Mona's Meals | Sunday, 28 June 2009
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The age of grace

The brilliant thing about ageing, and by that I mean having candles added to your cake without asking for them rather than becoming all wrinkly, is a self-acceptance which creeps in and envelopes you like a super-soft pashmina.
I am talking about women here. Women, at least a large percentage of them, adore the patina of age. They love not having to panic unduly if their jeans are slightly tighter today and can accept the fact that that a pair of size 25 pink Miss 60’s are best left to the eighteen-year-old hottie who can actually get into them. Even if she cannot, her round and creamy muffin top (as opposed to floppy and full of stretch marks) is almost acceptable. On an over-40, it will never be, no matter how much yoga she does.
Men are a different species altogether. They really do freak out when the big 40 wakes them up one fine morning and stares them in the face. They suddenly want a cool car, preferably open, so they can panic when the wind skims their hair. That way, they will have something to blame for the bald patch they’re trying very hard to cover. Ditto wearing a helmet when driving a Harley Davidson, worldwide the preserve of ugly bearded bikers and mid-life-crises doctors and lawyers, always male.
The women who behave like men stand out like wallflowers at a fabulous party. They think they can still get away with not wearing a bra and that their droopy tits are not only not offensive, but actually attractive. They think that all those sausage rolls consumed fervently in the car outside the pizzeria had absolutely no effect on their ever-inflating hips and thighs. They find it hard to say how old they are and band themselves in demographic groups. If, at any point in their lives, they or others considered them pretty, then the faux-pas are always worse because they will continue to grab on to their youth like a cartoon character scratching desperately at the edge of a cliff. The cartoon character always falls off.
That is not to say that we – and yes, I’m putting myself in the category of acceptance – don’t continue trying to look good, to not let ourselves, our men and our gay best friends down. Only we do it in a way that pleases, most importantly of all, us.
I am always faced with this scenario when I go to any of the Transforma clinics. They are ridiculously packed. My lasering appointment (oh god: thank you for giving us this method of blitzing our hair without having to wax every two weeks) has to be booked from at least – and I am not exaggerating here – six weeks before. Everybody is at it, and that includes the heterosexual men and the eighteen-year-old girls.
I thought that the opening of more clinic rooms in Attard would help matters but they are choc-a-block with people from as early as 7am: professional women pop by before work to get ‘work’ done, anything from frizzing away their thread veins to getting a manicure. I tried the Mellieha one instead; who on earth would drive that far, I wondered, just to get a St. Tropez glow and a head massage? The world and his sister, it seems. That was packed too.
Every year I buy their ‘pre-holiday package’: you come out of there without any body hair, gleaming, face glowing, nails sparkly, feet like a baby’s bottom, eyelashes longer than your fringe (no mascara necessary: yey!) and brain kind of fuzzy from having two girls fuss over me for the best of four hours, in the dark. It’s the ultimate in hedonism. Due to the logistics involved, it needs to be booked from ages before and therefore necessitates enterprise.
When I was twenty-two and did not need this (and was full of angst and couldn’t afford it), I would have jumped at the opportunity to do something similar to impress others, usually the male species. In my self-confident days, I do it for myself. And it’s bliss.
The question of age is not, apparently, my preserve. Every year, UK Vogue dedicates an issue to it (this year it is this month’s: the one with the ever-gorgeous Julianne Moore, DOB: December 3, 1960, on the cover): a bunch of women brought together by their love of frocks. The Observer Magazine, possibly by chance, also had a whole issue dedicated to the ‘elderly’, including a 76-year-old Joan Collins and a 71-year-old yoga teacher called Pam Horton. Everybody is at it: the ticking of the clock is not something you can get away from, so you may as well love it.
You don’t need to go through the rigmarole of a face-lift to get yourself a table at Lulu’s. Yet the surroundings are plush and you may want to blend in/stand out. If you sit in the cute outside area, you will be, at most times, watching very gorgeous twenty year olds dressed in tiny shorts and Havaianas making their way to Paceville. The sight of them is enough to drive any self-confident woman, not to mention her middle-aged husband, quite insane for completely different reasons so you might want to go prepared. At least if your husband does not notice you, other men will. That’s always important.
Lulu is definitely not cheap. Their starters skirt the €12 mark and I could hardly look at the prices of their mains. Yet they feel justified in piling on another €1.25 cover charge per diner on top of your hefty bill. Ours came to more than a hundred euro. I do not mind the prices – if I can’t take the financial heat, I can always get out of their kitchen – but I do find a cover charge (meaning what exactly? Giving us a napkin? Cutlery? Setting a table? Is that not what eating out is about?) offensive and as short-sighted as blitzing your face with sun and waiting for the wrinkles and age-spots to unfurl.
The service is consistently good although we found that as the night progressed, it started to dip in places. The mains, for example, took ages to turn up. The order for dessert was taken ten minutes after the plates were cleared and because the night was in its advanced hours, waiters were vanishing so that the Riesling arrived three minutes after dessert and coffee took another five minutes to appear.
Nevertheless, in most cases, Lulu more than justifies its prices. In a few, it makes you wonder. The freebie was a lovely ball of fish in chunks and diced potato rolled in fine breadcrumbs: a fish ball by any other name. My starter of risotto with tiny cubes of pancetta and an applewood cheddar was strange but intriguing, its execution sublime. The Writer’s deep fried goat’s cheese, two large circles dipped in ground almonds and fried, was terrific. He described it as low-carb heaven.
We last came to Lulu more than two years ago. Then, as now, the pork loin listed on the menu was changed for belly when we ordered it. I absolutely do not mind this but belly costs a lot less than loin so it made me think. TW loved it, and the crust was fabulously thin and crispy. I, on the other hand, need a pork belly to fall off the fork, to flake: this one was too close to the kind of thing I manage at home. My barracuda was filleted, left with the skin on as it should be, and piled in pieces on my plate. The presentation throughout was, like Honor Blackman, stylish, as befits this place. The fish itself was slightly dry: the kitchen’s idea of frying it without oil panders too much to the panicky oil-free punters. Over the years, low-fat diets lead to bad skin and bones: did you know that?
The second dodo of the evening, following the cover charge, was the potato which made as much sense as a stretched face accompanying a turkey neck on a seventy-year-old man, say, Silvio Berlusconi: it came cut in tiny cubes, boiled, then salamandered to high heaven. They tasted dull, re-heated and brought the general atmosphere down. The steamed carrot and zucchini sliced in slivers were boring.
The dessert was slightly over-wrought, try-hard and heavy. Not that that will bother anybody Maltese really, but I found that for a restaurant that was once famous for its dessert piatto misto, this is a let-down. There is a heavy male hand wreaking havoc on what were once the signature dishes. The torta japponese had too little meringue and too much almond: it looked like a huge brick. The cream in the choux buns was lovely, soft and yummy but the chocolate sauce killed its delicate nature.
My three crème brulees were an aberration: a crème brulee’s strongest point is its creamy simplicity juxtaposed against the crispness of a fine burnt sugar topping: these came in three variants, none of them particularly good – chocolate, coffee and traditional. The chocolate was way too much in structure and portion, the coffee odd, and the traditional dull by comparison. In all of them, the top had not been prepared or burnt well.
The wine list is superb, split by grape, origin and even character. You can spend hours browsing through it and I would have, had TW not mentioned that if I didn’t pay him some attention he was going to get old before his time.
Lulu is, in spite of all this, highly recommendable – if money is of no consequence to you, and you want a reliable, mildly posh night out, then it is definitely the place to be. We booked on the same day we visited – getting yourself a Botox session, on the other hand, needs frown lines and weeks of waiting.

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