British entrepreneur Mark Weingard has the ambition to turn a new restaurant that is set to open in Valletta, Malta later this year into one of the world’s most spectacular restaurants and also one of the best in the world. The chef at the helm is Tim Butler, who is also chef and co-owner of Esenzi in Phuket.
Esenzi will open in a new boutique hotel being currently refurbished on St Barbara Bastions which is considered as Malta’s best street with a spectacular view of the Grand Harbour. Mark Weingard has set an ambitious target of November for the opening of the restaurant. The 23 room hotel, Iniala, is scheduled to open around March next year.
Tim Butler, the chef and co-owner of the restaurant told Food and Wine Gazette in an interview he has been visiting Malta every month since January to build his knowledge of local produce and to get a feel of the clientele and their habits.
He is also experiencing the huge change taking place in Valletta with the constant openings of hotels and restaurants in Malta’s capital city.
“There has been a huge change over the past years. Many restaurants like 59, Noni, Risette as well as a number wine bars have opened recently. There is a huge movement of chefs and there is a very positive feeling. I get the same feeling right now in Malta that there was in Thailand seven, eight years ago when Gaggan opened. Many restaurants like Nahm and others Nahm turned the country into a food destination. We still have to see how it eventually turns out in Malta but for sure this is a very exciting time to be here”, he said.
Tim told Food and Wine Gazette that he has seen a drastic change from working in South East Asia with seafood from tropical waters to produce from the Mediterranean Sea. “I’ve been enthralled by the challenge and the product base which is completely new to me. It is like starting from scratch,” he said.
The American chef moved to Thailand 12 years ago and his cooking has definitely taken in Thai and Asian influences. Apart from being chef of Esenzi he is also head chef of Eat Me in Bangkok, a restaurant that is placed 33rd in Asia’s 50 Best restaurants list.
While the Asian influence will always be there at Esenzi, the chef has said that his aim is to evolve the cuisine based on Malta’s produce as well as Maltese customers.
“I get the same feeling right now in Malta that there was in Thailand seven, eight years ago when Gaggan opened”
“We need to evolve to meet the Maltese tastes. When I moved to Thailand from New York I had to adapt my style and the same thing will happen here as this is a completely new environment and I will need to evolve,” he said.
Unlike his restaurant in Thailand which serves just a tasting menu, Tim said he will also have an a la carte menu at the restaurant in Malta.”I do not think it would be the wisest decision to open with just a tasting menu here. We need time to build trust.”
The restaurant will have a chef’s table and that will likely feature tasting menus and but this will depend on the clients. “Seeing the way the Maltese eat means we will need to adapt what we do in Thailand. Part of the exercise of our pop-up dinners (see story here) are to figure out how the Maltese react to certain things and how they react to others. It is a new market for me and I’ve been in this business long enough not to be foolish enough to come and impose the way I want people to eat. The most important thing is to make customers happy and these events have given us a base line of what customers want.”
Tim said that there was a positive reaction to tasting menus. They have offered 6 course menus and 12 course menus and 90% of customers opted for the six course menu. “We need to look more in this direction having smaller tasting menus with larger portions. Tasting menus could start and then be shared and finished with a whole fish or meat dishes,” he said.
Tim wants to eventually have a Maltese chef at the helm and aims to employ as many cooks as can physically fit in the kitchen and he says that he will send them to Thailand to get accustomed to the restaurant’s philosophy and core values. If there is one thing I would say to Maltese chefs is to travel more and to get outside their comfort zone,’ he said.