Modern Memories: An Interpretation of Chef Kevin BonelloJanuary 8, 2023
Malta Wins Lonely Planet’s Top Destination to Unwind AwardJanuary 11, 2023
Synonymous with luxury, elegance and that little touch of sophistication, the Xara Collection has undoubtedly made quite a substantial mark on the hospitality industry, from a culinary point of view, but also through The Xara Palace in Mdina.
Justin Zammit Tabona and Nicky Paris share the intricacies of their family experience as sibling hoteliers. From 1994 to date, the Xara Collection has been delivering on every front, with sustainability at the heart of their curation.
During the time the Zammit Tabona family purchased The Xara Palace, the majority of hoteliers on local turf were opening large scale hotel options focusing mainly on the supply of tour operators - who majorly went by the local tourism strategy promoting the Maltese islands as a sun and beach destination. Justin comments; “right from the start, it was our intention to create a very different type of tourism offer that was on the island. Whilst this was, and still is, an important part of our tourism offer, we worked at promoting our islands for its culture, history and traditions and gastronomy.”
Was this the start of the boutique hotel experience in Malta? Justin believes so. “We were one of the first in bringing the first 5-star hotel experience to the islands but pioneers in delivering it through a boutique setting; offering personalised services where attention to detail, intimate settings, handpicked furnishings and above all unique character that stays true to heritage.
“I believe that the Xara Collection contributed and impacted the island from the first day we opened The Xara Palace doors.”
Justin and Nicky wanted to create a space where guests are welcomed with a homely embrace that transcends to a 17th century palazzo escape to the old capital, Mdina - living through the cultural historic house currently made up of 17 rooms and suites. What the boutique hotel holds today is a slight decrease in rooms, focusing on quality and comfort with their reduction from an original 32 rooms.
“We often travelled to other Relais & Châteaux hotels and restaurants to better understand our vision. Relais & Châteaux today is an association of 580 luxury boutique hotels and gastronomic restaurants around the world. We’re honoured to hold the only local affiliation.”
Housing the Xara Palace in Mdina is a pinnacle pillar in the essence of the hotel, and carries a great deal of nostalgia for Justin, “as a child I grew up in Mdina, and have fond memories of running through and playing in the narrow streets; it was truly the perfect playground.”
But Mdina is only the start of this Collection’s curatorship - de Mondion, Trattoria AD 1530, OKA’s and Rosamí at The Villa - the latter two taking the Xara Collection to Balluta Bay. Each establishment, an eatery fit for its exact audience, offering a choice that always carries the Xara mark. But they all have four core principles in common: sustainability, curating heritage, family and quality.
“The values of ‘tender loving care’ and ‘family spirit’, are essential in the way things are done within the company. At the Xara Collection we continue to strive to create a team of passionate people that are proud of where they work but also that share the same vision of creating curated and special moments; always with our eye for detail and service provided.”
And that eye for detail is what gives each of their restaurants a touch of personalisation within the periphery of the restaurant’s concept.
De Mondion is a one star MICHELIN restaurant, enhanced by truly spectacular panoramic views of the island from the terraces and charming features served in elegant surroundings. Consistently rated amongst the top restaurants in Malta for the soul nourishing cuisine, refinement and excellence, the de Mondion Restaurant promises discreet yet impeccably attentive service thus allowing patrons the time and privacy to savour the cuisine, the company and the view. Housed within The Xara Palace in Mdina, the Xara Collection’s touch of quality extends to your dining experience, under Culinary Director Kevin Bonello’s menu at de Mondion. Within the hotel’s piazza, Trattoria AD 1530 can be found. This charming eatery prides itself on serving traditional and tasty food typical of the name ‘trattoria’ - a simple and more casual option for your Mdina visit.
The Xara Collection’s St Julian’s adventure takes place in the historic building of The Villa in Balluta Bay - and following a large renovation project, two fantastic new spaces were introduced: Rosamí, a fine-dining restaurant that breaks down the walls of fine-dining idealism and OKA’s, a more casual, contemporary dining experience set in the the heart of Balluta, umbrellaed by oak trees; the restaurant’s namesake.
The Villa in Balluta Bay is one of the oldest remaining structures within the area, dating back to the 19th century. The Villa is a grand palazzo, offering unparalleled views of Balluta Bay within St Julian’s alongside the seafront promenade - a true Xara trait. But Mdina and St Julian’s are not the only pinpoints of Xara excellence, Xara Catering extends the cuisines of the gods to your own hosted events while Xara Lodge integrates the dining highlights as well as the serene and functional space for your guests.
Curating this Collection is all about standing firm in your principles and ethos while allowing yourself the flexibility to learn from the new for innovation’s sake. Justin comments;
“I believe that there are a number of factors which lead to a successful hotel; such as a stunning location, a touch of heritage and class, unique décor and comfortable rooms.
However, I believe the most important factor is the human element, and building the right team. The Xara Collection is our second home, and our colleagues are our family with whom we find respect, recognition, and reliability. With the right people; we are able to provide excellent personalised service during a guest’s stay, the organisation of a dream wedding, that perfect cocktail and divine dishes; all coming together to create curated moments.
COVID-19 was a difficult period; however, our staff are our family and even though we had to shut the doors of our hotel and our outlets for a period of time, we kept our staff employed and worked together on the project of refurbishing our hotel, with all staff giving a helping hand, together contributing in our newly refurbished rooms of The Xara Palace.”
Justin continues, “As a Collection we always believed in safeguarding our heritage and culture; by investing in historical sites and art pieces, by restoring them and exposing them to our guests to enjoy. During COVID-19 we not only continued safeguarding heritage but we focused on safeguarding our people and our future - and speaking of safeguarding our future, during the pandemic one of the Xara Collection’s most important projects was initiated – the Xara Gardens.”
During the pandemic, supplies from international agents became difficult to obtain; the brigade of Xara Collection Chefs had to rely more and more on local produce. Local suppliers were always on the Collection’s supplier list, however, during the pandemic the concepts of sustainability and supporting local became a fixed focus point for the brand and a deep concern for Justin,
“In 2021 I was approached with the idea of setting up innovative practices in sustainable growth. Because of the Xara Gardens, a good proportion of our home grown vegetables on our regenerative farm are used in the various restaurants. At Xara Gardens we also tackle food waste from our outlets and this is processed through our aquaponics system which produces additional ingredients for our Chefs.
We are all very proud of our continuous efforts to push our gastronomic boundaries through our unique sustainable project at Xara Gardens by making a better world through cuisine and hospitality and continually striving to put Malta on the international gastronomic map.”
When hoteliers take social responsibility to a personal level, change happens and progress is made, in time improvements experienced, and hopefully shared. The impact that can develop from these changes encourage mindsets to grow less rigid and evaluate their choices more broadly, for future projects to preserve the old and safeguard the new. The Xara Collection’s latest project being an ode to their business mentality:
“Our upcoming project is Medina Restaurant. Locals may recognise the name, as it was one of the first restaurants on the island. We are currently undergoing refurbishment and will be introducing a new menu paired with an exciting beverage menu – keeping ahead of the trends.”