Mona's Meals | Sunday, 03 May 2009
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Sauce for the Goose

On Thursday April 16, 2009, Sir Clement Freud, wit, gambler, broadcaster, cook, bon-viveur, writer, MP – you name it, and if it was fun, he did it – died, aged a venerable 84. One of his infamous quotes which ended up splashed across the front page of the UK Times the next day, summed him up: “If you give up drinking, smoking, loving, you don’t live longer. It just seems longer.”
If there were any maxim I would want to live by, it would be his. Nevertheless, by current standards, we may all be turning into alcoholics. Ok, let me rephrase that: I think me, my friends, my workmates, and my acquaintances are all turning into straight up alcos. And it’s so much fun.
Take my Gay Best Friend, for example. Like one of the main characters in Sadie Jones’ The Outcast (brilliant book: you must buy it), the first thing he does as soon as he returns home after a hard day at work, and which, on average, ‘finishes’ at 8pm, is fix himself a cocktail. Or maybe two. It’s his wind-down moment with his best friend Vogue.
Once home from a long day at work, there’s nothing better than going into chill-out mode on the sofa with a glass in my hand and Facebook on my lap. It’s not about size, for once: an inch is enough. It’s the flavour I go for every time and not the alcoholic content. In fact, I would still drink it if it had none. Judging by everybody’s status updates around that time, we’re all at it: Chantelle is having a nice cabernet sauvignon; Moses is drinking some merlot. Soon it will be tasting notes, cherries and armpits.
I love a fabulous glass of red. I use a nice, appropriately-shaped minimalist crystal goblet, I swirl and sniff but never spit; it’s just not lady-like. I experiment with Sicilians, French and lately, Chileans. It doesn’t take much to please me either: the discovery of that de Rotschild Carmenere was the highlight of my past week. The French Poker Expert was as enthusiastic as me about it: let’s dash down and buy a couple of bottles he told me.
Fifteen minutes later he walked out of the shop with six boxes of wine, all fabulous in their own right. It was a Friday. “I’ll tell you how they were on Monday,” he enthused, looking forward to a weekend of drowning in a sea of red grape. “All of them?” I retorted, seriously worried but somehow comforted by the fact that he has an entire cellar in France.
The Writer and I dashed up to Sister Isle on Saturday night, taking a bottle of the Carmenere with us ‘just in case’. It spent five minutes in the car where we had forgotten it, then quickly found its way to Rotondo and Artista’s living room. Twenty minutes later and we had polished off the entire bottle, giving the term ‘taking the edge off’ a whole new samurai sword meaning.
Now in the UK, this kind of middle-class drinking which sees us downing an entire bottle of Gavi (each) at lunch has become another bête noir, one for which the English nanny state feels as if it has to invent rules, assign research about and dish out statistics. At Waitrose of an evening, the picking up of a few ingredients for dinner is always accompanied, these days, by the discovery of some New Zealander or Italian. Thank goodness that in the Mediterranean, drinking wine is normal: the fruit of our fields, the oil of our loins.
Slightly tipsy, Rotondo, The Writer and a slightly tipsy Artista and myself went to Il-Wileg for dinner. The wine had not touched Rotondo’s brain in any way and TW simply sips slowly, and therefore never gets drunk. A and I are the lightweights so we are never designated drivers.
The mark-ups on the wines at Il-Wileg are extremely decent. So much so that a bottle of Lebanese red, which R had espied at a Birgu ‘wine-bar’ priced at a stunning €60 was here for sale at €18. We polished it off.
R is a very quick eater. He had downed his French onion soup before we could even ask whether it was good or not. Shall we presume it was or that he’s a glutton? They had run out of ravioli stuffed with sheep cheese and nettle, which was very disappointing. They had tried them the previous two weeks as an experiment, it had worked, and they did not make more.
I had the torta tat-tarja bil-brungiel, angel hair pasta boiled then re-fried in a circular shape, accompanied by finely sliced aubergines. I found it pleasing and comforting. TW had the xekxuka with zucchini and tomatoes which he pronounced came to a lot more than the sum of its parts; I suspect this is because Il-Wileg use good produce to begin with, relying on terroir to dance the dance of flavour.
Artista had the supposed ‘risotto’ with cream of globe artichoke. It was swimming in stock. “I don’t think they used risotto rice,”’ she told me. Being the amazing food expert that I am, and humble to boot, I explained that they had but they had not let all the stock evaporate before they beat in the mantecatura. Later I presumed that they had also used a cheap Arborio and this had not absorbed the liquids well: a good grain takes the liquid like a weight-lifter then shoots it back into your mouth.
She and I both had the lamb, which is local and beautiful. Local lamb is artistic savagery on a dinner plate, the Damien Hirst of local cuisine; so be warned. Its meat is beautiful, tender and soft and this comes sitting on massive bits of bone. The tomato and pea sauce was a little over the top and equally savage. That is not to say it was bad: good home cooking is impolite.
TW had the sausages with cumin, of which there were three. A little too much really, but mostly, the odd thing was that they were dry, as if the good fat had all been taken out of the mince. Rotondo’s roast chicken was, from what I could see, terrific. Again, he polished the whole lot off in minutes. The accompanying roast potatoes were wonderful, hiding herbs from the fields in their pebbley surface.
We had eaten so much that we were not overtly enthusiastic about dessert. Only I tried one off the menu: the crème caramel with gulepp tal-harrub, the eggs in the custard of which were overcooked. R is low-carbing again, having put on kilos during Easter, so he asked for a fresh cheeselet with some fruits on the side. It was preferable to the boring and ubiquitous ‘home-made’ Gozitan ice-cream which these days is as far from home made as my Louboutin boots, although Il-Wileg are making a bit of an effort with their dessert list.
Home cooking out of the home, done very, very well. If we are going to eat out, it has to be that, these days; otherwise we stay in. Two local wine importers told me that they had both experienced a huge hike in retail sales and a slump in wholesale, including restaurant ones. This has affected the distribution and logistics no end. It has also meant that we have every excuse to stay home and imbibe that €137 Chateau Lafitte which I spied in a wine-shop cellar last week. Any excuse will do.

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