Mona's Meals | Sunday, 07 June 2009
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Life is almost a beach

I adore a good beach, although admittedly, my definition of one seems to be ever so slightly different from that of most people’s. Therefore, imported sand made out of ground obelisks, bones or any obvious remnants of a Middle Eastern country is out. The water cannot be any other colour but turquoise - a dark blue, in my head, means sharks and a frantic ‘get out now’. And in order for the stretch of land and water to be called a beach, it cannot have any people on it.
By people I mean anybody between the ages of 0 and 100. That way, there can be no clues of human existence that day trippers leave behind them: Magnum wrappers, sexual encounter wrappers, and yellow, warm patches in the sea spreading like a hug. Animals I do not really mind as long as they are not pit-bulls off their leash and on a frolicking day out. Crabs, shrimps and a variety of snails are acceptable. Jellyfish, less so.
These impossible criteria which, judging by the thousands that throng our coast as we speak, nobody else has problems with, make most beach holidays in Malta practically impossible. Yet I desperately yearn for a week of doing absolutely nothing but staring at the blue, getting myself a suntan and clearing my obfuscated, work-riddled brain with the odour of saline.
I rifled through my memories (also called going through the iPhoto library) and years of Condé Nast Traveller. Where could I go with The Writer where both of us could forget work, mobiles, WiFi, newspapers, magazines, websites and other human beings?
Since we are not P Diddy and our yacht is slightly inexistent, Capri and Sardinia were out of the question. The only deserted beach I remember in Greece was three miles away from the nearest form of wheeled transport and would entail going through Ios (happily known as Irish Over Seas due to the amount of drinking which goes on). This is why when I was there, it was always deserted except for one very naked woman and her huge wraparounds. There are no direct flights to Croatia and anyway the people there are so gorgeous I’d get an instant mental slump the moment I expose my disgustingly pale winter skin to the elements.
This left me with the Indian Ocean, home of stretches and swathes of white powder, coconut trees, constant sun and with some judicious choices, excellent food served by people who know when their presence is no longer required. This is the most wonderful thing about this nook of the world: what you see in the postcard is exactly what you get.
The Seychelles are lovely but we’ve been already. The Maldives are too but this is the monsoon season and I have no intention of counting the raindrops from behind the window of some gorgeous villa all day, even if prices drop by at least 30 percent. I picked up an Emirates brochure, which very wisely has weather charts for all its destinations, and chose Mauritius.
From what I understand, I am not the only one. The chances of meeting a fellow Malteser are remote, considering that in all three destinations, we are talking about hundreds of different islands. Yet the Emirates staff told me that more and more Maltese are choosing the Indian Ocean to find exactly what I am looking for: peace, quiet and a very bad mobile phone connection. “Sorry, you’re getting cut off! Chlick!”
Ironic, is it not, when you think that around a million people a year come to Malta just for a week of sun, sand and, old British and German biddies apart, sex? Since there is so little to choose from on the island, we have to share. Yet if there is one thing that we territorial islanders hate doing, it’s distributing our limited amount of natural and man-made wealth.
At Mistra, you share the water with the mind-bending noise of a small motorised boat which this particular ridiculous man chooses to annoy everybody else with. At Golden Bay you share space with too many exposed boobs, and further up, totally naked bods and the peeping-toms they attract. And in Sliema, you share your senses with people, with cars and with a perturbing quantity of buildings, 30 percent of which are empty.
Fresco’s would be fantastic if Sliema were not so noisy and so utterly over-populated. In fact, many people love it as it is. The concept is, as you can imagine, eating outside. Considering that we are supposed to be surrounded by water, this is still quite rare: the hotels have ‘stolen’ the premium slices of our shore and in all the seaside towns most restaurants have no approximation to the sea, which is sad.
This restaurant has taken what used to be a grotty little pub in a prime position and turned it into a very acceptable night out. I could imagine us hanging about, drinking wine well into the early hours, with a bunch of friends. Yet because of its very position, and because it needs to pay for itself, Fresco’s has to be all things to all men (and women and hermaphrodites).
You can have breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner because the place is practically open all the time. Since TW and I are not on holiday, we went for dinner and were presented with a huge menu containing ftajjar, dips, pizzas, pastas and grills. As usually happens with a surfeit of choice, there will always be too few things you actually want. Ironic, is it not? (Answers on a postcard from the Maldives).
The wine list is acceptable and we downed a bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon Rose, which was perfect for the ambiance and highly recommended. To accompany the wine, TW had a Far Eastern Salad. Quite what is Far Eastern about a few elongated meat balls, a tomato and lettuce salad, some tomato sauce with chilli and some thin yoghurt with dried mint, I will never know. That is not to say it was bad. In fact, for the majority of tourists in Sliema, it is probably perfect: not too challenging, has a ‘quirky’ name which means nothing, and does not offend.
I had a Caesar’s, which is one of the simplest salads in the world, and thereby extremely difficult to get right. The leaves were crunchy and the dressing was creamy but there was too much parmesan and this was cut thickly. The sous-chef needs a box on the ears and a lesson in shaving. For a starter, it was also huge.
The head waiter, who was assigned to our table (the owner’s wife is a friend of a friend and of course, I was recognised) was effusive and enthusiastic about the rib eye. So was I, until I saw the half cow that appeared before me. I ate two inches of the meat (acceptable but again, no great shakes) and Mrs. Mia Wallace ate the rest of the 387 kilos when we got home. I didn’t want fries with that and so, the salad accompanying was two lettuce leaves, two wedges of tomato and three slices of cucumber, in beach mode, and therefore un-dressed.
TW’s fillet of pork was also massive (half of an entire fillet, in fact) and came with a few slices of fresh apple on the side and a powdery, slightly sickeningly sweet apple and calvados sauce. Did that come out of a packet? If it did not, somebody is making an effort to make it taste and feel like it. The meat was extremely well cooked, seared and left to its own devices, but the sauce let it down.
Desserts are all ‘home-made’, which these days, and in the Sliema area, means ‘made by a woman in a home which is not ours’. The blackberry cheesecake was nice and light in texture, and correctly topped some crushed ginger biscuits, yet the fruit topping seemed to come out of a can. TW’s banoffee was creamy, moreish, and he says, almost as good as Venus’s.
Fresco’s does not have stunning food, and it is in a less than stunning location. Yet by local standards, it is certainly a welcome addition to the area’s offerings. We have so little to choose from that I applaud the owners for the wonderful effort and encourage them to at least stock some fresh fish so that they create a destination, rather than somewhere you just happen to stumble upon when taking your Sliema promenade walk. They should also change those terribly cheap paper napkins.
While I’m at it, I shall also beg the owner friend of a friend not to stab me in the face with a pair of hairdressing scissors the next time both of us are getting our hair done.
Having said that, this is now out and there’s not telling what human nature is like. So I might as well go buy that Emirates ticket to Mauritius and make it one-way while I’m at it.

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