An Unforketable experience

An Unforketable experience

The Fork and Cork
Telgha Tas-Saqqajja, Mdina
Tel: 7904 7043

Food: 8/10
Service: 7/10
Ambience: 8/10
Value: 8/10
Overall: 8/10

I’ll take any excuse to dine out. Not that I don’t enjoy cooking, far from it. More often than not my home plays host to almost weekly events. Movie nights, dinner parties, old-fashioned evenings of drinks and conversation; we’re happy to have them all.

But occasionally, I need to remind myself that there is an outside world. A world where fuzzy slippers are considered inappropriate footwear, and also a world where I don’t have to deal with the messy aftermath of said party.

Picking a place to eat out though comes with a whole song and dance. We have a series of places we go to regularly but when you eat there often enough, it loses that “special feeling”.

Then there’s the excellent quick in and out places we love. A good pizza or some sushi followed by drinks.

But, this particular week, we had to celebrate a bit of good news with great friends of ours, so we opted to treat them to a nice dinner. A place where the food looks clean and tight and done up to the nines, and therefore we should follow suit.

We were feeling adventurous and decided to try a place none of us had been to so we did some very quick googling and decided on The Fork and Cork restaurant in Rabat.

Weatherwise, it was a particularly miserable evening and setting foot in The Fork and Cork was immediately welcoming. The decor, in the style of an old-school Maltese farmhouse, is pleasant and inviting. The tables are laid out beautifully with clean fresh cloth, a range of well-polished silverware, some high quality olive oil, Maldon sea-salt and a nub of fresh butter. Oh yes, this is exactly what we had set out for. This was already gearing up to be a promising evening.

Having been handed the menus, I instantly fell in love with the naming convention used for the dishes. Pig, Fish, Duck, Chicken. I like a restaurant that gets straight to the point. Moreover, in an opening monologue on the first page of the menu, the chef and owner boasts about changing the menu seasonally and true to his word, the ingredients accompanying each course all screamed “winter”.

Hearty proteins, root vegetables, aromatic herb jus; we all needed a few more minutes to place our orders while we each faced internal struggles as to who gets what, all the while making solemn promises to allow each other person a sample.

With our orders taken and a bottle of wine cracked open, our night of revellery was immediately interrupted by an unexpected cupful of mushroom and cauliflower soup. This was already warm and hearty enough to lift our spirits, but when a large basket of piping hot, crunchy bread rolls were placed in front of us, we did away with cutlery and tucked in with gusto unbefitting our surroundings. Needless to say, our ‘bouches’ were certainly ‘amused’.

The food was brought out in a very timely fashion, and our starters were placed in front of our ever widening eyes right on schedule. Much like the decor, you can tell right from the start that great attention to detail is given to every plate.

An overall enjoyable evening of well-thought-out dining that will have me returning seasonally

The cured salmon was a work of art. I have to admit I have a soft spot for beetroot, so I may be slightly biased here. It can taste sweet and earthy and robust, works well in desserts as well as savoury dishes and can be prepared a myriad of ways. The chef here made excellent use of it as well as everything else that was on the plate.

The venison tortellaci were perfect. The pasta showed real finesse but what particularly blew me away were the purées. I was seconds away from tossing aside all convention and licking that creamed celeriac and pea purée right off the plate. Fortunately for my, and my accomplices’, honour, I spotted the last of the bread rolls, still warm and welcoming, and took to mopping the remains of my dish up. The last starter a couple of us sampled was one of their off menu specials.

I am going to make a sweeping statement here and crown the risotto the hero of the evening. First of all, the fact that everyone sat at our table wanted to order it is a clear sign of how good it sounded.

We weren’t quite prepared for how good it tasted. Stop me when I say something bad. Spring onion. Pancetta. Saffron. Parmesan. Swiss Chard. What’s that? You’re not sure you like that last one? You do now. This was a masterclass in delicious, stick to your ribs risotto. If I had to go out on a limb I’d say that if this were on the regular menu, it would be their top seller. The bar was set extremely high with the starters and as the age old saying goes, when you’re at the top, the only way is down.

Our mains were a mixed bag. I will state in advance that the portions were extremely generous. The Fork and Cork is serious about feeding its patrons and for that, I salute the team. First off, one genius got the risotto as a main course (did I mention it was a damned good risotto?).

The beef was a dish that caught our attention on the menu nice and early on and I have to say that everything on the plate was wonderful; apart from the actual beef itself. Good sirloin has its appeal. It’s normally quite a lean cut with a nice fat cap rendered for flavour. But this steak had an unusual chunk of sinewy gristle that was completely inedible. It stood out as a stark contrast to the high levels of attention present throughout the rest of the meal.

On another note, I am an advocate for the sous-vide method of vacuum sealing protein and cooking it in a temperature-controlled water bath. It is a technique commonplace in many high-end restaurants these days and a spreading trend within households that achieves near perfect results.

With the pork, however, the sizeable portion worked against it completely. The crackling was, as crackling always is, a thing of beauty. But underneath it was a large, thick layer of fat that was soft but, due to its size and the lack of a high enough heat to render it enough, slowly overwhelmed the rest of dish. By the end of it, my stomach started to feel upset with the richness of the protein and I had to leave it mostly unfinished.

On the other side of the coin was the quality of the chicken. Hints of sriracha were apparent throughout the kimchi, a deep fried soft-boiled egg that oozed onto the plate when cut open and the chicken was glistening throughout. I find chicken breast a dull meat. But this was simply perfection.

We topped the meal off with a couple of slices of pistachio cheesecake, a chocolate crème brûlée and homemade imqaret. Imqaret aside, this is one of the few instances where I’d say less is more.

The desserts were extremely rich and the flavour of every bite was intense. I rarely say a portion needs to be smaller (almost never in fact) but I feel like a dessert should leave me wanting more and give me a good reason to return rather than have me struggling to put the last phenomenal bites down. As Shakespeare once put it: “Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour.”

Service was pleasant, overall, and we were tended to very well apart from a few instances so nitpicky and minuscule I’m writing them off as the servers being a little wet behind the ears. At the meal totalling a little over €50 per person, The Fork and Cork offers an overall enjoyable evening of well-thought-out dining that will have me returning seasonally with an eager palate and an empty stomach.

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