Forward-thinking food in a historic backdrop: A culinary tour de force at Hammett’s Macina
A real show stopper in the south.
I’ve been fascinated by the ancient Macina building in Senglea long before it opened anew as the luxurious Cugó Gran Macina Grand Harbour Hotel and became home to the stylish Hammett’s Macina Restaurant.
Built almost half a millennium ago by the Knights of Saint John, the imposing structure has been a landmark of the area for centuries, and I remember looking up at its vaulted archways as I walked by, wondering what secrets they hide. You can imagine my delight, then, when the Macina proudly threw open its doors once again, and I was more delighted still to have the opportunity to dine there.
Drawing on the unique building’s history, the gastronomical concept at Hammett’s Macina Restaurant is a take on the islands’ succession of powers, with a modern representation of traditional Mediterranean culinary influences that date back to the Phoenician times. And as my dining companion made our way through its archways for dinner, we were more than ready to be conquered.
Welcomed with friendly and refined service from the start, we were first shown to the charming bar area for a pre-dinner drink. Surveying the cocktail menu, we went for a citrusy Ginsalis and a prosecco cocktail dubbed Hugo’s, which set a great tone for the evening. Rather than placing a straw in my chosen cocktail, I really appreciated the fact that the server asked whether I wanted one – which I declined – earning the bar staff some eco-friendly brownie points from me!
After being shown to our table in a cosy corner of the beautiful eatery, we delighted in perusing the menu. Constructed by a multi-award winning team led by Francisco Carrasco Cortes and directed by Chef and restauranteur Chris Hammett, it’s clear that the people here know what they’re doing. Our helpful server explained the concept – that of three small ‘tasting’ plates rather than a traditional starter and main – and with some difficulty, we made our selections.
Whetting our appetite with an amuse bouche of tomato, mozzarella and black olive, we welcomed our first plates – I opted for the cured Maltese guanciale with poached free range egg and potato. With a crunchy texture and rich taste, the dish came in a sizeable portion, and the perfectly poached egg on top served to balance out the flavour. It was unique in that it was unlike anything I’ve had before, though certainly wouldn’t mind having again!
Meanwhile, my dining partner chose that day’s special of cod, which was served in lightly battered bite-sized chunks atop a compressed potato cake. The taste was delicate, the presentation was beautiful and the dish was varied enough to keep him interested until nothing was left on the plate.
Next, I went for a second dish of monkfish cheeks with olive oil, cauliflower and kale, which was presented as beautifully as it tasted. The accompanying kale and cauliflower complemented the fish well, and paired wonderfully with the Pouilly-Fuissé wine we selected with our meal.
Over on the other side of the table, my dining companion initially struggled with his choice of open lasagne with octopus, tomatoes, capers and olives which, being beautifully presented, he laboured to deconstruct. A few mouthfuls in, he was quick to point out that the effort was justified by the taste and textures within.
A fish-lover through and through, my third option was the catch of the day – a filleted stone fish – served with a bean and spinach purée, broccoli and tuiles (baked wafers). This was, once again, beautifully presented, and well matched in taste. The texture of the fish was, as the local expression goes, like milk, and the accompanying ingredients only served to further showcase the taste, creating a refined and elevated dish.
Meanwhile, my partner’s choice of ribeye of beef with potato confit, carrot, cumin and orange purée also went down a treat. The excellent cut of meat was set off by a delicate choice of sauces that enhanced its flavour, and the sides, he declared, were delicious, showing that the kitchen brigade had left no stone unturned in the pursuit of an exceptional dining experience.
To close off our evening, our sweet options comprised a Greek yoghurt panna cotta with local kaki, honeycomb and vanilla, as well as a lingot of dark chocolate with crispy gavotte and rooibos tea ice cream. My chosen panna cotta had a pleasantly tart taste, with the fruit, which was presented in jelly form, providing just the right amount of sweetness, together with the honeycomb, which also added crunch.
The lingot of dark chocolate, however, was the star of the show. Describing it as a “chocolate paradise”, my dining partner remarked that the delectable confection made it seem like the place is run by a dessert chef, naming it one of the most outstanding dishes of the evening. Rich, full of flavour, and comprising a beautiful combination of textures, it was an incredible way to end an evening of culinary riches.
All in all, the team at Hammett’s Macina Restaurant have certainly done justice to the building’s proud history, elevating it into a refined eatery which we intend to visit again and again.