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Our night at Del Borgo in Vittoriosa

Make your way down Del Borgo, into this historical cellar, but space comes at a premium, and the food is no consolation.

Hands up, anyone like me, remembers that time when wine bars started to be the next trend on the Maltese Islands. What a time to be alive. These were not the traditional bars where you drink beer and munch on small appetisers (though I love those too).

No, these were sophisticated places where you would order a bottle of fine wine whilst savouring a platter of cheese and cured hams.

Fiori di Zucca and Bocconcini di Melanzane fritti

Charming Birgu (Vittoriosa) became the founding home for these places. Imposing fortifications, narrow roads full of houses brimming with character, and impeccable views of the Grand Harbour, it is arguably the perfect location.

Birgu is one of those places where the more you visit, the more you like it, and the more you want to go again. It is no wonder that the Knights of St. John chose it as their capital when they decided to settle here in 1530.

I remember when Del Borgo first opened its doors way back in 2005. Located in a former Prince of Wales’ Own Band Club cellar, the place had been closed off and left to the mercy of dampness and darkness for years. It was then taken over and restored into one of the earliest wine bars I remember.

Salmon Carpaccio, drizzled with lemon, honey and some extra virgin olive oil

Certainly, the building makes it amongst the most atmospheric on the islands. With high stonework arches and thick masonry walls which have seen some serious history, Del Borgo is one of those charming Maltese places full of character.

We visited Del Borgo on a Saturday night, and the place was packed. We were placed on a table in a space meant to remain free as a passageway. I was so close to the lady behind me that our chairs touched. Now I know how sardines feel when canned.

Once seated, we were presented with two menus and a huge wine list, which looked more like one of those old ‘Freemans of London’ clothes catalogues my parents used to get. The list is large and detailed according to type, origin, brief description and price range.

Unless you are a connoisseur, it is overwhelming and you either search for a favourite, or else ask the waiter for suggestions. As for the menu has a variety of antipasti and tapas which cater for whichever country you feel like tasting – dolmades, aged parmesan, ‘sfineg’, bhaji, baked brie – it’s all there.

Ravioli Astici

There are, of course, the classic platters, a few mains and the signature ‘hobza’. Have anyone of you ever managed to finish the one stuffed with ricotta and pork? If so, I applaud you.

We started with the Fiori di Zucca and Bocconcini di Melanzane fritti (fried courgette flowers and aubergine bites), coming at two pieces each and priced at €8.50. The courgette flowers, fried in a nice cracking batter, had a soft body and were enjoyable but quite oily.

It was like having two huge spring rolls, which could have done with a minute of rest on some kitchen napkin. The aubergine bites were nice, but nothing to call your grandma about either.

The other starter was a Salmon Carpaccio, drizzled with lemon, honey and extra virgin olive oil. Don’t get me wrong, I love salmon, but for that price, I expect fresh salmon with a smell, let alone taste, strong enough to feel myself a couple of metres away from the sea. This was anything but that, and at €12.50, it felt a bit of a robbery.

The table was so small we had to use the wine bucket near us to place the breadbasket and gain some space when our plates arrived (no bread was harmed in the process). The place advertised as a stress-free environment with a relaxing atmosphere, but this felt quite stressful.

We hoped for the main courses to bring us some cheer through this confinement, but the ‘Ravioli Astici’ or baby lobster ravioli (though ‘Astici’ are more similar to shrimps or scampi) in a mussel bisque, failed to live up to such expectations. Priced at €17.50, the pasta was good and the sauce nice and thick, but combined, it overpowered the flavours of the filling. We weren’t too keen, and overall the dish was somewhat weak.

Pan-fried Halibut

We preferred the Pan-fried Halibut, worth every cent of its €19.50 price tag. The dish had plenty of perfectly seared fillets, which we didn’t mind. The fish was so meaty and tender we didn’t need our knives; a slight fork touch was enough. The vegetables were pleasant albeit slightly salted but complemented the fish well.

The selection of desserts is interesting, and we were particularly intrigued by the Pear Tatin accompanied by a gorgonzola ice cream, priced at €7.00. We looked forward to seeing how the pungy gorgonzola taste could be moulded into something as delicious as ice cream. The portion was huge.

A hefty amount of caramel covers the few pears placed on an undercooked piece of puff pastry. The point of a tarte tatin is to have a sticky, caramelised finish from the fruit and sugar, dripping on a buttery pastry. In our dessert, none of the pears were caramelised.

Instead, it was just a few cubes stuck in what seemed like a cross between angel delight and dulce de leche. As for the ice cream, it tasted of anything but gorgonzola and instead felt more like chocolate chip vanilla ice cream. We didn’t expect to be served a lump of cheese, but even beyond our wildest imagination would we have realised this was a gorgonzola ice cream unless we had read it.

Pear Tatin accompanied by a gorgonzola ice-cream

Existing through the narrow passage and into the street, I felt my lungs fill with air again whilst I worked off the cramps in my body due to the lack of movement. Service at Del Borgo was friendly and efficient which is laudable given how packed the place was, but as with great ambience, it is useless if your customers are not comfortable.

Going to a restaurant is meant to be fun and relaxing, not a constant struggle of making sure you don’t accidentally hit anything on your table, or that of someone else’s; and it is not like all this was compensated by the food either.


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