Recipes

July 7, 2022 – Published in Design & Decor Spring-Summer 2022 issue


Paul’s Bistro – A secret gem in an underground well in Valletta


Photography: Ray Attard


The unassuming entrance to Paul’s Bistro offers no clue to the charming atmosphere found inside.


As you descend the first few steps, you come across the upper level of this underground eatery, with a spiral staircase across the floor leading down to a second level. The restaurant features elegant touches of vintage décor, accompanied by warm smiles from owner and chef, Warren Cremona, and his team.


Paul’s Bistro is situated within the stone walls of a subterranean well dug by hand in 1610. The original building above it – probably an old palazzo – is no longer there, possibly destroyed in the war. The well itself formed part of a network of water communication, ensuring that water was never wasted.


Warren first discovered the venue in November 2018, when strolling around Valletta scouting suitable locations, as is his custom – even to this day – whenever he is in the capital. He noticed a small door with a ‘To Let’ sign and went in to see the place, which was already operating as a restaurant but with a rather mediocre setting. He immediately spotted its potential, and by the time he walked downstairs to the second level, he was hooked.


The name for the bistro was chosen during a family holiday.


Before embarking on his venture, which would take precious time away from his wife, daughter, and two sons, Warren took his family to Paris. The restaurant, obviously, came up often in their discussions. While eating at an airport cafeteria before their return, Warren’s middle son, Gianluca, declared that he liked the food there and queried about its name. The French chain was called Paul – which also happens to be the name of Warren’s late father. Consequently, Warren decided there and then to name his restaurant Paul’s Bistro.


Converting the place presented a considerable challenge, but Warren was determined to revive the historical site. After two months of extensive renovations, the restaurant opened on Valentine’s Day 2019. After a slow start, and the turbulence brought by Covid, Warren managed to establish a selection of loyal clients, whom he now considers his close friends.


Paul’s Bistro is remarkable not only because of its unique underground location.


The dining experience here is also one of a kind. The cuisine is local-infused Mediterranean with a touch of French and Italian.


There is a select à la carte menu, which varies every three months, as well as a choice of tempting daily specials. The menu changes are implemented with careful consideration for the different preferences clients may have. Furthermore, customers may always request any adjustment to accommodate dietary requirements and allergies.


“I build each dish from scratch,” declared Warren. “Everything, including the sauces, is prepared from fresh ingredients every time. Some people complain because the food takes a while to arrive on the table. But this is not a fast-food restaurant. As chef Marco Pierre White said, to eat good food, one must first learn how to wait!”


Warren also offers olive oil tasting at his restaurant.


Using appropriate olive oil glasses, the samples are served as a light starter for those who wish to decide which oil is used with their food. With his love for local brands, Warren offers a taste from six Maltese sources: Cheval Franc, Bidni, Ta’ San Gużepp, Camilleri Wines, Ramla Valley, and an unnamed bottle from Tony, the chef who became a farmer. Two foreign olive oils – La Villa and Masia el Altet – are also offered to clients who wish to compare local and foreign flavours.


When it comes to wines, Warren’s focus is on choosing quality labels. Again, he opts to promote local wineries, namely Marsovin and Markus Divinus, with a selection of foreign producers. The pairing of wines with different foods is another service offered by the restaurant to further enhance the dining experience.


Warren considers chefs to be “ambassadors on a plate”, because they literally represent their country at the dining table.


“I love to promote and support Malta. Without each other, we cannot survive, because we are a chain – from the supplier, to the restaurant, to the customers. Yes, produce can at times be limited on the local market, but we always find a way to deal with these issues.”


Warren and his team love sharing certain cooking and serving procedures at their customers’ table. “This helps clients differentiate from when they dine at home or get a takeaway. When something is created live in front of them, the mood of the client changes. There are smiles all round; they share videos and photos. Our comprehensive experience encourages people to return – and, hopefully, bring others with them.”


It is also good to note that, although an indoor venue, Paul’s Bistro is a pet-friendly restaurant, and well-behaved dogs are welcome to join their owners at the table.


Paul’s Bistro is Warren’s third restaurant – and his favourite!


“I started my career purely by accident, and I taught myself to cook through books – and trial and error. I am constantly learning new ways of improving myself. Before I opened Paul’s, I obtained my Master Chef Diploma at the University of Malta. And, only weeks ago, I was in Rome studying about quality service with Michelin-star sommelier, Marco Reitano, at the Gambero Rosso Academy.”


Warren is looking to expand his client base without sacrificing his product. His wish is to maintain the present standards and keep focusing on the superior quality product he offers. His is a vision that he hopes will contribute towards achieving Michelin recognition for his beloved bistro.


“I believe we have all the tools to make that happen, but we need a larger team to succeed. At present, together with my patient wife, Lorianne – my backbone and mother to our two sons, Gianluca and Francesco – I have Rose, my helper in the kitchen, and my right-hand man, Matthew, taking care of the floor. They are the kind of people I need around me – people who are passionate about this place and its customers. That is the only way we can continue providing an exceptional culinary experience for our clients.”



Paul’s Bistro shares a delicious trademark recipe for Salmon Wellington


Salmon Wellington – or Salmon en Croute – is a savoury salmon pie involving well-seasoned salmon placed over a bed of creamy spinach and wrapped in puff pastry. The puff pastry is brushed with egg wash, then baked in the oven until golden.


Spinach and salmon is a match made in heaven, especially when wrapped in buttery and flaky puff pastry. The salmon remains moist, as it soaks up all the rich, buttery flavours: the mixture of Dijon, melted butter, and lemon zest that will be spread all over the salmon fillet. Skinless salmon is strongly suggested for this recipe.


With patience – and by seasoning your food with love – you will succeed in getting it right, just like a professional chef.


PREP: 30 mins

COOK: 25 mins

TOTAL: 55 mins


What you’ll need:

• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

• ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard

• Zest of 1 small lemon

• ¾ teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon black pepper

• ½ teaspoon dried thyme

• 4 cups fresh baby spinach

• 2 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

• 1 large egg yolk, plus 1 teaspoon water

• 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator

• 2 x 250 grams salmon fillets, skin removed


From your cupboard and fridge, prepare the following:

Salmon Fillets

2 portions of 250 grams salmon fillets, skin removed.


Puff Pastry

Frozen, then thawed. Puff pastry becomes flaky and golden to perfection once it’s baked. It envelops the salmon fillet and traps all the moisture.


Egg Yolk & Water

1 large egg yolk, plus 1 teaspoon water

Brushing egg wash over the top of the puff pastry helps it turn golden brown.


Butter & Dijon Mustard

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

½ tablespoon Dijon mustard

These two flavours are delicious when combined and brushed over the top of the salmon fillets. The moisture seeps into the salmon as it cooks and keeps it tender.


Lemon Zest

For brightness, freshness, and acidity.


Seasonings

• ¾ teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon black pepper

• ½ teaspoon fresh thyme

• 2 cloves garlic, minced

• Combine the salt, pepper, garlic, and thyme, then season the salmon generously.


Spinach & Parmesan Cheese

• 4 cups fresh baby spinach

• 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

• A cheesy spinach mixture adds a scrumptious nutty flavour, another layer of moisture, and the added bonus of some healthy veggies.


How to put it all together:

1. Stir together the melted butter, mustard, lemon zest, and spices; allow to cool.

2. Sauté the spinach with the Parmesan and garlic.

3. Roll out the puff pastry onto a floured work surface, and cut it in half.

4. Brush the salmon fillets with the butter mixture. Flip them over and place a fillet, butter-side down, in the middle of each piece of puff pastry.

5. Spoon the cheesy spinach over the top.

6. Fold one side of the puff pastry over the salmon, and brush the top of the folded part with egg wash. The egg wash will act like glue.

7. Repeat with the opposite side, attaching the two flaps. Brush with more egg wash.

8. Repeat until all four sides are folded. Make sure the pastry is well-sealed.

9. Transfer the salmon fillets to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

10. Brush the tops with egg wash, and score diagonal lines in each direction to allow steam to escape – and to give it a creative touch.

11. Bake the Salmon Wellington for 20 to 25 minutes at 180°C, until deep golden brown. Let it cool for a few minutes, then DIG IN!


Tasty sides to complement this dish:

Potatoes

A side of garlic, chives, and creamy mashed potatoes – or roast potatoes – are superb with this dish.

Veggies

Sautéed broccoli, brussels sprouts, and asparagus are the perfect accompaniment.


www.paulsbistro.com



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