An unexpected gem in Wied iz-Zurrieq offers up fantastic Italian fare, but is it let down by the service?
I feel like I need to start this review with a disclaimer. Were it not for the fact that I had made up my mind to write a review of Il Corsaro for GuideMeEats, as well as a number of enthusiastic recommendations by friends, I may not have made it there at all.
You see, there’s a lot I will do for good food, and good food – no, excellent food – is what you get at Il Corsaro. My only bone of contention is the service, thanks to which the experience of dining in this hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Wied iz-Zurrieq is somewhat let down. Let me explain.
The hiccups began at booking stage. Having heard that the restaurant is a small one, with just one table outside overlooking the stunning sea view across to the islet of Filfla, I decided to book early, to secure it for lunch for myself and my dining companion. Alas, this led to an uncomfortable exchange with the Italian owner. Obliging to his request of communicating by text, it resulted that he would not accept a booking of just two for the table outside, which accommodates more. While this was a little frustrating, it was fair enough, but the way in which the exchange was handled, in broken English over several texts, and nothing by way of explanation until pressed, really got my back up.
Still, we decided to take this in our stride, and booked a table indoors for lunch. The day arrived and it was glorious – bright sunny skies with incredible visibility. Ironically, a perfect day for lunch al fresco. We arrived at Il Corsaro hungry and unsure of what to expect, and settled on our table within the small interior to the sound of Hotel California playing on the radio. Looking around at the dark surroundings, and with an annoyingly clear view of the coveted outdoor table and sparkling sea beyond, we were amused to hear the voice of the Eagles frontman croon “this could be heaven or this could be hell…”
Noting the absence of menus, we were directed to the blackboard showcasing the day’s specials by the waitress, who was at once attentive and efficient, yet unforgivably snappy when asked for something which wasn’t available on the day. Another mark off for service, and at this stage, my partner decided that this would be his first and last visit. I, on the other hand, am somewhat more forgiving, and decided to reserve my judgement until after the meal.
After some deliberation, we chose a mix of traditional antipasti to start, comprising of Italian-style cozze (mussels), octopus and king prawns. The octopus was first to arrive, and was nothing short of delicious. Served with a fresh and flavourful mix of cherry tomatoes, olive oil and mint, it was devoured with gusto until the plate was completely polished off, using the accompanying wedges of soft, warm bread.
The mussels were next, and their incredible flavour continued to soften our resolve. Cooked simply in an irresistible blend of white wine, lemon, garlic and parsley, the mussels were given the space to shine in a way that only the simplest and most confident style of Italian cooking allows.
To round off our starter course, the king prawns arrived, cooked to perfection in an unusual combination of olive oil, chilli, rosemary and ginger. The fragrant dish really shone, and the hint of chilli gave it a pleasing kick, which we agreed elevated it to a level which goes well beyond what you’d expect to experience in an ordinary restaurant.
Every moreish bite did its part to quell the bad taste with which the experience had started, and by the time our main pasta courses arrived, all was quite well with the world. Opting for one pasta dish with vongole (clams) and one with bottarga (tuna roe), we hungrily tucked in. Served in a homely style directly out of the pan, it was hard to decide which was the most enjoyable.
The vongole were expertly paired with the simplest of ingredients, in the classic style to which the chef here evidently subscribes. Their subtle flavour comes across well with cherry tomatoes and white wine, finished with a citrus kick. The bottarga dish, meanwhile, was pure poetry – the strong flavour of the roe was complemented perfectly with a hint of chilli, and seasoned to perfection.
This brings us to the verdict, and for me, this is where it gets subjective – it will really depend on what you value most out of the experience of eating out. For my partner, anything short of great service is enough to prevent a repeat visit, but for myself, delivering food at an exceptional level will keep me coming for more. Next time though, I’m making a mental note to rope in a few more hungry companions, and nabbing a seat at that outdoor table!
Ambience 2/5 (indoors)