Situated in Casa Ellul’s dreamy Valletta location, where luxury is a daily occurrence, Risette’s menu, execution and service fit right in. The kitchen of Risette is creatively guided by, and boldly led by the Cordon Bleu trained Head Chef Steve Scicluna.
As excited as we were for this meal, it’s safe to say that expectations were met; Chef Steve’s palate understood and his team’s efforts 100% appreciated. As we sat at our comfortable, spacious and exquisitely designed area, General Manager Matthew Ellul made his way to our table, confirming if the kitchen should be aware of any allergies or dislikes; “… carte blanche, Chef… go for it”, is always our response – and it’s always worth the decision.
Matthew also informed us that we will be about to endure an 8-course meal crafted, curated and cooked by Chef Steve, with a wine pairing, prepared by Matthew himself, to add to that luxury dining experience. Excitement soared, and a quick fast-forward to the end of the night will take you to a scene of a quiet Valletta, a light drizzle emptying the streets, for a brisk walk through the capital, perked up by that little bit of liquid courage.
It was time to start the culinary journey. Bread. But not just any bread. Pastry Chef David Tanti’s bread. A feature that most local restaurants seem to lack in – there are a few who pay attention to the quality of savoury and sweet through the eyes of an expert – pastry and baking is no joke.
The first taste of Pastry Chef Tanti’s bread-making ability was a chewy, fluffy, stretchy sourdough that carried this magnificently-mad flavour. Not peculiar – just damn good. With a heavy serving of truffled butter for a drop-kick to the taste buds, right from the get go. This course, together with the snacks from the kitchen, were paired with a glass of bubbly; an extra brut Petri – a Chardonnay which undergoes its second fermentation once bottled.
This dry and neutral palate cleansing course prepared the way for a series of canapés that took the mouth’s olfactory features to the highest of heights. Presented in the most pristine of ways, the black ball that sat before us was filled with a creamy eel mousse of sorts. The Eel Bite was a highly interesting way to start off a meal, the taste of the eel was overpowering and very strong in flavour – but that’s eel for you; striking, controlling and so, so interesting; especially from a textural point of view.
The Jamon Tart was composed of a delicate texture, the centre of the tart case popping in your mouth and exuding a burst of flavour with the saltiness of the aged jamon, featuring distant notes of the the fresh, bitter and highly interesting shisho leaf. Finishing off this bite with fresh cilantro is also quite a clever approach to the canapé.
Colour and contrast were not at all absent from these canapés, the next bite was a slick, shiny, glistening Beetroot & Goats Cheese presenting a perfect balance of tartness on the crispy crust and creamy goats cheese lusciousness.
Another feature in our canapés was the intriguing Mushroom Tea – packed with an umami burst in smell, rich in flavour with a porcini under taste and impactful nod to the lemon essences attached to the garnishes. Mint oil, lemon verbena and lemongrass come through as a secondary note – preparing the palate for the coveted Pizza Soufflé.
A gold dusted thin-as-ever fried dough packed with sweet and creamy langoustines – juxtaposed perfectly with the ultra crunchy casing. Finished off with balsamic pearls that, much to my surprise, added a whole lot of character to the dish.
The next course was the crème de la crème – oysters – but not as we no them; and no not grilled, nor fried. The Gillardeau oysters presented for Chef Steve Scicluna’s tasting menu were transformed into the smoothest cream on the planet; similar to the Eel Bite in consistency, however a lot more saline.
The mineralogy of the oyster urges your salivary glands into full-swing. The front-most taste present in this dish is the mineral, irony characteristic that is quite resonant with the oyster’s flavour profile; but when transformed into a gelatinised cream, every note is amplified to an all-consuming essence of the sea.
The gelée that sits on top of the oyster mousse adds vibrancy to the otherwise one-note oyster. It also elevates the sweetness of the mollusk, as do the balsamic pearls; while embellishing with a touch of acid – not to mention their aesthetic capture.
The addition of crème fraîche gives the dish a point of curiosity that otherwise wouldn’t have been tapped into – what an interesting touch. This course was served with a 2021 white from Santorini, Assyrtiko – probably my ultimate wine of the night.
Enter excellence. Presented as a graceful orb, the Organic Hen’s Egg was an elegant blend of wholesome and luxury – muddling the warmth of genuine cooking with the artistry of fine dining. A cacio e pepe sauce draped the perfectly poached egg, combining with the luscious yolk to amplify the velvety textures on the roof of your mouth. Luxury.
At the base of the dish, a fragrant and perfectly cooked polenta holds up to the richness of the crowning highlight. The minty and fresh ground of this culinary artwork is a surprise element, hidden by an airy foam, light yet infused with subtle flavour notes.
A methodical approach to eating this dish would suggest you simply dig in – but… and it’s a vital ‘but’… be sure to savour the complexities of nature, by saving some molten yolk for your last bite. Tanti’s fluffy buttered bread was created for this specific reason. The ultimate dippy egg experience – but finer.
A swirl of the paired Oxer Wines Marko Skin – a Spanish white with a vintage of 2019; usually paired with shellfish, so although perhaps a peculiar selection to the common wine drinker; a great passage to Chef Steve’s Lobster Risotto; the next dish in our 8-course tasting menu.
Off the bat, first impressions, you can tell that the risotto rice is cooked perfectly, the aroma that dissipates through the air, hitting your senses with a lemony, herbaceous and sweet mist.
The accents that best pair with lobster are often the simplest – or the boldest – it’s quite an exciting protein to work with. This dish went for the perfection of simplicity. A creamy consistency, but not cheesy – although there might have been elements of cheese within the recipe; and judging by the cheese and shellfish pairings earlier in the menu, this could be a possibility. Chef?
The sweet, irony profile of the lobster glides blissfully on the wonderfully cooked risotto, creamy, light, zesty and herby while providing a firm and meaty textural element to the risotto through the shellfish. A fan here was made.
The next wine pairing was a Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc, a New Zealand white with a 2021 timestamp and an excellent springboard into the next course. The Seabass served with pumpkin purée, Morteau sausage, all bathing happily in a saffron sauce.
The fish itself is tender and very herbaceous; the subtleties of the seasoning, and the under-ness of the cook allows for the natural flavours of the steak of bass to stand firm and proud.
The saffron sauce is rich and so intriguing – there was a flavour profile that I couldn’t place; was it the saffron? Is this where Chef Steve made use of the Morteau sausage? This smoked, uncooked Franche-Comté sausage is not common to my palate, but perhaps a brief kitchen experiment with this French-cured meat might be in order.
Sausage and fish pair so well. The delicate, clean flavours of fish trickled with fatty, cured and smoked pork is a match made in heaven – the lush of the sauce and the depth of the earthy pumpkin purée take it to that full-swing taste bud moment.
Clever additions of cucumber bites – adding freshness and texture, the burnt-oniony potato tulle sparking crunch and saltiness from its gentle fry, the coriander leaves for a palate cleanser. The addition of salmon roe didn’t really contribute to the dish, while visually stunning, everything on a plate, in my opinion, should always contribute to the end result. Delicious nonetheless, splitting hairs is what we need to do with the Maltese island’s level of culinary expertise.
The last savoury component of our tasting menu took us to poultry city, where a romesco sauce served as a bed for a succulent chicken – this was also a great introduction to the black grape selection of wines at Risette. A 2018 Le Maritate; a light body red wine from Tuscany with fruity and floral notes.
The Poulet Fermier Jaune – a half breast of chicken that was tender and turgid, succulent and alter to the reputation chicken breast usually holds. Translated as an ‘organic yellow chicken’, the simplicity of the protein did not urge Chef Steve to shy away from bold flavour in the dish; rather it stimulated him to go further.
Ordering chicken on a menu is usually not exciting for me, but this dish was class. Simple, elegant and executed with a focus on umami, texture and a robust finish encapsulated in the shimmering oxtail sauce. Beyond this, you’ll need to experience the Risette poulet for yourself.
Building up to dessert is wise. It informs your guests that they can relax into a sweet finish. The refreshing pre-dessert here featured a Yuzu and Date palate cleanser with a fragrant and floral Prosecco foam, while the final hoorah was noted with a 70% Chocolate and Banana Millefeuille. Rich, dense and perfectly called for, this decadent dessert closed on a parsley ice-cream; how clever.
There are no qualms or disputes about Risette being a very happily welcomed(-back) restaurant, but Chef Steve’s elevation made the kitchen a whole lot stronger. Reservations for lunch or dinner are both an excellent choice – but if you can’t make up your mind, stay the night at Casa Ellul and try the entire menu throughout your visit.
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.