by wjw on May 31, 2023

There are a surprisingly large number of Michelin-starred restaurants on Malta. Despite my devotion to gastronomy, I’d never eaten at a restaurant with a Michelin star, and I thought it was about time I did. So even though I knew that Kathy and I were going to be facing a week of very large and probably very tasty meals on the boat, I decided to make the experiment.

Of the various restaurants available, I picked Ion, because its rivals featured Mediterranean cuisine, while Ion showcased Maltese ingredients. It was our last night on Malta, and our last chance to enjoy any unique flavors the island might provide.

To my surprise, we got seats on less than 24 hours notice. Apparently Tuesday is a slow night in Malta. I did have to provide a credit card number to guarantee our seats, and if I’d canceled I would have paid a hefty fine.

Ion turns out to be on the top floor of a hotel, with gorgeous views of the harbor. As we dined, we watched the sun set over the island, turning the walled city to gold.

Ion is “by” Simon Rogan, whose other restaurants are in the Lake District of England, including l’Enclume, which has no less than three Michelin stars. Should I ever find myself in Cumbria . . .

There was a 12-dish tasting menu for a reasonable 135 Euros per person, though of course once you pay for the service, the cocktails, the wine pairings, and the extra-special caviar for two the price does go up. Because we were only going to do this once, we shelled out for everything.

We had one— server?— who wasn’t so much a waiter as an attentive guide who steered us through the meal, and of course the sommelier stood by just in case we needed enlightenment about the wine. (He favored somewhat green unoaked whites, which worked well with the fresh-tasting food.)

None of the plates held a lot of food, but there were still a dozen, and like the prices they added up, and by the end of the evening I felt quite full.

Here we have “aerated pea with asparagus from Gozo, calamint and smoked roe.” Very fresh and bright, though since peas were in season I was offered them with practically every meal over the next week, and after a while I began to actively avoid them.

I didn’t love every dish, but I disliked none. Even those that fell a bit flat seemed like worthy experiments.

One favorite was “large white pork and eel doughnut, cured fat and own blend caviar.” The cured fat was in the form of a thin transparent caul that sat atop the dish and melted to provide a coating of luxuriant flavor for the tongue.

After a while I began to get an idea of the chefs’ methods, which takes full advantage of the fact that you can ship food all over the world fast enough that it arrives tasting fresh. So the dish that featured “scallops from Orkney, chamomile, buttermilk, and smoked pike perch roe” features one element flown in from Scotland, the pike perch roe from some freshwater source north of the Med, and the rest probably local. Combine flavors from enough far-away places and you can come up with a dish that has literally never been tasted before.

The final three courses were desserts. Because why not?

We rolled out of the restaurant with a feeling of content.

(And you can stop feeling jealous now, because the next morning Kathy tested positive for COVID and our whole trip went to shit.)

Paul Cooper June 1, 2023 at 11:33 am

Ah, Walter Jon Williams displays his methods. First, he sets the stage with the view as the sun sets. Then, he gives us each dish: its ingredients, its color, its texture, its taste. Finally, he sums it all up, leaving us with a feeling of satisfaction. This is the mark of the journeyman story teller.

Then, he ends the story with an unexpected twist. This is the mark of the Master story teller.

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