Old Theatre Street, Valletta
I don’t do puff pieces, although this may indeed sound like one. Risette deserves all the puff I’m pushing its way. I haven’t exaggerated a thing. The food has me completely floored.
In the heart of Valletta, in Old Theatre Street, you are welcomed into this sanctum of sensory pleasures. Risette says indulge in me, abandon yourself to food and drink for a few blissful hours.
The restaurant is located within two reasonably-sized front rooms at Casa Ellul, Valletta’s first luxury boutique hotel. Tremendously stylish with dark panelled walls, marble-topped tables and details picked out in brass, the dining rooms exude grace and elegance. Everything here spells sumptuousness. It smacks of sophistication.
The talented chef is the very same chap who had us all pining for more at his former restaurant, Black Pig. He’s moved premises but chosen to remain within the city walls. To say I anticipated greatness from Risette would not have been an understatement, and by God did he impress.
My intentions were far from innocent. I wanted to ravage everything in plain sight. The gorgeous surroundings whisper that you must do so politely. But don’t get me wrong – albeit fine dining of an ilk barely ever experienced in Malta, this is far from being a stuffy place, full of solemnity and rigid ritual. The knowledgeable staff are confident, composed and considerate. Service flows beautifully, carried off with superb ease and charm.
The menu is far from lengthy. It is a wonderful balance between the familiar and the challenging. With the flutter of a napkin neatly flapped on to my lap, lunch got under way. And so began an epicurean fever dream.
I was stunned by the sheer beauty of it all – the kind that can only derive from a dish that is perfection from inception to degustation. Every single ingredient is made to shine; from the most expensive cut of beef to a delicately shaved, translucent sliver of onion. This is art. High culinary art.
Risette’s menu changes constantly, sometimes daily. A couple of lunchtime visits have revealed a host of heavenly dishes. Consider a starter of braised spelt with mussels, buttered leeks and smoked haddock, finished off with glistening black Avruga caviar – a Spanish caviar substitute made from herring roe. What a joy to savour, all salty smokiness and buttery umami, with the spelt bringing with it a wonderfully nutty chewiness. Also staggeringly good is a starter of scallop and pork.
At last you no longer need to travel in order to experience a Michelin standard of dining
A crispy pork galette is sinfully savoury, balanced against the natural sweetness of the seared scallops; flash fried and golden in colour, delicate and yielding. It is a winning combination of spectacular flavours and textures.
Finishing off the dish is an irresistibly good cauliflower veloute sauce; velvety in texture as its name suggests it ought to be, with an ethereally light, creamy consistency. A return visit to Risette reveals pappardelle with venison ragout; another luxurious starter dish. The ragout is richly savoury with dazzling depth of flavour while the fresh pasta holds the sauce beautifully.
Risette’s main course dishes are equally outstanding. The John Dory, one of the tastiest, most delicious of fishes, is an instant sensation; fabulous in every way. According to tradition, the fish’s black dot is said to be St Peter’s thumbprint – and perhaps this fish has indeed been touched by the divine, such is the quality of its exquisite flesh. Flawlessly executed, a large fillet of firm, flaky-textured, white flesh was presented atop softened Jerusalem artichokes.
The mild, semi-sweetness of the fish paired extraordinarily well with specks of Morteau sausage and a splendid black truffle sauce. The strong flavours of the smoked sausage and the seductive earthy aroma of the truffles married beautifully with the John Dory. Not many fish can hold up to such a robust flavour combination.
Sumptuously rendered, the entrecote of New Zealand beef with charred white onion and oxtail gratin was another triumph. Tender and flavourful, this prime cut of ribeye had been fabulously cooked and the oxtail imparted rich, full-bodied flavour.
Hearty and satisfying and delivering the most delightful play of flavours and textures was the lamb shoulder dish encountered on my latest visit to Risette.
The mouth-wateringly good lamb oozed with melting tenderness, having been seasoned with anchovy; a classic trick that enhances the flavour of the meat beautifully. Anchovies pack an aggressive punch but slow cooking had mellowed their assertive fishiness to a deep, intense savouriness.
We swoon, we sigh, we move on to dessert. And what a send-off; alluring till the end on both occasions. There are two desserts in particular of which I am fond.
One dessert has a vegetable at its heart – a parsnip. This versatile root vegetable has seen me through many lunches and dinners, but had, until recently, never quite made it into any of my desserts.
This was, thus, quite a revelation. Ingenious to say the least. A wonderful cloud of parsnip cream gives off an earthy sweetness which is the perfect foil for the sourness of the grapefruit. A salted peanut ice cream finishes off the dessert beautifully.
The hazelnut millefeuille is a glorious affair. This dessert of a thousand layers could not be truer to its name. I demolish and destroy, eating my way through a towering delight of crisp, perfectly thin layers and the most sumptuous milk chocolate ice cream. Not a crumb is left behind.
There is such pure delicious pleasure to be found at Risette. In his masterful dishes, all accomplished with flair and finesse, the chef displays an innate understanding of flavour; so innate that it can only be instinctive. This is raw talent. Risette has illuminated Malta’s at times rudimentary and mind numbingly dull restaurant scene. As yet unmatched, it is setting a precedent that is going to be terribly hard to supersede.
At last you no longer need to travel in order to experience a Michelin standard of dining. It is here. It is show-stopping. And it’s in our capital city.
Risette, you’ve been worth the wait.