The Union Club too, is part of our girlhood. The more sporty girls in my class would go and play tennis there in the holidays while their parents amused themselves playing bridge or canasta and probably tennis and squash, too. Unlike the Casino Maltese, the Union Club is associated largely with British armed forces and their families. I recall someone telling me that the Maltese had set up the Casino Maltese as the British, at first, would not allow any Maltese to become members of the Union Club which started its days on the top floor of Auberge de Provence in 1826. Among its first honorary members one finds Sir Walter Scott, Benjamin Disraeli and William Makepeace Thackeray. By 1846 the club had moved to new premises.
*** Well, the armed forces are now a thing of the past as slowly the years have brought with them change. I am almost certain that most of the present members of the Union Club are Maltese, at least so it seems from the crowd that was present when I was invited to dine there last week.
The restaurant-cum-bar has been taken over by three Italians, one of them the writer Paolo Gambi. He tells me he is in love with Malta. He wanted me to go along and have dinner at Mosaico, for that is the name of the restaurant at the Union Club.
*** These ‘ new’ premises opened in 2002 on three floors. They are huge with plenty of space – and sofas and armchairs – for a tête a tête or a quiet read or indeed a noisy game of skittles. There are amenities galore with table tennis, darts, petangue, snooker, bridge and more taking place in different rooms. The ambience was lively without it being noisy. It really is an oasis.
Once in the restaurant Paolo introduced me to his business partners Elisa Ulazzi and Carlantonio Monaco who are truly simpatici and warm as Italians can be. I eventually met the whole team. There they are in the photo: Elisa Ulazzi, Martina Bruno, Roberto La Greca, Paolo Gambi, Chef Gianluca Alpi and Carlantonio Monaco.
I also met Carol Zammit Briffa who is Chairman of the Union Club. She is brimming with energy and full of ideas and together with her committee has done much to make the club as congenial as possible. “There’s plenty more to do,” she told me. Clearly a woman of action.
As we sat down on a napped table – no formica if you dine here – I asked Paolo why Mosaico? “He explained: “Because,” he said, “cuisine is the art of putting each piece in the right place to create ‘a mosaic’ of senses and gastronomic experiences.”
Only a writer has the ability to express it so well.
I dislike eateries where you are so close to the next table that they can almost eat off your plate (not to mention listen to your conversation) but I noticed that the tables at Mosaico are set well apart. Service was smooth and attentive without being intrusive.
Mosaico has one of those reassuring menus on which everything looks tempting. It has a minimum of adjectives and not a superlative in sight.
I enjoyed a ‘tasting’ menu, together with my host who has an endless supply of anecdotes, insights and if prodded enough, he will tell you about some of the books he wrote and the people he met. He writes for the Catholic Herald too. And he is just one year older than my youngest daughter and has already achieved so much.
We started with some delicious amuse bouche. I remember thinking I would be happy if the whole meal consisted of these amuse bouche.
The lasagne which followed were creamy and the paccheri with salmon and pesto beautifully presented. Finally it was time for dessert and an assembley of three small portions of panna cotta al caramello, semi freddo al limone and torta di mele con gelato were a treat and saw out the meal. There is a choice of six desserts on the menu and I noticed that the Bavarese ai frutti rossi is gluten and lactose free as is the Torta al Mandarino. The happy result had no dud among them with the paccheri leading the field. At this stage I really wanted to meet the chef Gianluca Alpi, to congratulate him on feeding us so well.
*** I read somewhere that Ingmar Bergman the Swedish writer, director and producer always had an austere meal at lunchtime: Very fat whipped sour cream, very sweet strawberry jam and cornflakes. Well, he lived to almost the age of 90. But I’d rather live less and enjoy more interesting meals.
*** There is an a la carte menu at Mosaico, which I found to be reasonably priced. A soup will set you back Euros 8, a pasta dish from Euros 9 – 12; a Saltimbocca alla Romana served with potatoes at Euros 14 seems reasonable.
There is a variety of salads. This is reassuring for those, like me, who fool themselves in thinking that they are on a perpetual diet. Also on the menu is a good selection of snacks in case all you want is a coffee and a sandwich. Or indeed a whisky and soda.
But best of all, in my view, are the special, prix fixe menus of the day, a rare and welcome phenomenon here. Each day there is a different menu and a good two-course meal will set you back 16 euros, 14 euros if you are a member of the club.
On Thursdays there is the traditional Curry lunch and you can compose your own meal from the selection of curries on the menu.
Fridays are spaghetti days and three different types of spaghetti are presented. A small bottle of water is included but other beverages are extra.
The menu changes every month so the habitués need never get bored of the food.
On Sundays members and their guests can be victualled and can take advantage of a 10% discount on the a la carte menu.
I can see Mosaico becoming the watering hole du quartier before long if the same standards are kept.
So Italian, so agreeable, so affordable. [email protected]dependent.com.mt
The Business Partners and their team
The restaurant has a pleasant ambience
Paolo Gambi with the designer and model Sarah Kern who happened to pop into the club