NO IDEA what happened to food in Malta in the few years but whatever it is, it's brilliant.
My childhood memories - I'm half Maltese - recall restaurants serving thick-based, over-cheesed and over-laden pizzas, dry duck breast drenched in orange sauce and pasta made with sad frozen seafood.
I'm sure there were places serving up beautiful traditional food of rabbit, bragioli and stuffed marrows that were simply beyond my 10-year-old ability to track them down.
But the last decade food in this Mediterranean island has become joyful. Perhaps it's because diners have become more discerning, or maybe good places are easier to find with a simple internet search. But either way, Malta is worth checking out simply for the food. And a few years ago, I wouldn't have said that.
Here's my guide to some great restaurants, and some info about what foods Malta does brilliantly, and where to find them.
Any suggestions? Add them to the comments below.
SmartCity is a massive technology park spread across 360,000m² between the Grand Harbour in Valetta and Ricasoli Point.
SmartCity's got a few nice places to eat and Wejla, a seafood restaurant that uses local and seasonal produce cooked with love, rates highest for me. Dishes such as razor and carpet clams, prawns, mussels and langoustine in a garlic and paprika sauce or a chorizo mussel & asparagus risotto. It's seafood that lives up to expectations.
SmartCity Malta, Il-Kalkara, Malta, SCM1001
A stunning seaside location gives Ferretti, in Birzebugga, beautiful views to go with excellent food. I recommend the meat here – I had an incredible veal rib before and know the pork done three ways is also incredible.
They also do nice starters – such as the deep-fried local Gozo cheese with sesame seeds and their fish is pretty good too.
Triq il- Qajjenza, Birżebbuġa BBG 1281
A diamond find in the capital Valetta, Scoglitti overlooks the capital's harbour serving fresh seafood caught not too far from here that was being loaded into the display cooler fresh from the supplier as we walked in.
We shared some oysters, watching as our lovely waiter fished them out from the inside tank. An aubergine parmigiana was also fabulous.
Linguini with prawns & a parmesan & parsley crust was excellent; an explosion of colour and that crust gave so much texture. A mixed seafood spaghetti was as good as you'd hope when you picked it, when it's so often a let down. But the surprising winner was a steak and thyme pasta that packed layer upon layer of tasty flavour. The service here is also spot on.
8 Triq il-Lanca Marsamxett, Valletta
This restaurant doesn't look up to much but trust me when I say it's good. The owners, a couple, have plans afoot to make the interior and exterior sing as much as the food – tarting up the run down sea-facing restaurant and hotel to bring in more locals and holidaymakers alike.
And what a treat is in store for them. Locally-caught Cerna – grouper – grilled and served with homemade caponata (they nicked the recipe from an Italian lady years ago and it's amazing) is so fresh and lovely while the rabbit, cooked in wine, garlic and herbs, is a must – it's Malta's national dish after all, so you need to do it properly.
Bewarned though - some of the choices are typical tourist-fodder and to be avoided. My recommendation is to have the rabbit and the fresh fish & shellfish. You shouldn't go wrong. Oh yeah - their homemade caponata is pretty special too.
Ghar Lapsi, Siggiewi
Disclosure – I've only had Ximo's linguine vongole but it was so good they deserve a mention. And when you spot the clams resting in water, their little feelers poking out the shells, you know it's fresh.
I've heard good reports from others too. And it's our only restaurant in Marsaskala, which is a lovely little harbour town on the island's south east which is worth a visit and walk around.
26 Marina St, Marsaskala
Recommended by others:
Whenever I visit Malta we tend to do a lot of eating indoors. With the produce Malta has on offer, it's impossible to resist the urge to cook.
So here are the restaurants i've heard on good authority are good, from people I trust, but have never had the chance to visit....yet.
We actually drove to Xem Xija but we got there before it opened and were starving so went somewhere else.
Sammy's has an emphasis on seasonal, local food and the small menu looked pretty something-for-everyone solid.
24 Xemxija Hill, San Pawl il-Baħar
This is another one we drove out too – but it was closed for a week. Just my luck (we ended up somewhere horrible too).
It's on the waterfront at Marsaxloxx (pronounced 'Marsa-shlock') and does justice to the setting by the look of it. Mussels, whitebait, tuna crudo and salmon meatballs (fishballs, surely?) are a few examples from the frankly tempting menu.
Terrone, Wilga Street, Marsaxlokk
A family-owned restaurant that apparently serves lovely food (according to my parents, which is good enough for me).
They rated El Patron's fish, veal shanks and the “breath-taking ocean views” at night. Sounds good to me.
Triq Congreve. Il-Qrendi, Malta
This place came highly recommended to me and is high up on my list. Set amongst olive and carob trees, they serve traditional Maltese food produced and grown on their land.
The menu includes balbuljata – a tomato-based dish of onions, corned beef, beaten eggs and grated cheese or ravioli made with their own sheep's cheese and homemade tomato sauce.
Main Street, Ħad-Dingli, Malta
Another restaurant recommended, this one offers fine dining with a menu that includes slow cooked and grilled marinated octopus, squid ink mayo, puffed amaranth and white radish or asparagus mille foglie, parmesan cream, caramelised onion and pistachios.
4/5 Barriera Wharf Valletta Malta
Apparently this offers the 'best lunch in Malta'. A big claim, and I've never been so can't confirm or deny. And there's no website, so I can't even offer any menu examples – but the person who told me seemed pretty convinced.
Melita St, Valletta, Malta