompanied by some well cooked but unimaginative vegetables (the obligatory carrot and broccoli combination, still they were very well cooked, nice and firm to the bite).
The Veal was also bland. Now Veal is a subtle meat to begin with, particularly when it is milk fed and cooked sous vide, which will not develop any charred notes from the meat. Saying that there should have been some taste, again there was very little. When you cook sous vide you have to be very careful with seasonings as if you used a conventional amount of say salt or garlic then those flavours would be overly present in the finished dish. I suspected that either the Chef had used too little or no seasoning at all (and also in the sauce) or that my palate was completely shot from my recent bout of the flu.
The tasteless dish began to turn on me, after all who would want to chew though mouthful after mouthful of insipid food. I left about half of the dish and turned my attention to desert.
Chef C had written about his Chocolate Fondant and Pistachio Ice cream dish in the most recent Air Malta in-flight magazine so I promptly ordered it along with a glass of a local desert wine. In short, the desert was superb, the flavour of the Pistachio’s came through with a beautiful closing milky creamy note. The Fondant was delightful, light with a pleasantly rich chocolate flavour (as you would expect).
It was this dish as well as the olive oil that make me wonder if my palate was fine and the starter and main course were indeed quite bland and not a product of my having had the flu recently.
I have read in one of Chef C’s in-flight articles (I spend a fair bit of time on good old Air-Malta) that he aspires to a Michelin Star and appears quite proud of the fact that his is the only restaurant in Malta to be reviewed by the guide.
In my limited experience of this restaurant I would say there is a ways to go before he could challenge for his first star. The food and presentation aren’t at the level yet. I ate at Marcus Wearing at the Berkley last month and if Chef C wants to cook in those circles then he has a lot to achieve (if indeed that is what he wants).
The presentation of the food was unimaginative and the food seemed bland. The wine could have really benefited from decanting. Finally, and this might seem like a petty issue, but if you want to install in your guests a sense of luxury, of being present in a temple to gastronomy, then a little more expenditure on quality crockery, glassware and flatware wouldn’t go amiss. The cafeteria style flatware and crockery didn’t help set the tone I believe the chef is aiming for.
Finally a word on pricing, I’ve read several reviews of Palazzo Santa Rosa where people complained about the price. I couldn’t disagree more. I didn’t pay particular attention to the cost of the dishes, however when the bill arrived, a tad under Two Hundred Euros I scanned the bill carefully as I honestly believed they had left the wine off the menu. This wasn’t the case and all of our order had been accounted for correctly. As far as I’m concerned the restaurant is very moderately priced and is certainly no more expensive than many of the other better quality restaurants in Malta.
To sum up, I believe that Palazzo Santa Rosa is over rated, however I’ll probably eat there again in case it was my palate that was jaded and not the food that was quite as bland as it seemed. I think I’ll try a lunch seating in Summer to really appreciate the setting in all its glory. Until then, I won’t be recommending it to any close friends any time soon.
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