2013 in review | The best meals on the island

They are a glorious ten - ten of the best dishes available from some of the newest, and oldest established restaurants and eateries to suit everybody's pockets.

Hush's slow cooked beef shin
Hush's slow cooked beef shin

As George Bernard Shaw said, there is no love sincerer than the love of food. In this line of work, eating out is more of the norm than something reserved for special occasions. 2013 has seen the opening of many new restaurants - some that definitely deserve a place on my list of regularly visited restos. A great dining experience doesn't necessarily have to be a fancy occasion and I personally favour heartier meals over fine dining. Some of my top 10 dining experiences have been fast food and breakfasts though some finer dishes and of course some hearty meals also made it onto the list. These were the highlights of 2013 in no particular order.

Slow cooked beef shin at Hush

Ok. So I didn't actually sit down to eat this dish properly. It was brought out for a photo shoot for a paid advert! I did devour it though, after the photo shoot was done, and even though it wasn't as warm as it should have been it definitely makes it into my top 10 list.

The beef shin was braised for four hours and then served on a bed of pumpkin and mashed potato and drenched in a port wine jus. The meat was so tender you don't even need a knife to cut it. Why haven't I been back to eat it properly paired with a great glass of red?

Hush, Portomaso Marina, St Julian's. 21369100

Sour dough pizza at New York Best

With the opening of their new outlet in Qui-si-sana, New York Best introduced their sour dough pizzas. What makes this stand out from the crowd? What I love most are the various stages that come with each slice. The first few bites are full of cheesy goodness, with simple yet fresh and delicious toppings, as you get close to the crust, there is a bite of pizza base with tomato sauce - no cheese, no toppings - that gives you the chance to savour the wonderful flavours of the sauce without distraction.

And lastly the crust. I usually eat the crust of the first slice of pizza and then have to leave the rest as I would rather leave a plate of crusts than a full slice of pizza, but this is so delicious, crunchy, yet not dry and it cleans your palate for the next slice of cheesy goodness to come.

So what is their secret? How do they make simple fast-food so deliciously moreish? The answer lies within the question. It is not fast food at all. The dough is made fresh daily, using flour, water, yeast, salt and sour dough only, but it left to rise slowly for 24 hours. No short cuts.

New York Best, Esperanto Street, Msida & Qui-si-Sana, Sliema. Tel: 2728 2899

Banana tarte tatin with peanut butter and bacon ice-cream at Salvino's

Salvino's has become one of my favourite restaurants this year and choosing just one dish from there is difficult. It will have to go the innovative dessert - a banana tarte tatin served with bacon and peanut butter ice-cream. I've always been a fan of salt in my desserts and bacon makes everything better. There are no words to explain how truly yummy this is.

Salvino's, 32, Archbishop Street, Valletta. Tel: 21246437

Brandy poached figs in chocolate sauce at Rubino

Again choosing one dish to feature from Rubino is almost impossible, having eaten there many times this year. In the end I went with a simple but delicious dessert - Maltese figs, poached in brandy and served on in a chocolate sauce. When you cut into the fig there's a chocolate surprise in the centre. This dessert is symbolic of what they do at Rubino's, taking simple seasonal ingredients and coming up with an innovative way to serve them.

Rubino, Old Bakery Street, Valletta. Tel: 21 224 656

Selection of fresh seafood at Tartarun

This happened more than once this year because it is the sort of place you keep going back to. The best way to order is simply allow the staff to tell you what's best. Whatever they recommend is always fresh and cooked simply to accentuate the delicate flavours. The calamaretti are probably my favourite and always (unless they're out of stock) feature on our order. One of my favourite spots for a fishy feast.

Tartarun, Xatt is-Sajjieda, Marsaxlokk. Tel: 21658089; 99177258

Eggs Benedict at Waterbiscuit

The Intercontinental's signature restaurant is the first of its kind, open 24 hours a day, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and open right through the night for those late-night indulgences. What got me was the breakfast. Particularly the eggs Benedict - made in six different ways with bacon, spinach, asparagus or ones with a more exciting twist - mushrooms and truffles or brie and pickled apple. For just €3 you can add a glass of sparkling wine to your breakfast and make it all that more indulgent.

Waterbiscuit, St George's Bay, St Julian's. Tel: 23762225

Calabrian platter at Due Mari

On a hot day in the middle of summer I was invited to the press launch of Due Mari. It started late and I was hot and bothered by the time the food came but all that vanished as soon as a mixed platter was put in front of me. Lots of delicacies from Calabria including an outstanding range of Pecorinos and my favourite nduja - a spicy, spreadable salami made from pork meat taken from the head of the pig (aside from the cheeks which are used for guanciale), skin and other pork meat trimmings along with roasted chilli peppers.

Due Mari Restaurant, Pjazza Tigné, Sliema. Tel: 20604060

Lobster tagliatele at Dolce Vita

What sort of a top 10 list would not include lobster? This one pairs it with tagliatele. Pasta with lobster is a little hit and miss. If not done well, you'll find a heap of pasta covering up a piece or two of lobster. This was not so with a meal early this year at Dolce Vita. Half a lobster including the claw lay on top with a langostine on the side for good measure.

Ristorante Dolce Vita, 159, St George's Road, St Julian's. Tel 21388600

Duo of duck at Essence

And of course there is some fine dining. The duo of duck consisted of a pan-seared duck breast, served rare with a confit of duck leg, cooked sous vide, with an Asian risotto, sesame pak choi and a tiger prawn samosa. Couple that with the view of beach as the sun set and a night at the Radisson, Golden Sands and that has to be one of my favourite meals this year. Just one night's break felt like a full-on holiday.  

Essence, Radisson Blu Resort and Spa, Golden Bay. Tel: 23561000

Dim Sum at The Blue Room

I've always eaten well at The Blue Room, but what pushed this restaurant into the top 10 list was a meal a friend organised for her birthday. Rather than order off the menu we had a menu set from before - a Chinese meal that Chinese people would actually eat - not the usual Westernised nosh we've been lead to believe is Chinese!

We ate lots of small dishes - starter-style including, chicken and meats, some beautiful fall-off-the-bone ribs that you could eat with chopsticks - and that's just by picking the meat off the bones not picking the bone up! We had a selection of dim sum, which has not really taken off in Malta and is quite difficult to come by; Fresh spring rolls with vegetables and chicken, a dish that comes from the border of China with Vietnam, served with a spicy dipping sauce and to round off the starters we had some Chinese bread, which is almost sweet and doughnut like - the bread is boiled like a bagel and then deep fried until golden. As full as you are you can't avoid that bread until every last crumb has been devoured.

The Blue Room, 59, Republic Street, Valletta. Tel: 2123 8014