Review: Baker’s Crust

Foccaccias at Baker's Crust

Food writers are a strange breed. They write a 1000-word review but give the food about 100 words. We don’t have many of them on the island, but out of respect to the one who contributed to the Vida for two years (Ed, of Ed Eats – sorry but he’s stuck in the past, he only tweets), I generally tend to stay away from the subject.

I pretend to do it out of respect for him, but really I just avoid the subject because I know he can do the job much more effectively than I can. Ed knows the perfect age of every red wine in the world. In minutes. Ed can recite the cuts of meat in a calf moving in any direction (front, back, up or down) and will tell you where the best restaurant for each particular cut can be found. Ed can smell truffles from a restaurant’s kitchen, and will then proclaim that they are actually spring truffles (this, my friends, is not a hyperbole – I’ve seen him do it). Ed is basically what Chuck Norris would be hope to be if he applied himself to culinary delights.

I on the other hand, am a relatively crass eater. I like sushi as much as the next middle-class guy but you won’t find me travelling for food. I love eating well when I’m abroad, but I prefer to choose destinations for other reasons (music is usually the main one). When I eat I can appreciate the finer things in life, but don’t expect me to tell you for how long a steak was aged before it was grilled.

It was therefore quite fitting that my second restaurant review is not about a restaurant at all (you can find my first here: Badass Burgers). It is about a little take-out in Paceville – one of Malta’s seediest locations. If you want a quick, cheap and cheerful meal for lunch in Malta you usually have two options – the village bar for a ftira or a plate of pasta; or pastizzi, a pizza or a pie from a pastizzi place. Both are incredibly tempting options but none of them offers any brownie points for class or health.

Good food, in my books, needs two basic elements: good ingredients and some loving attention at the preparation stage. It might sound obvious to you and to me, but to so many people providing food for a living it seems to be a thoroughly elusive concept. Finding a decent roll was much easier when I worked on the other side of the Island. Stuzzico, for example, offers great baguettes made with some of the finest ingredients this side of the Straits of Messina – and all at reasonable prices.

Now that I’m working in San Gwann and have a half-hour lunch break, my options are severely limited. Enter Baker’s Crust. Having opened its doors only three months ago, one would expect it to be struggling to find its feet, however I’ve been going regularly for the past two months and have never been disappointed.

The variety of food on display is decent – among other things you have pizzas (which I have never tried); very fresh salads with generous portions of chicken, tuna, feta cheese or fruit – depending on the variety you choose; wraps; sandwiches; ultra-crunchy baguettes with fine ingredients (my favourite comes with brie and cranberry sauce); and delicious foccaccias (my favourite is a Sicilian foccaccia with aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes and basil and a healthy drizzle of tasty olive oil).

In addition to being very good, the food is well-priced and is usually ready in a matter of minutes. Does it have drawbacks? Yes, everything does. Parking is always a pain – but we usually car-pool, park in a, erm, compromising place and leave someone on watch with the car.

And that, my dear readers, is that. If I ever want to be a proper food writer I must now close the review off with a reference to the gag in my first paragraph. I dedicated 10% of my article to the food at the place I was reviewing. On second thoughts I think I have the credentials to become a food writer after all.

Food! On Sale!

P.S. If you work in the area you’re in for another bonus – all their food is at half price this week – gosh. You might even meet me there if you head over at around 1.

P.P.S. Just in case you’re wondering, Baker’s Crust is next to Champs in Paceville, opposite Melita Pharmacy.

(#24 of 366 X 2012 project)


Badass Burgers?

After all the hype that’s been going on about this relatively new restaurant in St Julian’s (Spinola Bay actually), we finally made it to dinner there last Saturday. Before tackling the issue of Badass Burgers directly there is some background information I need to divulge:

a) I am a gourmet burger fan – I think that the burger is oft-overlooked as a decent meal simply because it has been rendered so common by its popularity. In reality, even though hard to find, a very good burger can be one of the best meals around.

b) I make my own gourmet burgers – Since it is rather hard to find a decent burger on this island I have resorted to researching the subject in depth and have started making my own burgers recently. That way I get to choose my own meat (my preferred choice is rib-eye), bun, cheese, sauces, condiment and most importantly cooking method and time. One day I’ll go into more detail about all of these, but that is a whole thesis in itself.

c) I was influenced before going there – I had spoken to the reviewer from Ed Eats (he writes on Vida and The Times) and he was not exactly screaming praise for the place (to be fair he tends to prefer fancier dining experiences), my sister – who had a terrible experience because her order was forgotten and her food took over an hour to get to the table – and a friend who had been there a few times and had nothing but positive comments about the restaurant.

With the background information over we can move on to the experience itself.

Logistics (3/5)

Getting there was a bit of a nightmare since it is in St Julians. I was famished by the time I had arrived since, much to my chagrin, the two female members of our party took the best part of two hours to get themselves tarted up for the event (this had no bearing on my rating). Parking in the area is an absolute nightmare. Thankfully the restaurant has a small car park right next door – a true luxury. Sadly it was full by the time we got there so we had to compete for parking with every Maltese person looking for a drink on a Saturday night.

Design, Decor & Atmosphere (1/5)

There are few places I have visited in Malta that have ever been such a disappointment. From the outside it looks lovely – it is situated in what is essentially still a very pretty part of St Julian’s and the building itself is quaint. Once inside, however, all the positive aura is lost. The walk up to the “beer garden” takes you too close for comfort to the kitchen, up a bland staircase and finally over a little bridge and up another narrow flight of steps. There were bits and pieces of restaurant paraphernalia strewn along the way and the walls were in an average state of repair (a few posters along the way would do a world of good).

This would have been nearly fine if what we found up there was worth the adventure, however, sadly it was not. The tables and chairs are decent, as was the cutlery, however when paying a premium price for food I expect to find nothing but the very best. I don’t expect to see clutter on one end of the restaurant. I might sound harsh, however the pricing really raises expectations. The menus were another nightmare – if offering a premium product I would expect menus which whet my appetite – not a drab affair which was a freebie from your wine supplier. To be fair the board advertising the Badass Burger range outside the restaurant is brilliantly designed – as is the concept’s facebook fan page. The Facebook page also states a new full-colour menu is on the way.

And then there was the music. What were they thinking? The mixtape seemed to have been prepared by a schizophrenic donkey – rock leading into Manu Chao leading into chillout and then back to pop. Restaurant owners, please take note, music is a big part of a location’s appeal and is worth investing in as much as plates, tablecloths and chairs. If you can’t be bothered, at the very least put the radio on (and believe me, I would rather hear nails scratched across a blackboard most of the time). Leaving someone’s ipod on shuffle is definitely not an option. Take the time, ask a friend, make a playlist and you will notice the difference. Choose a style and stick to it, it will become part of the location’s identity.

Food (4/5)

Ahhh – after all the complaining you shall be reading some smile-worthy news here. The burgers are worth all the suffering you have to endure. I went for The Daddy which offered everything a man could want (except this), stuffed into a burger. I would have liked more jalapenos, however the complaint is a very mild one. The burger patty was cooked to perfection – all the ingredients went well together and for the ten minutes it took me to devour the burger I was in paradise.

All the party was quietly nodding in appreciation at the food on the table – even the anaemic one who went for the veggie burger. The only problem with the food was that the fries, albeit being tasty, were cold and mushy. If going through all the fuss of making proper fries (from real potatoes :) ) then at make sure you serve them fresh and crispy. Having said that, not a single one was left on our plates by the time the waiter took them away.

Value (3/5)

This is another point this restaurant suffers from – probably the major point. I know I started off this piece by saying that the humble burger deserves a better place in the echelons of tasty food but at the end of the day you are paying the price of a decent steak for a (very special) burger in what is essentially a place which looks like the Kazin down the road.

Overall (3/5)

I am faced with a big dilemma when speaking about this restaurant – I loved the food and will definitely recommend it to friends who go out in search for a very good burger. I will also surely return to try out more of their delicious burgers, however I will not take the risk of recommending it to an acquaintance without mentioning all the caveats and won’t take anyone out for dinner there.

The place, just like my opinion, seems to be caught up in a split personality syndrome and basically just needs to fix one of two things – either fix the presentation or else lower the prices (and therefore expectations) significantly. The usual Maltese recipe is to spend 6 months coming up with a fancy menu and a lovely place, then letting it all down with mediocre food. Badass burgers has done the opposite, which is just as evil in my eyes. If I’m asked to pay a premium price for my food I will gladly do it, but then please bless me with a premium atmosphere. I want the waiters to spoil me and I want to feel as if I could live at the table for the rest of my life. The place must look lovely and the music should be good and well thought out. Am I asking for too much? Maybe I am, but I think I have every right to once I’m paying good money.

Mr or Ms Badass Burgers, if you read this review please do not take it harshly – I mean well and hope you can see it. I appreciate that the challenge you have taken is not an easy one, however please keep in mind that a restaurant is far more than a good (excellent) meal.