A plate worthy of a Turner prize may not be front-of-mind when you think of Maltese cuisine. If you’re anything like me, visions of hearty rabbit stews and rustic piles of seafood might seem more fitting. Yet recently I found myself with my fork poised above a dish comprising both these key ingredients yet assembled with such refinement, I was almost afraid to disturb it. Cylinders of melt-in-the-mouth rabbit loin and sweet red prawn crudo were artfully arranged amongst dots of fennel puree and semi-dried grapes, and scattered with bright floral garnishes.
The dish was the creation of Stefan Hogan, executive chef at the Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa in Malta, who prepared a special meal at the Maltese-based hotel group’s London outpost to showcase the island’s gastronomy.
Hogan explained that it was the cooking method that made the rabbit so tender. “It’s wrapped in lard then cheesecloth before being poached – rabbit is our national dish but usually in Malta you would eat it fried with loads of garlic. Maltese dining is about bringing people together and using local produce – it’s garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, octopus and lots of crusty bread for mopping everything up. We love big portions.”
He added that Malta’s history also plays a big part in its fare.
“Malta was prized for its position both politically and geopolitically in the middle of the Med. Our cuisine is very influenced by the surrounding countries, for example we have lots of desserts that are really from Sicily and there are Arabic influences with ingredients such as honey, rosewater, bee pollen and nuts.”
Malta also produces some excellent wines, and Hogan revealed a penchant for a Syrah called Bel produced by Meridiana, a winery in the centre of the island. He explained that as the island produces wine in fairly small quantities and it is consumed by both locals and visitors, there is little left to export. “It’s another great reason to visit,” he smiled.
Hogan asserted that visitors to Malta have ample opportunity to immerse themselves in the island’s viniculture with wine tours available. Foodies meanwhile can visit small cottage industries on Gozo where they produce local delicacies such as tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke paste.
I left London’s Corinthia with my tastebuds still zinging from Hogan’s grand finale – an orange blossom cremaux with herb and spice garnishes. If your clients are hankering after culinary adventure, Malta can serve it up by the platterful, or with artistic precision, depending on how they are inclined.