If you’ve been lucky enough to taste Chef Noel Azzopardi’s creative menu, you know this is about to be a deliciously composed dinner; with bold concepts and a splendid blend of Mediterranean and Japanese flavour profiles. I was a fan of Seed, during Noel’s reign, but I can now say I am a fan of Kaiseki – his late-2022 restaurant in Merchants Street, Valletta.
As we braved the cold winter wind en route to the restaurant, the warm and cosy ambience of Kaiseki welcomed us heartily. A quick look at the mixology menu led to a display of beautiful cocktails; a Strawberry Daiquiri, fresh as they come with a clean and subtle finish, a classic Negroni and of course Dimitri’s House Cocktail – a gin, grenadine, lemonade, tonic and simple syrup, presenting a dark drink that was sweet and sour, and a great way to start off the surprising meal before us.
Soon after our cocktail glasses were ready for a refill, our sharing plates arrived – Beef Spring Rolls, Pork Gyozas, Lamb Bao Buns and Chicken Dim Sum. Each of them provided a flavour palette and texture profile that complimented the other; perhaps even opening the palate to the real flavours of Chef Patron Noel Azzopardi. But first, a Raspberry Collins – a gin-based drink with a prevalent lime zestiness and raspberry sweetness, offering a tart, bitter note upon finish.
There’s something quite telling about drinking cocktails; first of all it’s always fun to pick your favourite from a creative cocktail menu; but secondly, and most importantly, they’re the perfect primer to a snack-based opening course.
The Beef Spring Rolls were filled generously with a cream-cheese and beef mince filling, delivering an umami hit right from the get go. The texture here was fun and pulled you in for more – a crispy exterior held together a texturally exciting creamy beef mince filling. The dish was salted perfectly and did not have an oily mouthfeel or outside casing. Paired with a sweet and salty dipping sauce – could it be… the first bite at Kaiseki was going to be my favourite?
Wait… the Pork Gyozas were excellent too. A light wrapper, cooked perfectly and a luscious internal bite unleashed a parcel of great flavour. The mince itself was not oily as expected with pork – but still retained that rich and satisfying mouthfeel that creates quite an impact on the palate. The clean meaty insides require a creamy richness, one which Chef Noel brought through the mayo and spring onion garnish.
Two other sharing plates that we received during our Kaiseki visit were the fabulous Chicken Dim Sum where juicy, tender and succulent chicken mince was infused with a Parmesan tang, umami and saltiness. Salt levels on this dish were absolutely accurate; texture was creamy and light, with a thin wrapper served sui mai style.
Lastly, the Lamb Bao delivered a powerful gamely flavour note, although not overpowering. Paired with beetroot to tone down the strong elements with a sweet, earthy note. This dish lacked texture; perhaps if the beetroots were pickled, then crisped, the textual elements might have played out better. Nevertheless, still a delicious addition to the opening course.
Things got serious-er when the starter found its way to our table. Each diner was presented with an O-Toro Carpaccio – decadently thin slices of tuna – fresh, marinated, sprinkled with mixed sesame seed for an earthy nuttiness and garnished with fresh chives for an abrasive flavour highlight to an extremely clean dish.
The tuna itself melts in your mouth while the pull of the ultra fresh flesh allows you to masticate to your heart’s content; releasing all the natural salty and sweet tones of the steak fish. Chef Noel added cream cheese as a delicate element to the dish, it also added a certain density and richness, creamy; yet not interrupting the finesse of the tuna.
The glaze here hinted at rich salty notes and pleasant sweet notes. Paired with a floral white, or perhaps a light red; this dish would shine bright.
Our main course took us to canard-central. Duck breast, cooked medium rare – as it should be – tender – as it should be – and rich, deep and bold in flavour – as it should be. The skin was crispy – but not as crispy as it should be; perhaps that would have taken it over the edge; promoting it to the best duck breast of my life; but alas Chef, I’ll have to try this again.
The Duck Breast was served with a sweet onion, roasted and served to add a light, yet bold earthy note, I assume. The bok choi was fresh and slightly bitter – great contrast to the sweetness. My only desire here was to chow down on a Noel mushroom, but alas Chef, this is another thing I will have to visit for. I did get that Noel-vibe though, through the buttery, salty and absolutely delicious preparation of his potatoes – this time potato purée; it lived up to expectations. Easily.
Chef Noel and his team prepared a lovely main, that while simple and composed, added sparks of flair and finesse that are often forgotten. The addition of the mozzarella and duck spring roll enticed the crispy cravings, completed the final savoury fix and added a nuttiness to the dish that nobody knew it needed – except Chef Noel, of course.
If you’re into your desserts, save room for Kaiseki’s exquisite selection. The Caramel Mille Foglie was sweet, as expected, but it also carried a light citrus hit that puckered up your palate and smoothened the ending of the meal ever so delicately, especially with the addition of the almond crisp. The Pistachio version was denser but still smooth and delicate.
But if you’re looking for the ultimate delicate dessert, I suggest the Exotic Cannolo, a passion fruit and pineapple exploration of exotic flavours that boost the palate to a new height of clean, simple and naturally sweet complexity. That instant pucker feeling, causes your saliva glands to jump right into overdrive – fabulous.
A final call for all chocolate lovers with the fudgy, dense, Chocolate and Pecan Brownie. I won’t tell you anything about this one – just go and try it for a salty, sweet and moreish end to your delicious Kaiseki meal. See you soon Chef Noel.
Kristina Cassar Dowling
HORECA Reviews are based on the experience of the diners on their particular visit. The nature of these reviews is based on the publication’s expertise in the industry, but also highlights the reviewer’s opinions and preferences. The aim of HORECA Reviews is to showcase culinary talent, to give the hospitality industry insight on their patron’s experience and areas for improvement as well as to celebrate the strive for excellence within the sector.