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MUZA Restaurant – where our heritage meets great culinary experiences

An interpretative menu at MUZA Restaurant provides the basis for a well-meaning culinary experience with more than a touch of nostalgia.

Few would deny that Valletta has undergone incredible transformations in the last decade. Gone are the days when you would think twice about setting foot there post-office hours.

Ladies Wearing the Ghonnella’ vegetable soup
Ladies Wearing the Ghonnella’ vegetable soup with cheeselets

These days, our much-loved capital city comes alive on most evenings, mostly thanks to the many new bars and restaurants popping up all over the place (we will leave aside the social impacts for this time only).

Linked to the Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture event, the opening of MUZA in the Auberge d’Italie, late in 2018, was one of the showcase projects. MUZA stands for Mużew Nazzjonali tal-Arti and is Maltese for muse (the word ‘inspiration’, not the rock band).

The main entrance to the restaurant is from Pjazza La Valette (there is a copy of the menu before the leading steps), but you could just as easily gain access from Merchant Street, leading to that nice open courtyard with a central arch.

MUZA Restaurant interior
MUZA Restaurant provides quite the stylish interior

Many are of the opinion that you should let a place open and settle properly before you go there, putting lines in your little notebook whilst analyzing everything through a magnifying glass. Well MUZA and its restaurant outlet have been open quite some time now, so we decided to go and give its restaurant a proper look.

If, like us, you have been to MUZA for coffee, you’ll probably be more familiar with the bar/café area, which combines historic architectural aspects with some fine interior design.

Although we had no booking, we were courteously directed to a table in the ‘Donato Room’, one of the three areas available for dining. Yes, interior design is not everything, because the most important thing is the food, but let’s face it, it helps.

The room is decorated with an elegant simplicity that not many places in the city have achieved.

MUZA Restaurant booklet page
MUZA Restaurant with a promise of a culinary experience

A large metal chandelier in the middle dominates the toned-down colours of the room, casting its floral pattern shades and complementing the 20th-century decorative frieze still visible on the upper parts of the room.

The menu is designed with a sense of nostalgia, aimed for the customer to interact between arts and food, but also to remind them of the country’s past. Dishes are inspired by the artwork on display and on the menu there’s a painting with a description near almost all dishes on offer.

Dishes have names like ‘The Turkish Corsair’ (€9), which is basically grilled vegetables, or a Maltese platter (€8/€15) fittingly named ‘Il-Buskett mal-Familja’ (remember those family picnics with enough food to feed a whole village?).

There are imaginatively named pasta dishes or curries, whilst a naval officer proudly represents a pork dish with pickled apples and orange sauce. The priciest dish is Olga’s (€25), ‘Il-Platt ta Olga’ consisting of fresh fish poached in court-bouillion.

Cheese pie from Muza Restaurant
Cheese pie from Muza Restaurant

There are few things I enjoy more than hearing people of a certain age recall their past, the times they lived through, and the world they were born into, describing a world that no longer exists.

This menu somehow manages to give me that feeling. A prime example was ‘Ladies Wearing the Ghonnella’ (€8) which consisted of a vegetable soup with pieces of cheeselet and drizzled with olive oil.

One of those ladies featured in the painting ‘Archbishop Street’ accompanying the description in the menu, might as well have been my great-grandmother for all I know. For the sake of my grandparents, I hope she used to make a soup as hearty as this one. One would usually think of vegetable soup as plain boring.

This was anything but that. You could feel the genuine stock in the taste, whilst the bits of cheeselet gave it that extra kick. The two little char-grilled slices of bread made this meal complete.

Spaghetti with Octopus
‘The Pixkerija’ Spaghetti with Octopus

Less excitement came from ‘The Pixkerija’ (From the fish market, €12), which consisted of spaghetti with octopus, garlic, tomatoes and basil. The portion was quite sizable; however, we could have done with less pasta and perhaps a bit more octopus, which was well-cooked. The sauce didn’t really come out and overall the dish wasn’t well-salted.

Reading the menu, I found it particularly interesting to see what sort of painting had been attributed to each dish and how this was reflected in the dish. There were no paintings accompanying the Cheese Pie (€9) on the menu, but a mix of cheeseless and eggs on shortcrust, with broad beans and salad sounded too good to turn down.

The dish that came up had an annoyingly excessive amount of rucola on top (are there no forest paintings on display at MUZA?) but below that, the cracking sound of the pastry reflected a very enjoyable pie.

The second main dish was the Farmer’s Meal (€19) which consisted of a Rabbit stuffed with liver with chicken mousse and grilled carrots. I know rabbit is not for everyone and we Maltese may be described as bunny butchers because of our appetite for this type of meat. Rabbit though, has been part of Maltese culinary heritage for centuries.

Farmer’s Meal which consisted of Rabbit stuffed with liver
Farmer’s Meal which consisted of Rabbit stuffed with liver with chicken mousse and grilled carrots

There was a dish as beautiful as the mid-twentieth century painting ‘Il-Barba’, by the master himself Edward Caruana Dingli, which accompanied it in the menu. The presentation looked posh, but the taste was all about tradition.

The portion size was perfect, and the sauce was beautifully tick, accompanying an impeccably cooked rabbit and liver.

Service was very good and attentive and soon enough we were on our way to the bar area to choose our dessert. Speculoos is a Belgian spiced shortbread cookie that is usually shaped like windmills, but in this case, named ‘Specoluus’ (€4), the dessert consisted of a biscuit boat filled with a tiramisu combination of coffee cream and mascarpone.

Specoluus from MUZA Restaurant
Specoluus from MUZA Restaurant

The pastry was hard, cold and not very much enjoyable whilst both fillings were much firmer than I’m used to when eating tiramisu. Unfortunately, the dessert felt like an anticlimax after such a nice dinner.

I feel this is a place with a lot of potential and a lot could yet come out of MUZA, especially if they put a bit more effort into desserts.

If the people running the show here manage to further fuse two beautiful things together – art and food – the place might yet become a masterpiece.


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