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Mona's Meals | Sunday, 14 June 2009
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It just Pops Out

They say the recession in the UK can finally see the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. They say people’s attitudes are changing and people are reverting back to being consumers: buying, spending, hoping. Yet consumers are still not comfortable enough to spend money on tangible assets, investing in property and plumping up the economy.
For this reason, over the past months, London has seen a series of pop-up everything, well, popping up. Grazia magazine is supporting Mary, Queen of Shops - oh how I love her - in setting up a pop-up charity shop at Westfield, the massive shopping centre in the north of London.
Then there is the Doodle Bar, a pop-up bar in Battersea, London, where beer costs £2.50, and a bottles of wine a tenner. The Guardian calls it: ‘An events café and bar built through bartering and sourcing furniture from the giveaway website Freecycle [and] a low-cost, high-concept sort of place intent on spurring creativity in the community.’
The Double-Club, which the Shoe-Maker’s Assistant was supposed to take me to the last time I was there, is a combination of food from the Congo and a disco from everywhere else. Getting in is practically impossible and the fact that it is run by the Prada Foundation helped, just a little, to pack it with beautiful people. We went to Hakkasan instead, very permanent, very expensive, completely opposite to anything pop-up (although your credit card does make little whimpery sounds when the bill turns up).
All these places are supposed to close after a while, but sometimes I think the pop-up concept is just a ruse to attract backers, increase punters while they can still go (hurry! book! It will be closed in a week/month/season), gather as much money as possible for as little investment as can be (The Double Club, for example, makes you sit on plastic garden chairs, inside) and generally tie in with the panic of the moment.
We have our own little pop-up restaurant in Malta, or rather, in Gozo. Unlike all of the above, its temporality is only due to the weather. The food comes out of a shack, toilets of the middle-ages were more advanced than the one here and the staff wear whatever the hell was clean in the morning.
In fact, it does not even have a name. Everybody knows it by the family laqam (nickname): ta’ Rew Rew, or the Ta’ Cenc Kiosk. The tables are made of peeling metal. The umbrellas come from some advertiser or other and the ‘tiling’ is a mix of uneven cement and sand from the beach.
It is astounding.
Every year, the Bunch of Friends, that is, ours, make it a point to go to Rew Rew at least once. Since most of us have spent all their money on shoes, bags, clothes and in some cases, expensive cars, we don’t have a super-yacht yet, although we’re working on it. Our large boat is the Gozo ferry, which we have to share with the hoi polloi. On average, it takes us longer to get to the ‘restaurant’ than flying to London would. And it is much, much more fun.
There is no dress-code at Rew Rew. Or rather, there is. It’s called bikinis, Havaianas and sun cream. If you want to embarrass yourself by having to push your car up the extremely steep hill which leads to it, later, while drunk, you can even park next to your table. But why bother?
The food is spectacularly good, and following my review of the place some years ago, the service has improved grandly and so has the honesty in the pricing and billing. In fact, I am under strict instructions from the owners (they’re Gozitan - of course they recognised me) not to write about them again because every time the review goes back on the front page of www.planetmona.com, they are inundated with bookings. I’m not very obedient, as you can see.
There is a chalk board with the day’s list, but most of the time we can hardly see it from where we are sitting. We are too busy taking in the glorious cliffs of Mġarr ix-Xini, revelling in the fact that they have not been destroyed (yet, although work is still going strong on that one) and walking in and out of the sea poking around for jellyfish. The trick here is to leave it up to the Chef, Noel, and his missus Sandra to choose for you.
[I don’t know if this is the bit where I add that the gays and TW wanted to also be served by the 15-year old daughter, who apparently has legs to heaven, is stunningly gorgeous, and since she is currently modelling in Paris, was not available on the day.]
We ate and ate and every single dish which turned up was fantastic. Kicking off with the bruschetta - crisp, even, perfectly toasted - it was topped with fresh tomato, basil, olives, garlic and a judicious amount of oil. We followed with local king prawns, sautéed, red and gleaming with a slick of more oil. Divine. Take towels with you: at some point you’ll give up on the napkins and start wiping your hands in whatever you find.
There were huge trays of prawn toasts, the real thing, with butter smeared on the bread and shrimps so plump they were positively matronly: the Gozitan version of potted shrimp, on a flavour level, but soooo much better. Their freshness shone through as Noel had barely held them over the fire. The Blonde doesn’t eat fish, the poor thing, and while we dug into the fresh clams and the plump rope-grown mussels, poached in white wine, he demolished a large plate of perfectly presented caprese, where the mozzarella was milky and the tomatoes punchy.
This lot was followed by a whole hake, texture of cream, cooked al cartoccio, simply and beautifully, so large that it fed all of us: eleven in total. The chips come out of a packet but not only did we not complain, we actually fought over them. For a bunch of fashionistas, that’s really saying something.
Yet we wanted more, and Rew Rew obliged. How about some calamari rings fried in a slick of aceto balsamico? Yes, how about that? And some more prawns? Bring it on. In fact, bring some more prawn toasts while you’re at it. We washed the lot down with bottles of rose’ and Corvo, chilled to infinity and consumed in the raging sun.
I had previously complained that Rew Rew was bereft of desserts. They have not made too huge an effort to supply some kind of massive selection, but they do have Gelat tan-Nanna, which we all adore for its little individual tubs and its gooey creaminess. Moreover, this time, they had an almond cake, crumbly, wonderfully fragrant, and so moreish that we could not get enough of it. Moreover, the Averna shots which followed were so huge they must have had four tots to each glass.
This is the bit where some resolute idiot goes ‘But they recognised you! That’s why you had this treatment!’ as if they’ve caught me with my hand in the candy box and a smear of chocolate truffle on my face. So I will answer with a succinct: ‘Bugger off and get a life, why don’t you.’
I can do this because on Monday I met a colleague who had just been to Rew Rew the day before, who was equally stunned by what he ate (this guy is Italian and a pedant in the most lovely way possible). He had gone to Rew Rew with a huge bunch of people who are as pedantic and as foodie as he is, and who also ate exactly the same stuff we did. The portions were the same, the quality ditto and the Averna’s so equally large that they sent them back thinking someone had brought out coke glasses by mistake.
Rew Rew pops up beneath the Mġarr ix-Xini cliffs only in summer, and only when it is not so windy that the whole situation becomes a fracas. Yet it is as much part of our cultural foodie landscape that it has become a part of our lives. It’s amazing. Whether it is this summer or the next, go while you can, but just go.


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