Malta: Where to eat, drink and stay
Exploring Malta and its many attractions, both natural and cultural, can work up quite the appetite. Here’s a handy guide to some must-try spots. Plus, where you’ll want to lay your head at the end of a busy day of sightseeing.
Where to eat and drink
Maltese food makes use of Mediterranean ingredients but with its own unique twist, thanks to the many cultures that passed through these islands. The choice of dining is impressive given the size of the archipelago nation, and runs the gamut from century-old family-run bakeries to Michelin-starred fine dining (Malta has no less than 6 Michelin star restaurants).
Crystal Palace, Rabat
A tiny but characterful coffee shop, this is considered one of the best authentic local places on the island for pastizzi. The greasy, flaky street snack that Malta is known for is traditionally stuffed with either ricotta or mushy peas—I try the former, and it’s delicious, especially after a long day of sight-seeing. I wash it down with a Kinnie, a semi-sweet, semi-bitter local soft drink made from aromatic herbs.
Furnar in Maltese means baker, and this restaurant used to be a bakery. The century-old oven is still the key feature of the restaurant, but the new generation of the family running it has expanded the menu from bread to include other local specialties, many cooked in that old oven. They serve a version of the Gozitan ftira, a pizza-like dish with varied toppings, though one typical combination is potatoes, tuna, anchovies, olives and capers. (On Malta island, ftira is more like a sandwich made from flat bread with various fillings.) Rabbit is a traditional meat dish in Malta, and Tal-Funar does a tender version with a tomato-based sauce. If you want a gentler introduction to rabbit, try it stuffed in their fried ravioli.
Wine is in Anthony Hili’s blood. His ancestors started producing wine in 1930, but a generation or so later, it was closed down. Anthony restarted the family business, and now produces limited bottles of white, rose, red and port wine, which have won multiple medals. The gold-hued white wine I taste is named for a Phoenician goddess, Tanit, and has notes of apples, apricots, peaches, honeydew melon, pears and elderflower. It’s a summer wine, light yet full bodied. Hili produces about 12,000 bottles of this per year. Each of the wines has its own unique story, and Hili is happy to tell them—anyone who wants to visit can book a tasting, paired with cheese and charcuterie, on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Located in the restaurant complex fronting The Corinthia Hotel St. George’s Bay, Caviar&Bull is one of several restaurant brands from Malta’s culinary ambassador, Marvin Gauci. The upscale restaurant has picture windows overlooking the bay and an eclectic modern Mediterranean menu with tasting menu options (I highly recommend the seafood-focused one). Dishes are beautifully plated and many come with an element of drama—a jelly-like palate cleanser comes swirling in smoke and sitting on half a lime, and is meant to be consumed like a tequila shot, complete with lime squeeze. Clean flavors are complemented by fresh local produce (like red prawns in a perfectly al dente pasta) and Marvin even serves his own wine (though the list extends well beyond that).
Set on the ground floor of a small boutique hotel down a quiet street in Valletta, Risette’s elegant, minimalist interiors belie the explosion of flavor that its menu presents. A beignet of rabbit is presented as a perfect globe on a tablespoon and is a single mouthful of umami bliss. There are Asian influences to be found in dish of pork belly with octopus and XO sauce. The restaurant is helmed by chef Steve Scicluna, formerly of the Michelin-starred Clove Club in London, and service is white-gloved and flawless.
The restaurant set in Valletta’s MUŻA art museum tells its own story of the building’s origins as the Auberge d’Italie, home to the Italian knights. There are four dining areas, La Vallette Bar & Bistro occupies the former kitchens of the Auberge, while the elegant Donato Private Room is where the domestics would have lived. The Gallery allows you to dine amidst art and the Mediterranean courtyard is the choice for an al fresco experience. The menu is contemporary European with dishes such as roasted celeriac velouté, calamarata and pan-seared sea bass.
There are two Maltese outposts of this restaurant brand, which boasts locations in Monaco, Dubai, Mykonos, to name a few. The one I visited is housed on the ground floor of The Phoenicia hotel, with its own private entrance. There is a cozy atmosphere inside, as well as terrace for al fresco dining. The menu is what you’d expect from the brand, with a focus on meat but seafood and vegetarian options, too. Flavors range from Asia (wok-tossed beef with aubergine) to South America (crispy tuna tacos).
Stay at the grand dame of Malta
When The Phoenicia hotel first opened its doors in 1947, it prompted an eight-page feature in local newspapers. After all, it was the first luxury hotel in Malta. Since then, it’s seen heads of state, royal families and big-screen celebrities stay. It’s easy to see why when I arrive at the hotel. For one thing, location, location, location. It sits right outside the gates of Valletta, in neighboring Floriana. Step out of the hotel gates and you see the famous Triton’s Fountain that marks the entrance to Valletta, just a few meters away.
But there’s plenty to recommend it within its gates, too. The infinity pool seems to drop right into one of Valletta’s harbors; you’ll find it and its sunset scenes at the end of a lovely stroll through the hotel’s extensive gardens. The old fortification walls that run above the pool area add to the historical feeling of this space. Inside, there’s a colonial feel, particularly in the Palm Court Lounge, where afternoon tea is a must (they have non-gluten and vegan versions too).
Guest rooms, designed in collaboration with Peter Young, have tiled floors and wicker accents in the furniture. There’s an aura of restfulness, though for real relaxation, head down to the Deep Nature Spa, with its menu of rejuvenating treatments. Stay after your treatment for the wellness facilities. The indoor pool is bordered on one side by an original fortified wall and there’s a salt room in addition to the steam and sauna.