This elegant Balluta eatery serves up a dining experience that ticks all the boxes
The devil is definitely in the detail at Taro.
Opening its doors anew last summer, St Julian’s iconic The Villa comprises two separate dining concepts. Outside, the casual Nori offers a delightful Asian street-food and cocktails concept, while indoors, an elegant culinary experience awaits at Taro, featuring innovative approaches to Mediterranean cuisine.
Apart from the tasteful décor, the first thing my dining companion and I notice upon entering Taro is the stellar service – an element that would become a motif throughout the evening. Both the restaurant manager and our server are instantly friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, taking us through the tempting menu options with effortless finesse. Apart from recommending favourite dishes – which we heeded, given that the fantastic fare on offer made it difficult to decide – they also suggested pairing drinks, starting with cocktails and moving onto wine pairings.
With decisions made and suitably excited about the food to come, my partner and I sipped on our cocktails – mine a refreshing twist on a piña colada and his a smokey whisky creation – as we surveyed our surroundings. The atmosphere is pleasant, quiet and relaxing with great acoustics. The décor, meanwhile, is sophisticated, and the eye-catching tableware by local ceramicist Sue Mifsud adds a unique touch.
We are first presented with an amuse bouche of homemade ricotta, which is nothing short of artful in both presentation and flavour. The starters follow soon after, complemented by a fresh and fruity Leopards Leap Chenin Blanc.
My choice is the hand dived scallops with tonka bean and cauliflower, and what a delight it is. A seamless marriage of flavours in which the cauliflower, prepared three ways, complements the rich and delicate flavour of the scallops. A cursory glance over at my dining companion reveals a similar reaction to his choice – the Wagyu beef with smoked eel parfait. “I’d say that there is no way to describe this dish in a way that does it justice,” he says, citing a complex collection of flavours that keep on surprising you with every bite. The beef is delicate, but cuts through the stronger flavours of the eel and accompanying broth.
An added element that is often neglected is the tableware, but at Taro, the dishes on which the food is presented form part of the story being told. Mine, served in a vibrant glass sphere and his, a textured ceramic oblong creation, both serve to elevate the dishes to culinary masterpieces, in every sense of the word.
After a palate refreshing intermediate of pineapple and basil sorbet, it was time for the main event. Being a fish lover, I couldn’t resist the wild halibut with cuttlefish, saffron and chickpeas – an unusual combination that piqued my interest. The resulting dish was a lovely autumnal take on the fish, with the chickpeas presented both whole and within a hummus, which worked surprisingly well. The cuttlefish also added another dimension, bringing a different texture and flavour to the dish as a whole.
Meanwhile, my dining partner chose the venison loin with ossobuco, chestnut, parsnip and liquorice jus – a rich and varied wintry dish that is sure to satisfy people with hearty appetites. The venison fillet was firm but tender, and the accompanying ossobuco complemented it excellently. The gravy had a hint of cloves, and, when combined with the ground chestnut that topped the ossobuco, gives the wonderful impression of a meal you’d expect to eat in a cabin after a day at the slopes.
At this juncture, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’d call it a day, and well, as satisfied as we were with the fantastic meal so far, there really is always room for something sweet to end things with. Once again, we had trouble narrowing down our choices from the delectable desserts on offer, prompting our server to make a naughty suggestion: why not go for three? Well, why not indeed!
First was the one that drew my attention initially – a ruby chocolate confection with yuzu and cherry – and let me tell you, it was one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time! My partner’s choice of apple mille-feuille with vanilla and cinnamon also went down a treat, presented beautifully and with a delicate flavour. The banana soufflé, meanwhile, was our server’s chosen favourite, and it’s easy to see why! Risen to perfection, the banana and chocolate flavours come through beautifully.
And once again, it didn’t end there. Topping off a truly memorable meal came a fantastic digestif presentation by a server who’s clearly passionate about his work. After a short demonstration and explanation of the liqueurs on offer that evening, we made our choice, mine a flavourful vermouth served with orange zest, and his a limited edition Averna with lemon, orange and thyme. A splendid way to end the evening, and a fitting cherry on the cake to a dining experience that is worth repeating, time and time again.
Taro is open Monday to Saturday from 7pm to 10pm, and Sunday from noon to 3pm. For reservations, call +356 2311 2273 or email [email protected] Follow them on Facebook here.