If you have ever had the chance to visit the beautiful island of Malta, you have probably had the chance to see vast sandy beaches, steep rocks with ladders that lead down into foaming waves, painting-like seaside landscapes and water so blue it seems Photoshopped. With eye-catching architecture blended with picturesque nature, Malta is breathtakingly stunning and surprisingly diverse. This small, sometimes overlooked island deserves to emerge from its current state of runner-up to its Mediterranean cousins of Greece, Spain and others to shine in its own right.
But, there is one tiny cloud on the ever-blue skies of this perfect holiday destination: food.
During my recent visit to Malta, I hoped to find an abundance of fresh fruit and grilled vegetables, as is typical of Mediterranean countries. Instead, fried chicken and oily fast food reigned, in an attempt to cater to the simple tastes of tourists – and when that wasn’t the case, Maltese national dishes such as rabbit stew populated the menus of idyllic beach-side restaurants. To make a long story short, Malta is not exactly a vegan’s paradise…at first sight.
But as with many other things, digging a bit deeper and going beyond the obvious pays off: from organic paradise The Grassy Hopper, with locations in visit-worthy Gzira and capital Valletta, to Sliema’s fresh and tasty Mint, even a carnivore island like Malta is waking up to the trend of vegan living. And some of the more innovative restaurants are really pushing the envelope when it comes to using the island’s natural resources. Case in point: Sammy’s by Culinary Forward Malta.
Open for a year and a half (and hence about the same age as Vilda), this little gem is located on the seaside of whip-out-your-Canon-gorgeous Xemxija, offering a gorgeous view to accompany your gorgeous dinner. Because what you are about to eat is definitely gorgeous, to your eyes as well as your taste buds.
Created by chef Keith Abela, who masterfully interprets his home country’s abundance of seasonal vegetables and in some cases fruit, the restaurant’s five-course vegan menu is a feast for veggies and omnivores alike.
In a location that boasts above-30 degree heat for a large part of the year, freshness is an elusive quality that makes a five-course dinner go down a treat, and Sammy’s is one of the few restaurants to harness that factor. Free from oily heaviness, dishes like the cucumber and apple cannelloni are both flavourful and light as air.
Lightly roasted vegetables have the potential to truly sweep your taste buds off their feet – and that is exactly what Keith’s exquisite blend of carrots, radishes and onions does, topped with delicate greens.
In his third course, Keith uses a home-made tomato sauce that is beyond anything I have ever tasted. It gives off a slightly grilled vibe that blends perfectly with the zucchine and pickled vegetables. A party for your palate.
The desserts alone warrant a return visit – from the strawberry and red pepper sorbet – yes, you read that right and it’s exquisitely sweet – to the stunningly flavourful figs, Keith’s work with fruit is astonishing.
Sammy’s is the perfect antidote to the vegan stereotype: without soy and meat substitutes, this restaurant throws the old, trite ‘meat and side dish’ model out the window by interpreting vegetables in a supremely flavourful way. I promise that your non-veggie friends will be impressed.
Sammy’s by Culinary Forward Malta is located in 24 Xemxija Hill, bus 221, 41, 42 or 37. The vegan menu is 25 euros/person.
Photos by David Camilli