Fine dining in fine environs | The Villa

Deciding on The Villa as a destination for al fresco dining was the easy part. Decisions after that prove to be much harder as RACHEL AGIUS finds out while dining in this picturesque location under the stars

With a location like this – perched over Balluta Bay, just across from its impressive neo-Gothic parish church – The Villa already has an advantage. In the hub of Malta’s most popular tourist destination and sitting in the shadow of the prestigious Méridien hotel, one climbs the limestone stairs with a sense of expectation. Afterwards, one leaves with a feeling of satisfaction.

Two terraces (one lounge area, one dining area) spread out beneath the building’s sandy stonework, offer a lofty lookout over the water, the crowd and the picturesque square with its iconic kiosk. 

Umbrellas shade patrons in the summer and heaters keep them comfortable on cooler nights, allowing the option to eat outdoors even before the weather warms up. It makes for the perfect place for a spot of people watching.

Turning your attention to the menu, you’ll recognise a few familiar dishes and some interesting twists on old favourites. If you’re in the sharing mood, try dishes from both the starters category and the tapas list. The pork belly in a red wine jus was a particularly delicious choice, displaying a perfect balance of fat and muscle and sitting in a jus that I admit I surreptitiously indulged in with a crust of bread. 

The rest of the menu requires a heartbreaking choice; the kind that is both justified and appeased when your dish arrives and when you notice what someone else has ordered. In an effort to sample as broad a range as possible, I selected the chicken supreme and my dining companion chose the garganelli with beef, while we kept an eye on the other diners’ choices and made mental notes. 

Neither of us was disappointed. The tender chicken breast was perched atop a bed of couscous and grilled mixed veg, and was accompanied by a sweet-but-not-too-sweet jus that contrasted nicely with the well-spiced couscous. 

The garganelli were cooked just right – not a soggy pasta in sight. To say the starter-sized dish was generous would be an understatement but it encouraged the Mediterranean culture of sharing nicely. The beef was slow-cooked, imparting a rich flavour and colour to the dish. The strong flavour overpowered the other elements of the dish somewhat – the mushrooms were a little lost – but the beef itself had such a complex, satisfying taste that nothing seemed missing. 

Dessert came from a short but impressively varied list. The white chocolate fondant came with the warning that it would take some 15 minutes to prepare as it would be made fresh. Never has a wait been better rewarded. The steaming creation broke open to unleash a magma of white chocolate, a decadent accompaniment to the scoop of ice cream and biscuit crumbs that came with it. 

Branching out a little, I chose the chocolate mousse, infused with pipe tobacco, and Scotch whiskey ice cream. Being neither a smoker nor a whiskey drinker, my uneducated palate enjoyed both parts of this dish, being just strong enough to evoke the unique scents and flavours without being too overpowering. 

The Villa offers a carefully-curated selection of dishes that necessitates a second, perhaps even a third visit. Thankfully, parking is easy and the view is to die for so it is certainly a sacrifice one would be willing to make.