On Rabat’s Saqqajia Hill, Root 81 – named thus by chef patron Robert Cassar because formerly it was bus route 81 that took him from his home in Mriehel to Rabat, and ‘root’ denotes root vegetables – is a small restaurant with 45 covers indoors (reduced to 22 in the Covid era) and 65 on the outdoor area (now reduced to 40).
On arrival we were shown to our table and were promptly asked if we wished for any aperitifs; we all chose a prosecco. Menus were then offered, and as we perused these plates of bread accompanied by olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a tapenade were brought.
We noticed that our neatly laid table lacked decorative items, such as flowers or candles, however this is understandable due to current pandemic related regulations.
We all chose the set dégustation menu, and what a menu it turned out to be.
It didn’t take long for the entrée to be served – salmon gravlax placed over an hollandaise web and sprinkled with beetroot jelly. It was a delight to look at and heavenly to taste. The accompanying wine was a Jeio prosecco from the Veneto region of Italy.
The intermediate course was a risotto in caccio e pepe (cheese and pepper), Lardo di Colonnata (cured strips of pork fatback with herbs and spices) and local snails. Out of a party of seven, three chose not to have the accompanying snails. Which ever the choice, the risotto was delicious. As someone who loves rice, I could quite happily have forgone the other two courses on the menu.
A glass of nicely chilled 2019 Medina Chardonnay-Girgentina from Delicata was served with the risotto.
Pan-fried rabbit saddle, a pulled rabbit croquette and rabbit liver in mille feuille was the evening’s main course. Roasted potatoes and vegetables were served separately. I had never had rabbit served in this way, and it was scrumptious.
Another Delicata wine, this time a glass of 2019 Medina Sangiovese, complemented the main course.
Before dessert was served proprietor and chef – 33-year-old Robert Cassar – came to our table for a chat.
After graduating from ITS and working in the UK for a while, Cassar was employed by several of the island’s top hotels. His dream, he added, was to own his own restaurant. This became a reality last November when he opened Root 81.
It is not often that a restaurant that has just opened gets listed in a fine dining guide. Root 81 is one of the few mentioned in the 2020 Michelin Guide of local restaurants. It is denoted as a “plate” establishment, meaning “fresh ingredients, capably prepared: simply a good meal”.
Things were going swimmingly until the spring and the appearance of COVID-19, but Cassar is an optimist and believes the good times will return.
Meantime, dessert was served and comprised of homemade imqaret drizzled in local honey along with a traditional Maltese ice cream.
The last course, too, was accompanied by a delightful 2019 Centive Moscato d’ Asti.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and so did this exquisite dinner. One cannot fault the cuisine, it was superb as was the service.
It is so pleasant to be served by a well-mannered, polite person nowadays.
By way of conclusion, the Horeca team had different views and opinions about the external ambience, however there was a unanimous agreement that Root 81 is a first-class restaurant.
See below votes total based on a amount of 7 diners:
Food & Drinks 64/70
Cleanliness & Hygiene 62/70
Ambiance & Atmosphere 54/70