Finding authenticity is hard, especially in the food and restaurant industry – and even more so in a cosmopolitan area such as St Julian’s, Malta. There are, and have been, nuances of great Middle Eastern cuisine locally, however The Aft Galley are turning the tables with genuine dishes, technically correct flavour profiles and all-round attention to detail, including their wine list.
Packed with the classic European, Australasian and of course local D.O.K. wines of black and white variety, The Aft Galley also offer Lebanese wines such as the 2021 vintage Haley paired with our ample spread of Chef Joseph’s traditional cuisine; all presented authentically and unapologetically; Lebanon.
Our Bretèches Chateau Kefraya offered medium plus acidity contrasting nicely with za’atar from the homeland, holding a floral note to linger with the bitter aniseed, so inherent in Chef Joseph’s artistry. The finish on this wine is not too long, but not too faint; allowing you to alter your palate with every changing dish served mezze-style.
The first savoury bite that graced our eager palates was Aft Galley’s Arayes. Toasty and fragrant, the pancake on the exterior was just right – seasoned graciously and charred elegantly – while the interior was blessed by the gods of meaty lamb juices.
The spicy lamb mince, sandwiched between two textural dimensions, retained all its luscious gamey qualities while sharing its addictive rendered fat with the moisture absorbing pita. The first note to hit the nose is cinnamon, carrying through from the mixed spices in the meat blend. A delicious way to start.
Moving on to Falafel, a perfectly fried, immediately salted, fluffy yet crispy morsel of absolute goodness. Good falafel are good falafel – bad falafel are very bad falafel; but luckily Chef Joseph knows what he’s doing. There’s passion in his work – case in point: 20 minutes into our meal Chef visited our table to receive his deserved feedback; all good, we said. Why haven’t you touched the falafel, they’re cold now; he said. My bad Chef, I guess I’ll need to sample a freshly fried one soon. So learn from my mistake, fried dishes first… always, no matter what.
For cold falafel, these were damn near perfect. I genuinely cannot wait to try these chickpea wonders as the Chef intended. The overall taste is nutty, very earthy and pleasantly features a bitter note that I could not place immediately. But upon intense table-side deliberation, we discovered it was the aniseed. An underused beauty, I’m obsessed.
Some other hugely authentic features on their menu at The Aft Galley include the Makanek, the Sambousek, the Shanklish and so many other fresh and fragrant aromas and flavours of the Middle East.
Makanek are Arabic sausages typically made with beef or lamb together with a variety of spices, pine nuts and vinegar for acidity, sausaged-up and served alongside the addictive Toum dip, if you’re clever. Chef Joseph prepares his Makanek with beef and a whole lot of za’atar – Lebanon’s thyme.
Perhaps your carb cravings are getting stronger by now… and fear not, we’re here for a Malbenese Night; and bread, as we know, must feature for both cuisines. The Labneh served with your Toum dip is a good comforting start, but carb-city is here with a crispy, crunchy, fluffy potato dish – the Batata Harra. Salty, spicy, herby, fresh and full of those air pockets I like to call dead zones. And by death, we’re talking about that petite mort sort of death where potato and hot oil create a nook for magical things to happen.
Liven things up with the Muhammara or the Baba Ganoush for a fragrant freshness each with their inherent flavour profiles. The red pepper sweet and charred, with added crunch through the walnut crumble and an astringent hit from the pomegranate molasses elevating the natural sweetness to a moreish level. The aubergine is primarily smoky and so creamy; definitely enhanced in texture and flavour with good olive oil and copious amounts of garlic. That astringent quality comes through with the Baba Ganoush also, kind of in the same dryness a high tannin wine would numb the gums; experiencing all this in its intended presentation is an experience of quality gustation. Thanks Chef.
And for an even more stern personality, the Shanklish, a dried and aged cheese served with aromatics of the Middle Eastern flair and a good glug of olive oil. The cheese is strong and aggressive, in the best ways possible, sparking your senses of smell and taste – giving texture, serving robust cheese realness and most definitely holding up to that chilled glass of white, that’s been topped up a few times by now.
The highlight of the meal, an ingredient that can make my heart sing, Chicken Livers. These offal gems were smooth, creamy and textured – plus packed with a spiced deepness coming through from the marinade and port and a top garlic note finished in pomegranate molasses. Moreish is an understatement here; and ultimately, it’s all about the texture – expect an al dente bite with a smooth pâté consistency.
More texture, more flavours and more spice. The contrast creamy Hummus, true t
o its tahini-rooted flavour profiles, compared with the crunch on the lightly fried Cheese Rolls, stringy cheese covered in za’atar and dangerously delicious. Take that roll and dip it into Aft Galley’s Harrisa. I dare you. It’s spicy – but trust, it will do nicely.
Mellow that sting with some in-house Vine Leaves, slightly sweet, big on acid and a great bounce off the fire that’s tingling the tips of your lips. The Moutabbal is also a nice way to bring some relief to your palate while introducing a smoky, citrus and earthy route towards the Octopus in Garlic.
A tender and soft bite, with an overpowering, but not overwhelming garlic flavour – taking you on a nostalgic trip through childhood; plus some Lebanese alterations of course. Paired nicely with the Mousakka featuring a cold tomato chop that hits the palate just right.
The savoury segment came to an end, and even though we had ample left in our plates, another bottle of wine, and a few more hours could have easily extended our stay and our waistline. However, there was still room left for dessert.
The Shaabiyat at The Aft Galley is absolutely delicious. Crunchy, sticky, smooth, nutty – and paired with Hayley’s suggestion on sweet wine sherry was spot on. Luscious, heavy stone fruits notes and happily high in alcohol. The Chateau Kefraya went down a treat.
They might have saved the best for the last though, the Halva and Ice Cream is beyond words describable. The texture of the ice cream is not in a Mediterranean’s wheelhouse, the only similar consistency I can think of is evaporated milk ice-cream slices – slightly stretchy, slightly gummy. The binding agent here is some sort of natural gum that gives a rich mouthfeel, dense and playful with a marshmallow pull that travels across the palate. So interesting – and equally delicious paired with the homemade halva that is so intense in tahini flavour and richness.
A Middle Eastern meal, with Lebanon shining through every dish.
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.