Interview | Patrick Buttigieg

Patrick's Tmun in Gozo invites us to savour their well-kept-secret of a restaurant.

Housed in well, a house in Victoria, Gozo, is Patrick’s Tmun restaurant. In an unassuming street off the main thoroughfare up into Victoria, this treasure, kept secret by its regulars, is run by Chef Patron Patrick Buttigieg. When you open the door, the interior is such a surprise; one expects a rustic environment but you are greeted with Cabernet red walls and steel bar stools with wooden wine crate lids framed around the walls. Striking art is subtly placed and after a cocktail at the bar, with chance to peruse the menu, you are escorted by the chicly dressed waiting staff to the dining area.

French doors run along the facade of the property, and each table feels like it is in a restaurant of its own; well spaced, with the option to drop the striped calico blinds to really feel smug and snug. The lights are a feature in their own right, falling at various lengths, and then there is the wine cellar. Serious but inviting; glass doors protect the thermostatically controlled room where the Definitively Good Guide’s best wine list in terms of variety, tasting notes, personality and fine wines for the past six years in Malta and Gozo lays, waiting for their collar to be felt and undressed for a deserving diner. Each bottle available by the glass, so non-diners can enjoy a tipple pre or post theatre/ ferry/party with a tempting 20% off.

The wine cellar is not only home to wine bottles that deserve a mention. A proud bottle of olive oil stands on every table with a note telling you how it was bottled by family and friends, worthy of dunking one of the varieties of freshly made bread into. In fact it was family that led Patrick to become a restaurateur having worked with his father for many years before taking over and moving the restaurant up the culinary scale and into Victoria back in 2003. With the majority of Patrick’s customers being Maltese or Gozitan, 30% are holiday makers, and holiday home owners as well as the visiting famous that grace our shores to make merry and make movies.

Patrick does his fair share of travelling to cosmopolitan cities and takes an annual pilgrimage to a winery to ensure he can maintain his standing and cellar. But even with the accolades and hardly any empty tables, Patrick does not rest on his laurels; his kitchen team experiment and change the bulk of the menu with the seasons but of course offer specials using local Gozitan and Maltese produce where possible.

Opting for the chef’s six course tasting menu on my first visit, we were greeted to the table with a glass of champagne. I liked it here immediately.  The menu promises to match each course and your tastes with a relevant glass of wine which allows you to taste what the chef is thinking and broaden your own palette’s horizons too.

The first course was a caramelised fennel and onion tarte tatin topped with smoked salmon, with a perfectly cooked poached egg that erupted gently like slow motion lava running over the pastry. This was accompanied by a shot of the most delicious lobster bisque , which frankly, I would like to have intravenously. I have craved this ever since. The multiple combinations should have been complex but it was delicate and sweet and Patrick said, “everything in pastry goes well with Champagne.”  I beg to differ; everything goes well with Champagne, especially Mondays.

To follow this feat was a textured and quite coarse fois gras terrine set in Moscato d’Asti jelly flanked by piquant onion marmalade and a relish with a flavoured toast.  We (to steal a phrase from Lloyd Grossman) deliberated, cogitated and digested and decided it was local garlic.  This course was served with a Cassilero del Diablo Chardonnay 2007 from the Casablanca Valley in Chile. Very seductive.

Next came a black and white sesame seed crusted fish cake - served with crispy leaves and a sweet and sour pineapple salsa. Again, we had to debate the firey, unidentifiable salsa ingredients; soy and fish sauce, ginger, lemon grass. So simple, so delicious. Served with a crisp true Sancerre 2007 from Bouchard Pere et Fils.

Our least favourite plate was a grilled vegetable parcel which was slightly daunting by its size (knowing we were merely half way though and prepared to sacrifice nothing on descriptions alone). Essentially, vegetables wrapped in speck, layered with buffalo mozarrella and laced with balsamic syrup. It could have been quarter of the size it was so bursting with flavor! This I would have for lunch on its own, OK, with the Chateau Kefraya Rose 2006 from the Bekka Valley in Lebanon – as it went so well together. Note to self: I really must have more Lebanese wine.

The main course arrived after a suitable pause; a roast rack of Irish lamb with a herb crust and served with potato cake – drizzled in a roast garlic and port reduction. I really could have started and stopped here, but the Vino Nobile de Montepulicano Reserve, Frattoria Del Cerro 2001 from Tuscany gave me willpower.

Last but by no means least were a trio of desserts; chocolate orange souffle – which I was dubious about but left little evidence to support the initial theory; it was very chocolaty and the tartness of the orange diffused by the rich cocoa to a mere tang, beautifully golden cream cheese and mango pillows - the centre like patisserie cream; and apple tart, which I wouldn’t normally order, but having tasted these, would actually go specifically for. The pastry of these was glittery if you know what I mean, crunchy and powdery and with the pear juice-like wine, Botrytis Viognier, Wrattonbully from Australia, was a tea-time treat if ever I could recommend one.

Patrick’s Tmun is open for lunch on Sundays and thankfully, open on Monday’s so if you can extend a weekend trip and avoid the Armada that heads down on a Sunday evening, you have somewhere, just over the rainbow and really a rather special place to go to.

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