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I feel like everybody should have a basic grasp of some form of culinary ability. Nothing fancy mind you, but boiling pasta or frying an egg doesn’t require some sort of great talent. I have a friend who insists that all he is able to make is tortellini con panna, frozen salmon or a sandwich. He has famously turned many a frozen pizza into solid carbon and has skipped entire meals due to his ineffectiveness in the kitchen.
Another friend of mine once burned soup. The mind boggles.
I do a lot of cooking at home. Food is a passion of mine and, luckily, is a varied and easily accessible hobby with great pay-off. This is a result of my upbringing where we were fortunate enough to eat out semi-regularly but also where my mother would have a few go-to recipes in her back pocket that she could whip out when in a rush.
Her 10-minute carbonara became my life’s obsession, setting the benchmark for every trattoria I ever set foot in. Leftovers were mixed with an egg and fried to become tarja moqlija. She would also make a couple of kilos of ragu and bag them in individual portions that we could defrost and make rigatoni bolognese with. Leftovers were mixed with an egg and fried to become ‘Breakfast imqarrun’.
It’s food like this that made me realise you can make something delicious with a handful of ingredients and minimal time, cost and effort. In my opinion, I find more comfort in the simpler dishes than in any of the fine dining dishes I’ve had the privilege to enjoy. They serve different purposes.
The same argument can then be had for restaurants. What purpose do catering businesses serve? I have had this discussion multiple times and everyone has their own reasons for dining out. Some people only order things they can’t make at home. I’ve been there many times before having had a dish that I make my white whale. I’ll go back home and try to reconstruct it, a by-product of my mother’s delicious quick meals and her inability to remember exactly what went into them. Other times, people eat out because they just can’t be bothered to prepare anything at home that day because sometimes life catches up to you and you just want hot food to be placed on your table.
We found ourselves walking around the Sliema coast when hunger descended upon me. I didn’t want anything fancy, just something to tide me over. I immediately spotted Surfside and nostalgia set in. I made a beeline for it, drumming up a multitude of childhood memories of summers spent by the seaside.
Setting foot in the restaurant was the start of what was to be a terrible memory
Setting foot in the restaurant was the start of what was to be a terrible memory I will be quick to try to forget. For a start, we weren’t approached by anyone but left to stand there for a few minutes before we walked in and informed a waiter we would be seating ourselves at a freshly cleared table. It was a further eight minutes (yes, after our time waiting at the door, we were pedantic enough to time how long service would take) before menus were unceremoniously plonked in front of us. Before I could order a drink, the waitress had vanished as mysteriously as she had appeared. We were left with all the time in the world to browse the menu and take in our surroundings.
The decor is pleasant and the outer walls are made entirely of glass allowing for an unobstructed view of the rolling waves and shoreline. Unfortunately, the glass was filthy and there was a thin film of dirt ruining the scenic vista.
Surfside now identifies as a sports bar and inside the walls are engraved with inspirational quotes from famous athletes (although someone ought to break it to them that Rocky Balboa’s inspirational quote should be attributed to Sly Stallone, the scriptwriter, himself). The menu is also sports-themed, with every dish named after a famous athlete. It made for a confusing time but as a fan of the sporting world, it did elicit the odd giggle.
It took a while for the waiters to remember we existed and by now my patience was already pushed to the limit. We decided on a simple garlic bread starter for two and opted for a burger and a classic plate of tortellini for mains. A couple of pints of Pepsi.
I would like to make it clear that the menu offers two choices of garlic bread starter. You can order it for one person or for two people. We specifically ordered the For Two People option. It is important that I point this out because what turned up on our table shortly after ordering was a crime against humanity. Five pieces of bread. Five. For two people. I’m not sure if the kitchen was trying to incite a riot, but they came close.
It was perfectly mediocre garlic bread by the way. Nothing to write home about, could have certainly done with more garlic. And more bread. It was garlic bread that was lacking in both its namesakes.
Contrary to the standard so far set, mains followed in quick succession. So quick in fact, that our table had not yet been cleared from our starters. The menu offered a Tennessee BBQ Burger (or the Guardiola) for just under €12. It was advertised as coming with a side of onion rings. We paid an extra €3 for ‘Double the fries and an extra four onion rings’. Clearly, a side here means one, because while the portion of chips was fair (although if that is double, then a single portion is a joke), the onion rings on our plate numbered five.
The burger itself was 50 shades of grey and just as poorly treated as the subject matter. I’m not even going to say any more than that. For €15, this was a rip-off at half the price. The tortellini meanwhile were a scientific wonder. They were fused together in a heap and had to be pulled apart. The pasta was ice cold on the outside and piping hot on the inside which led me to believe they had been sitting there awhile.
There was absolutely no seasoning on the tortellini. And I’m talking salt and pepper here. Every mouthful just tasted like a blob of panna straight out of the pack and nothing else; as though it was added as an afterthought. And they had the audacity to charge €12 for it.
I know what you’re thinking. Mate, it’s a burger, some garlic bread and some pasta. But none of it was good. And you can’t really get more basic than a burger and some tortellini with cream. My aforementioned friend who is a mess in the kitchen is able to create at least one of those things to some level of satisfaction. If it can be made at home at a basic level, I expect a restaurant to be able to make food at least just as well, if not slightly better. And Surfside failed on all counts here. Especially considering the place was barely busy at the time with probably about 15 covers in total at the time we were dining.
We wasted no time leaving. We asked and were told we’d have to pay at the counter on the way out where we discovered we’d had two coffees accidentally tacked onto our already exorbitant bill. The matter rectified, the total was still cents shy of €40.
I don’t think I’ll ever return to Surfside after this. I can’t even say the experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth. That would hint at some sort of flavour.
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