Caught in the net of seafood pleasure: Tartarun restaurant in Marsaxlokk, Malta

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Tartarun Restaurant was included in the Michelin Guide Malta 2020 – the first ever Michelin Guide to Malta.

“I went to culinary school because I did badly at school. But there I found my place.”

It might sound as an unexpected revelation from a promising chef of a Michelin-guide restaurant at Malta’s seafood capital Marsaxlokk. However, James Schiavone is a very earthly person. Together with his twin brother Stephen and their parents, they are devoted to the very simple but fulfilling mission: bringing pleasure to people through food. It has always been about this. Not just satisfying people’s hunger but bringing joy and emotion through food, says Stephen.

Restaurant Tartarun Malta
Restaurant Tartarun Malta. Photo credit: https://www.tartarun.com/

Delivering joy in the midst of a pandemic

Would you stop reading if we told you that we have never been to the restaurant?

Well, life can play with us sometimes, but we can play with it, too. We had a reservation for the restaurant during our second trip to Malta in March 2021 but the day before our visit the government closed all restaurants due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Two days later, just before our flight home, our Covid tests turned positive. So we had to stay for a 14-day quarantine in Malta. Luckily, none of us had any symptoms so we used our time to keep up with the initial plan – to explore the wine and culinary pleasures of Malta. So, we did not go to Tartarun restaurant, but Tartarun came to our place. We ordered a delivery for dinner, including starters and… surprise… a DIY fish meal! All of them accompanied by a letter with precise instructions.

Restaurant Tartarun Marsaxlokk Malta
Restaurant Tartarun Marsaxlokk Malta

The Maltese way of eating – share the start

What a better start of a dinner or a Sunday lunch with friends or family than sharing a few portions of starters? Maltese people love these events, especially on Sunday lunch. And although the national dish is based on rabbit, fish has always been a major part of their diet, especially in the southern part of the island. The usual gathering would start with ordering a few starters to share.

In Tartarun it would almost always include their signature dish – prawn tartar with capers, tomato and pickled raisins. A tender bite of three types of prawns (pink, red and white), generously dressed with a refreshing olive oil and lemon dressing, in the company of crunchy bread, opening all of your senses. A signature dish present in the menu since the very beginning in 2009.

Prawn tartar at Tartarun Restaurant Malta
The signature prawn tartar. Photo creit: https://www.tartarun.com/

Another lovely bite comes from the octopus carpaccio – local octopus with lardo (pig’s fat coming from Colonnata, Italy), with home-made white kimchi and olive oil. A tender but spicy bite, Andrey’s favourite!

Prawn tartar from Tartarun - home-served
Prawn tartar from Tartarun – home-served

Fish charcuterie – let the experiments begin!

Few people would dare to make this, especially in a country where fresh fish is a religion. However, rules are meant to be broken. James was eager to try, inspired by Australian chef Josh Niland, author of The Whole Fish Cookbook that present new and unique ways to think fish. James is experimenting with various fish and seasoning and various drying times. They brought us 4 types of fish charcuterie, including a very interesting fish chorizo. Each of them was unique in a different way, bringing salty and noble feeling to the table, especially when accompanied by a nice white wine.

Fish charcuterie in the making
Fish charcuterie in the making. Photo credit: https://www.tartarun.com/

A DIY meal from a Michelin-guide restaurant – why YES?

As we started, food is not just a thing to fill your stomach. Going to a nice restaurant is a lot of things – enjoying the ambiance, professional service including consultation about the food and wine, the thrilling moment of seeing the beautifully served dish in its full glory. And then tasting it. Sharing the moment with friends and family, or your most loved one. Leaving with a smile and satisfaction of the time well-spent.

During quarantine or lockdown, most of these are impossible. However, when you have a mission, creativity comes to help you fulfill it. And we can say that the emotion of preparing yourself a meal at home under the instructions of a professional chef is an emotion to remember.

The delivery from Tartarun, ready to be prepared
The delivery from Tartarun, ready to be prepared

Our main course included a red snapper fillet, garnished with cabbage, capers and seaweed butter, paired with roasted seasoned potatoes as a side dish. We followed the instructions in the letter – first, the potatoes in the oven for 30 minutes, then the fish for 18-20 minutes and finally warm up the garnish.

A Michelin-guide meal, step by step

Step 1: Put the potatoes in the oven for 30 minutes
Step 1: Put the potatoes in the oven for 30 minutes

10 minutes later put in the oven the fish for 18-20 minutes.

Time for the fish to go to the oven
Time for the fish to go to the oven

Fnally, in the past 10 minutes warm up the garnish in a pan. Plating instructions were also included in order to achieve a vision closer to the chef’s.

Ready to serve
Ready to serve

Celebrating the passion for good food

A truly genius idea and a way to deliver food that has just come away from the oven and properly cooked and seasoned at the same time. And enjoying it at the comfort of your home is actually a wonderful idea, especially if you are coping with a lockdown or a quarantine. A really cheerful experience.

Main course ready plated:Red snapper
Main course ready plated:Red snapper with beetroot puree, Steamed hispi cabbage, capers, lemon and brown butter sauce. Fish chorizo in the back

I would also suggest this as an opportunity to surprise your family and loved ones with amazing home-cooked menu and for a small family celebration. About us – well, this time we celebrated our everlasting passion to good food and wine, regardless of the circumstances.

Tartarun restaurant and the Schiavone family

Despite the restaurant was closed, we had the wonderful opportunity to make a video call with brothers Stephen and James Schiavone and get to know them more closely.

The Schiavone family, owners of Tartarun restaurant
The Schiavone family, owners of Tartarun restaurant. Photo by: https://www.tartarun.com/

The restaurant is an entirely family business, run by the brothers and their parents. It is named after a Maltese fishing net. James is the chef, Stephen and his mother take care of the salon and the front line service and their father, a former fisherman, is in charge of the deliveries of fresh fish every day. All decisions are taken after a discussion in the family. It is not always easy. One notable example is the fish charcuterie experiment. James was passionate to try, unlike the other members of the family, but finally they agreed to buy a small fridge for drying the fish. The guests of the restaurant were also sceptic in the beginning, but now the charcuterie is quite an interesting and looked-for product.

Maria:

James, how did you decide to become a chef?

The cliché question received an unexpected answer:

I went to culinary school because I did badly at school. But there I found my place.

Indeed, the culinary profession is not respected in the same way in every country. In France it might be a religion, but still this is not that valid in all parts of the world. However, when you really find your inspiration and passion, nothing can stop you master it, no matter from where you have started. In James’ and Stephen’s faces we saw this passion and love to food, art and delivering a great experience – all of the things one would need to create extraordinary creations and reach places he never imagined he would reach. Indeed, entering the Michelin guide had never been a dream or an ambition before in happened. However, it became a trigger for new dreams. Like getting a star in two years’ time. We really wish it to them. 

Tartarun Restaurant was included in the Michelin Guide Malta 2020 – the first ever Michelin Guide to Malta. Here is what the guide states about it: This elegant restaurant sits on the harbourside of a small fishing village and has been run by the Schiavone family for over ten years. Son James treats diners to a daily changing selection of local seafood – but carnivores are well-catered for too. Their 150+ bin wine list is renowned locally.

In our series Dining with Diners Club Bulgaria we tell you about unique culinary and wine experiences, inspired by the story of the first credit card in the world that started in a restaurant. It every day reminds us that the culinary experience is a part of every trip. Read the other articles from the series here.

March 2021


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