June 30, 2023 – Published in Design & Decor Spring-Summer 2023 issue
Lovage Bistro – A culinary experience to tantalise your taste buds
Photography Daryl Cauchi and Matthew ‘Toykid’ Cauchi
One of the first things to catch your eye as you enter Lovage Bistro is the large photo overlooking the stylish bar, featuring chef patron, Matthew Schembri, with his grandmother – both sporting affectionate smiles.
This heartwarming image is an indication of the homely atmosphere you will experience at this cosy eatery, located in a quiet corner of St Paul’s Bay.
Being himself an unpretentious and amiable man, Matthew speaks of his restaurant with modest pride, as he relates how his inspiration for cooking originated from the days when, as a child, he often sat at his grandma’s kitchen table and watched her cook pastries, soups, and other home-baked delights. He was not allowed to do any cooking himself, but that was when the seed was first sown.
Matthew went on to study and graduate at the Institute of Tourism Studies. Following a year’s internship abroad, he returned home to work as a chef at a local five-star hotel for a few years, where he learned how to cook in a fast-paced environment and, more importantly, how to provide an efficient but pleasurable dining experience for the restaurant’s clientele.
Subsequently, in 2013, with the help of a family friend, Matthew’s new venture, Lovage Bistro, was inaugurated.
“It was the CEO of my family’s company, Joseph Tabone, who gave me the push I needed to renovate this place – which was previously a bar – and open my own restaurant,” Matthew explained. “At 27, I was inexperienced in business matters, since you don’t tend to deal with accounting or paperwork in the kitchen. Joseph not only taught me the business side, he also inspired me to keep going when I wanted to give up. And within weeks, the restaurant was up and running!”
Sadly, Joseph has since passed away, but Matthew can proudly say that the eatery is more than halfway through its tenth year. He runs it together with a small team of four employees, who help him offer a memorable and personalised experience to his regulars as well as tourists and locals who discover the place for the first time.
“The bistro is named after a herb frequently used in cooking and known locally as karfusa tal-brodu. I read about it years earlier and thought it would be an interesting name if I ever opened a restaurant. Lovage is a member of the parsley family, but it tastes like celery. It is pronounced ‘la-vij’, but some prefer the French-sounding version, ‘lo-vaj’. I’ve even had people thinking it was a type of detergent,” Matthew chuckled.
The Mediterranean cuisine at Lovage includes a touch of Maltese, French, and Italian fare.
The specialised menu offers a selection of delectable dishes to suit any palate, while also catering for food allergies and intolerances. Using genuine products, Matthew changes his menu three to four times a year, but he makes sure to retain the popular options, knowing that, at times, customers may return for a specific item.
Matthew’s signature recipe is quite imaginative – a starter of mushrooms with lovage, coffee, and cream – but he also offers battered prawns, grilled octopus, baked cheeselets, fried artichoke hearts, rabbit liver, and beef carpaccio, along with pasta dishes and risottos. The main courses include an enticing selection of meats, among which you may find ribeye, pork cheeks, stuffed quail, duck breast, and lamb fillet, as well as the option of fresh fish.
The desserts are all homemade and comprise chocolate fondant, crème brûlée, cannoli with ricotta di pistacchio, traditional mqaret (date fritters), and also a selection of artisan ice creams and sorbets.
Wine pairing evenings are often held at the restaurant.
“Being in the restaurant business requires a basic knowledge of wine,” said Matthew. “I’m no expert, but I like tasting different wines. In this way, I am able to share my personal experience of the wines we offer and help diners make the right choice to go with their food. During our wine pairing events, I work with the suppliers and sommeliers to offer clients a memorable wining and dining experience.”
Matthew is constantly investing in high-end wines from around the world, having around 150 bottles to choose from, mainly from France, Italy, Chile, Argentina, America, China, Morocco, Lebanon, and of course, Malta. He also likes to keep the bottles of the first-rate labels on shelves and wine boxes around the restaurant, not only to remember the choicest brands but also as a unique complement to the internal décor.
Lovage Bistro has received several awards throughout the years.
The restaurant won the ‘Definitive(ly) Good Guide to Restaurants in Malta and Gozo’ Award for six years running, from 2015 to 2020. More notably, it received the ‘Quality Assured Restaurant’ Award certified by the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) in 2016, as well as the MTA’s ‘Quality Assured Seal for Restaurants’ between 2021 and 2023.
Matthew brushes off the awards displayed on his walls with his trademark bashful smile. “Of course, it’s great to be officially approved, especially by the MTA. However, my aim is always to give my 100% – irrespective of any awards! When diners tell me themselves that my food deserves a Michelin star, it’s the best compliment – and recognition – I could ever wish for!”
Matthew has no plans to expand in the near future.
“I’m happy with the way things are right now. I do keep challenging myself and experimenting with different ingredients, but that’s where the changes will remain for the moment. I wish to keep this an exclusive and intimate venture. I also want to enjoy my life without the stress that business growth would bring.”
“Where do I see myself in 20 years’ time? Enjoying my family
at home, of course! Or maybe on a beach, sipping some Spritz!” Matthew laughed.
Lovage Bistro may be a low-key – albeit extremely welcoming – restaurant, but the culinary experience here is out of this world – and yet, quite affordable!
Try your hand at Matthew’s tasty signature starter: Mushroom Coffee!
• 800g button mushrooms
• 1 tbsp vegetable oil
• 1 tbsp minced garlic
• 2 tbsp chopped Lovage (karfus)
• 200ml cooking cream
• 1 shot of espresso
• 50g butter
1. Chop up all the mushrooms in half.
2. In a hot non-stick pan, pour some oil, and toss the mushrooms until they turn a golden-brown colour.
3. Add the garlic, lovage, cream, and coffee.
4. Add the butter, and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
6. Dish out into two small bowls, serve, and enjoy!
Discover Lovage Bistro at Triq l-Imħar, St Paul’s Bay.
Tel: +356 2157 2088 / +356 7959 4098