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The return of Rocksalt

Rocksalt made a name for itself serving top quality wines, spirits and bar snacks at their oultet in Sliema, following the closure of that, they have re-opened, bigger and better overlooking the valley of Balluta Bay.

It was a sad day when news hit that Rocksalt was closing down its Sliema outlet. Right in the centre of the café strip, Rocksalt was the only spot you would venture to if you were looking for quality drinks and nibbles. As it happens, since it closed, I can count, on the fingers of one hand, the number of times I’ve stopped for a drink – or something to eat – in Sliema. None of them particularly good.

The news of their closure was not all bleak. The restaurant was moving to Balluta Bay in St Julian’s and their promise was to be bigger and better. It seems like an entire season has gone by and only now are we hearing of their new place opening their doors again. Having missed that spot I headed down there on a Friday night.

Hearing that Rocksalt was sharing a venue with a new hostel, run by the same team headed by Steve De Dominco, I was unsure of how this would work out – a fancy restaurant sharing a spot with rowdy teenagers. I needn’t have worried.

Rocksalt and Inhawi hostel make their home in what used to be a school, run by nuns in the Balluta Valley. Depsite being in the centre of St Julian’s and the bustle of city life, these enjoy a quite spot, surrounded by trees – yes trees! – and only minutes away from the sea. The restaurant is operational but not completely finished just yet, with little bits and pieces awaiting finishing, it is already perfectly comfortable to enjoy a meal and a couple of drinks, either outside on their terrace or in the cosy indoors for when the weather gets colder.

What I was expecting when I got there was the same kind of thing there was in Sliema so I was pleasantly surprised – and glad I hadn’t eaten anything since lunchtime – to find it is now a fully-fletched restaurant serving full meals, though they still have a tapas menu if you prefer to concentrate on the drinking.

We decided on tasting menu, at Steve’s recommendation. You can go the full hog and have nine courses, though we settled for five.

Their chef, a Norwegian man called Thor, wields a knife as well as the superhero does his hammer, presenting some beautiful dishes that are impeccably plated as well as perfectly combining flavours.

We started with an amuse bouche of pulled veal with mashed potato – just a bite to whet your appetite and prepare you for the meal to come. The five-course menu consists of three starters, though the portions are smaller than their usual starter and a main, mixing meat, fish, sweet and savoury, whilst reserving the last course for dessert. The first of the starters was a veal tartare with a hint of truffles, on toast topped with an anchovy sauce that we immediately fell in love with, so much so that we were considering asking to take a jar of it home.

Next came by favourite course, a rose wine infused foie gras terrine on toasted brioche topped with confit cherries, roasted pumpkin seeds and cherry jus with Pernod. The foie gras is slow-cooked sous vide, resulting in such light texture, contrasting with the crunch of the toasted brioche and roasted pumpkin seeds.

The third course was fish-based – a pan-fried langostine topped with avocado cream and capelin roe, served in a bisque made from the langostine shell.

The starters were the perfect portion size – tiny, offering just a taste of each fantastic dish.

The main was much larger and, for me, this is where it became too much food. When the food is so good, you can’t simply put your fork down when you’re full. You just have to keep eating, despite the pain. The pan-fried lamb had the perfect amount of fat, crispy and adding flavour to the pink meat. Paired with the burnt aubergine puree, truffles, potatoes and grilled oyster mushrooms, this dish was perfect to celebrate the newly arrived autumn.

There is always room for dessert. An Eaton’s Mess made with white chocolate mousse, Italian meringue and marinated strawberries was the perfect end to a surprisingly long meal.

We declined after-dinner drinks, slowly making our way back to the car, glad that we endured a summer without Rocksalt. Good things come to those who wait and we have waited! 

Rating: ****

What I ate

Five course tasting menu

Veal tartare en croute

Foie gras rose with confit cherries

Langositne in bisque

Lamb cooked four ways with burnt aubergine puree

Rocksalt Mess

Total

€45 excluding drinks

Address: St Julian’s Hill, St Julian’s.

Tel: 21336226

Opening: 5:30pm till late

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