If a bank manager had had his way Andrew Borg might be cooking fast food till this day. But the Maltese chef is persistent, contrarian and never gives up even when the going gets tough. His persistence meant that he successfully ran the Black Pig making a name for himself not only locally but also with international visitors to Malta.
But it was not just the bank manager that he had to convince but also a local crowd that did not necessarily understand what he was doing. The chef patron of Black Pig Restaurant ended up closing the restaurant in September 2016 when he found a buyer but had a new project lined up.
Together with the owners of Casa Ellul, a boutique hotel in Valletta, he set out to open a bistro though the project took longer to materialise than expected. He wanted to be able to work with a team and in the process he has assembled a team that can raise Malta’s bar when it comes to the fine dining scene.
A few days before Christmas I received a WhatsApp from a friend telling me a new place had opened in Valletta, Risette, is really worth a visit. Everything was perfect, he tells me. “There was even fresh fois gras.”
I messaged the chef, Andrew Borg who I had interviewed previously to tell him and he jokes telling me ‘they were lucky because we managed to get our hands on the fois gras that had arrived in Malta by mistake. It was destined elsewhere.”
Such is life in Malta. It is not always to have the ingredients that you want to work with.
Andrew has worked among others with Claude Bosi of Bibendum and Hibiscus fame but he has also recruited alongside him Kurt Micallef who not only worked in some of Malta’s top restaurants but also used to save money to travel to Belgium and train under Belgian acclaimed chef Kobe Desramaults of In de Wulf and now Chambre Separee fame.
Whenever I met Andrew, he would always tell me how he could not understand how no restauranteur had ever given Kurt the opportunity to take over the restaurant with such talent. In that, he has been lucky since he gets to work with a friend and highly talented cook.
He has also recruited a self-trained pastry chef, David Tanti, who worked at the Lanesborough, a restaurant by Heinz Beck before following his passion and training pastry pretty much on his own. David travels regularly to France and Italy to visit pastry shops and learn the tricks of the trade. He’s also passionate about ice-cream and spent time at the Universita del gelato in Parma.
When I meet Andrew and sous-chef Kurt Micallef in summer they tell me how hard it is for them to find organic eggs which they need to serve breakfast. Procuring the things they need is considerably harder than being behind the stoves for long days.
Andrew has spent over a year in a sort of sabbatical, travelling to some of the top restaurants in the world but also preparing Risette. It has taken patience because as one would expect with works, mishaps are the order of the day. But now that the restaurant is up and running, one can say that it is worth the wait.
Opened since the end of 2017, Risette has been getting lots of accolades locally. From its decor, to the food, the wine list which has been carefully curated and includes a number of hard to find wines such as the Sicilian wines of Belgian winemaker Frank Cornelisson to mention one example, nothing has been left to chance.
The restaurant is housed inside Casa Ellul, a boutique hotel in Valletta which forms part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection a few doors down from the Manoel Theatre.
The chef has retained the same philosophy which he used at the Black Pig which is to work with trusted suppliers and not compromise on quality. But with a team in place, he can now start to push further for example by baking his own bread for the restaurant which is served not just for lunch and dinner but also breakfast. The desserts are also much more ambitious.
When I visited, Andrew and Kurt prepared a splendid meal which started with a root vegetables soup topped with Aragon oil followed by a perfectly cooked oyster and ricotta.
They then served scallops with ponzu and a cauliflower velouté which was excellent.
What followed was a tribute to Gualtiero Marchesi, what else but a risotto that was covered with a gold leaf. Perfectly cooked and served al dente, this was a homage to the great Italian chef who had passed away earlier.
Andrew and Kurt then served two meat dishes. First came the confit of suckling pig, perfectly cooked and served with Savoy cabbage and fennel with a black truffle wine sauce and then came a dish which is rarely served in a Maltese restaurant, the veal sweetbread with carrot and garlic. It was cooked to perfection.
“We managed to get two kilogrammes of the sweetbreads and the dish was well received,” says Andrew who had faced difficulty at his former restaurant when he worked with a small menu that sometimes pushed clients outside their comfort zone.
For dessert, they served buckwheat ice-cream which was followed by a perfectly recreated apple soufflé (see photo).
If you are visiting Malta any time soon, make sure to put Risette on your list.