Club class

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE -

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]­de­pen­

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

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