MONA'S MEALS | Sunday, 18 November 2007

The simpleton life

Chapelle Cafe & Bistro
Mosta Road, St Paul’s Bay

The older I get – and with every birthday it seems unfairly quickly – the simpler I want my life to be. Gone is, thankfully, the angst of teenage years which my 20s dragged outside by the hair and shot. Gone is the boy panic, the study panic, the money and here’s-another-pimple-ON-MY-NOSE panic.
Well, you get the idea. Right now, I feel like a chilled out little Buddha statue, without the belly and the double chin.
So I now understand why I never see any little old ladies at the supermarket. They like their familiar surroundings, their shopping list which hasn’t changed since the 1950s: cheddar, tal-hakk, halib, hobza slajs u nis kwart perzut. They don’t need to specify which they want, because at the grocer’s round the corner, there is only just the one.
At the super, the “cheddar” turns into a kaleidoscope of choice. I counted at least 10 different types the last time I was there, some at the deli and others in the fridge section, so cold I have to wrap up for it to match the vacuum packs. Some came emblazoned with purple bits of “fruit”, others with whisky. I could buy a “vegetarian” type (that is, with no rennet) and which most Maltese assume is the lite version. I could also buy the lite version, which is another thing altogether. What I could not find though, was the one cheddar I really enjoy, called Cathedral City, which melts with heat in exactly the same way as it says on the advert.
So you can understand why visits to the super stress everybody out. They are the big white spaces full of everything we don’t need and most of what we don’t want. I’m also partial (as in a huge consumer of) Scottish Pride’s single cream, which I have with my tea. Is it too much to ask for whoever imports the stuff to make sure it’s actually available when we need it? Last Saturday, I had to traipse from one super to another for it, destroying my eco-footprint in the process with all the petrol consumption. Finally, I discovered nine small tubs at Pavi. The man who saw me drag the little red barrels into my waiting arms as if this was an LA-style riot-cum-heist stared at me open-mouthed. He was probably wondering if there was a war coming.
The worst part though, is in the detergents section. These days, they don’t just get your clothes whiter than white. There are detergents aimed at men and those targeted at women. They come in rainbow colours, and smell of anything from fake vanilla to a run in the park after you’ve washed the sweat out. Row upon row of liquids are meant to turn your China acrylic into Hymalayas cashmere. Once you’ve doused your old jumpers in them, you’ll never want to get out of your favourite top. Ever. Until it stinks again, in fact.
The best stuff doesn’t come with some scheme the points of which I never use, though. Every woman of my mum’s generation - and that includes my lovely housekeeper, who regularly whisks away expensive empty bottles of detergent for her ‘collection’ - is a huge fan of the Kwiksave gift scheme. I don’t need another kettle, or cheap set of plates, but I do admire the recycling ramifications of something like this. Otherwise, my purse is full of loyalty cards which incessantly fail to keep me loyal.
Chapelle is very much based on loyalty and simplicity. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the exuberant Tony and gracious Graziella from the Azzopardi fish shop in St Paul’s Bay, not only would I never have “discovered” its existence, but I would have stuck to its regular menu without knowing what I was missing.
Like good bleach though, Chapelle should come with a warning. If they had to pay me, I’d write it up along these lines: “Do not take any notice of the Brits and Germans on a cheap holiday wearing socks and sandals and sitting outside scoffing a burger and getting over their beer hangover. Do not take any notice of the cheap tables and do not mind the tiny interior or the waiter who has obviously had it up to here with the cheap-holiday Brits and Germans. But do notice this:
“Right next to us, there is one of the best fish shops in all of Malta. This is the fish shop where you find toro [tuna belly in Japanese, and the most sublime cut for sashimi] at ridiculous prices. This is where you’ll find superb fresh fish and wonderful service. This is where you can get your daily ration of local prawns, so full of taste they’re sweet and you can eat them whole and raw. And I, the chef, will pop in next door and get you some of today’s catch and cook it for you. As long as it’s lunch. During supper time, Azzopardi is closed.”
I’m a cheap date, so Chapelle have got it for free. Since the restaurant doesn’t belong to me, I had to find all this out from Tony, who is doing Chapelle a great service by spreading the word. If a man who knows his fish recommends the man next door, then you know you’re on to a good thing. In fact, The Writer, the Italian Writer and I just asked chef to pop in next door and get us some of what Tony was having. That was explanation enough.
Thirty minutes later, we were digging into some glorious seafood, presented all in one plate, as requested. The grilled swordfish surrendered under the tangs of the fork. The clams were full of ozone and buttery soft. And the prawns were the highlight of the entire summer: simply fried in olive oil, and with a good handful of fresh herbs thrown in, the juices oozed out of them like a squeezed blood orange and the sweetness was on par. I ate them all: heads, tails and once-flailing legs. The Doc taught me to do that, and whatever he says, I follow.
They came with packet chips, which can be forgiven given the circumstances and the regular clientele, and some salad which was simple, yet fresh. The sauce, our true Maltese tomato, caper and olive, won the IW over. He could not believe that every time he eats out with us in Malta, he goes home with a new batch of wonderful experiences. Previously, we’d taken him to Tal-Familja. He’s Roman, so he’s still talking about it: they love their food and their chat.
Sadly – very, very sadly really – you would never believe this unless you ordered the food exactly as we had. The inside of Chapelle is truly tiny, seating a possible 30 people at most. The décor is nothing to waste a stamp on. The chairs are hard although if you’re lucky, the lone, local, regular punters may talk to themselves at their table, which is always entertaining.
Rare are the moments that I walk out of a restaurant satiated, with nary a pinch in my wallet, and thinking that I’d made a “discovery” bordering on something that would feature on my own channel. This was it. I have Tony, Graziella and the guy that’s running Chapelle to thank. That and our bounteous produce from our surrounding sea.
I could traipse around every single supermarket on the island for an experience like this, but like the good things in life, I would never find it waiting on the shelf.


Fonts of eternal youth can be found tucked away in the most unlikely places. Nurturing the bustling hormones of the sixth form students in Msida is a veritable institution clad under upright fridges and tiles which are yellowing in that homely friendly hue which can only be perceived in outlets that you really love. The old oven mercilessly churns that which today is Malta’s staple food, probably even more than bread. Concentrate on the pizza and wait until it is coming out of its mother creator and Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth-hot. Words can seldom describe such a warm companion made of hot soft pastry, melted cheese and tomato. So supple and liquid you could almost drink it with a straw. Best consumed there and then and in haste. Never  leave the pizza for long in a paper back because you will end up with a bald pizza and the cheese all curled up in a shockingly cold ball at the far end of the bottom of the bag. This place is Muscat Pastizzerija, in Qrejten Street, Msida.

The Boy Lawyer


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