I’m standing in the middle of Marsaxlokk, and stunned by what stands before me (and no… It’s not Posh and Beckham fighting over their favourite hairdresser). I’m looking at Southport – the restaurant/wine bar nestled between the local police station and a string of other restaurants. The façade is simply amazing, and once you walk inside you will find out it has a style of its own.
I’m here with TV presenter/producer/actress Clare Agius who is equally beautiful. I’m captivated by her glowing complexion, and eyes that are heightened to the point of dazzle exclusively by a simple black eyeliner and subtle mascara. Without the edge that comes with too much make-up, her face has the demure simplicity and angelic beauty of a Renaissance Madonna.
We step inside and move in the gleaming surroundings drinking in the hipness of Southport. Old and new confront each other on two levels of baroque and modern extravagance fused into one in the most stylish way possible. The upper level is reserved for fine dining, and is done up in rich browns and inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci! My first thought was that Dan Brown would feel perfectly at home here. The design is sleek and contemporary and the Maitre d’, who looks like an exotic cross between Johnny Depp and Bruce Lee, is the perfect sample of how a Maitre d’ should be. We ask him about the history of the villa, and he digs up all the information he could muster, and then guides us to the wine bar on the lower level. He tells us we will be served very soon.
The wine bar area touches the peak of perfection. It is incredibly spacious with sofas spread sparingly across a room that is well lit and very airy. They play blacks against ivory, with buttermilk walls that make the place look even grander, and a creamy baby-grand piano that gives it a handsome touch. I half expect Michelle Pfeiffer to walk in and roll over it as she did in her classic Fabulous Baker Boys!
“I can’t drink too much wine,” Clare tells me in a sweet voice. “I’ll only have one glass!”
I negotiate a two-glass deal with her, and we reach for a well presented wine menu which lives to our expectations. Clare is clearly fascinated by the menu selection that has over 190 wines to choose from. She claims to be very pro Italian – “especially lately” – and seems to know her wines like Imelda Marcos knows her shoes. She chooses a Caroso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo priced at €14.00. I am more concerned with the platters and Southport offer a selection of seven different platters which include a fresh fruit fondue.
“I’m not too hungry,” Clare says in a honeyed tone. “So let’s not order too much food.”
I want to die there and then. I am starving like a kid in Somalia, so we finally decide to order a seafood platter for one, to nibble on, and some goat’s cheese and tomato bruschettas.
Our order is taken by a young and very attentive young man who speaks in low semitones, and moves graciously and silently around. He smiles shyly and lights up a small candle before he disappears outside.
Clare and I have not stopped talking since the minute we met. She fills me in with some information about her TV shows, and about her travels. This woman, who comes in a Kylie Minogue package of petite features and alluring looks, has no dead-on diva behaviour. She is the girl next door with a very deep and analytical mind that I sense is extremely curious. She admits to wearing several hats but not in a way that can be deemed as fake. “I like to try new things, and I am very inquisitive.”
I promptly ask her if she would rather shave her hair completely for love or for fame. I catch a flicker of hesitation before she boldly replies that she would do it for love.
On cue, five people looking like some assorted combination straight out of an Almodovar movie walk in and seat themselves on the sofa next to us. The youngest member of the group – probably the childbride of a retired gym instructor in horse-riding clothes – is openly showing him her affections. The other two men seem engulfed in lengthy discussions over some building project, while an eccentric lady who looks like a beautiful version of Paloma Picasso stared at them with a bored expression.
The silent waiter floats back into the room with big wine glasses and expertly pours the red wine for us to taste.
The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is quite intense, with hints of red mulberry, cherry and balsamic, fruity aromas which wine aficionados should find very appealing. It has a very rich and complex persistent finish which I like.
Everybody breaks rules now and again, so we do not mind mixing our seafood platter with the red wine. The bruschettas are beyond divine, and the seafood is an assortment of calamari, white bait, octopus, and one prawn which are accompanied by a small serving of tartar sauce. They are served to us on stylish white plates, and look a little bit like Heidi Klum walking out of the make-up room for a Harpers Bazaar photo shoot – perfect!
We give in to blissful indulgence!
I then ask Clare my stress-reliever-slap question: The scenario: Claudette Pace, Angie Laus, and Simone Cini are standing in front of her. She is allowed one slap to relieve her tension… who is her victim?
Her beautiful eyes are diluted with a sliver of panic. She thinks about it, knowing this is all very playful, and finally chooses to bully Angie Laus. “The other two are two big for me… she is my size, so I can handle her!”
“And your most difficult TV guest?” I ask, guzzling the wine.
She takes her time to think, and finally thinks of somebody. “A particular someone who wouldn’t stop being political!” she says mysteriously.
Satisfied with the flow of conversation and the delicious food I finally make a move to hunt down the “Gents” for close inspection. The toilets are quite okay, spacious, but their design does not level with the beauty of Southport. Once again, the designer had a day off!
Once back, we have a blast discussing all sorts of topics and perhaps we are the most animated couple in Southport Villa and Gardens. Clare is like an energy drink. One sip, and you remain hyper for 24 hours!
Finally, we call for Mr Bill, and the bruschettas, Montepulciano, and seafood platter amount to €25 – a very fair price in my humble opinion.
Southport is truly a gem of the south. It embodies the romantic mutation from old to new in a remarkable way. I fall in love with it completely and could actually spend the night over here had Clare not pointed out that the clock was ticking and she has a long and stressful morning ahead of her.
We leave the Almodovars behind us. The Paloma Picasso woman is now engrossed in conversation with childbride and the retired gym instructor in the horse-riding clothes is happily punching away on some little high-tech gadget lost in a world of his own. The two men previously discussing the building project are now taking a smoke in the lovely gardens outside.
If Agatha Christie were alive, I am sure she would have written a story out of her Southport experience!
RATING: 1 - 7
Wine - *******
Food - ******
Service - *******
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