Monique Chambers | Sunday, 09 May 2010

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A day in my shoes

My verdict? GO and test the chef’s mettle | Rating 8/10 | Style 7/10 | Service 8/10 We were never left waiting for one plate | Selection 7/10 Traditional with a twist | Steal-ability The wine pairing expert

St George’s Bay, St Julian’s
Tel: 21377600

Open: Lunch and dinner daily
Register for celeb chef events

I’ve been to Paranga on a couple of occasions – always in a group, once at Christmas and once in spring. The view changes incredibly in this time, but on both occasions, even though almost at sea, I was warm and pretty comfortable. Last week I was invited, along with my peers, to sample the cookery of Theo Randall, a chef renowned for his involvement at the classic Blue River Cafe, and is one of a series of celeb chefs invited by Intercontinental Malta to work in a kitchen alongside its own team and serve up a special menu for local and visiting foodies and smug Z-listers like me.
The seven-course degustation menu was comprised of dishes we would normally see, but all with the celeb chef’s touch. To start was a cape santé, pan-fried scallops with braised cima di rape with a hint of chilli and my favourite herb, sage, served with my nemesis, polenta. Scallops seem to be more available this year and I personally am chuffed about this. Cooked to perfection, they were served with roe, intact, and were sweet and succulent, marshmallow-y and smooth. The wine which was paired was a Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave, which had a strange description, but a lovely taste. Next came a rather generous beef Carpaccio with violet artichokes (which I would have loved to have had a handful of raw ones to take home) served with the typical rocket and parmesan – the mild, bitter taste of the artichokes giving bite in more ways than one to the Carpaccio.
Our next glass was a Planeta Syrah Rose, a good Sicilian wine which was light and floral and a perfect accompaniment to the sheep’s ricotta ravioli. This one described simply, but it did have a twist. Of lemon. This Sicilian touch gave a lovely lingering aftertaste that cleansed your palate as you ate, almost making me forget what I had just tasted and giving me reason to have another mouthful! I’m sure the chef integrated lemon zest into either the pasta or the filling, but you can cheat and mix it with parmesan and sprinkle it over. The effect isn’t quite the same, but by the time you read this, Theo will have gone and so may be as close as you get... speaking of close, I don’t know how it is, but I am sure the toilets get farther and farther away every time I go. I was sitting in view of the master at work, and next door to the kitchen are the WCs. I don’t know if maybe it’s because the flooring is made of decking material, which means stiletto wearers have some difficulty traversing it – one has to tip toe and look silly or be silly and run the risk of getting your heel stuck and ruining your Blahniks – I opt for the former, which may explain the apparent length of my journey. Of course, we could have been moving out to sea. Or could it have been the Gerwurztraminer Kastelaz which went down a little too easily?
A turbot with capers and roasted peppers arrived shortly after me, its tender flesh easily falling away from the bone. This is the type of fish those with an aversion to small bones should chose, and this simple cooking method ensures you get the real flavour, the accompaniments just enhancing rather than overpowering it – which is common in ‘lesser’ establishments. A rich, fruity, heavy red Amarone della Valpolicella Classico came with the meat course and saving the best till (almost) last, a slow-cooked veal shin cooked with carrots, celery, tomato and thyme. I wish I had the time to slow cook, or the oven, at least. Meat cooked this way is really fantastic. Never dry, butter-soft, and it actually stopped the conversation, which was centred around the upcoming UK elections: my fingers and toes are crossed while I am typing.
Finishing off the €60 spectacular was a delectable lemon tart, not too sharp; in fact, with the cream, tasted like lemon meringue pie and took me back to my childhood; mum making this as a treat with tsunami size meringue peaks, yum. I could have missed out on the Carpaccio and had another slice of this. Actually, the Carpaccio was a plateful... by rights I could have had a whole tart? I’m hoping Theo left the recipe behind and this is recreated and put on the menu so I have reason to go back again. Though the food at Paranga is always good, celeb chef or not, ladies, take my advice and wear wedges. And both sexes, wear an elasticised waistband.

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