January 17, 2024 – Published in Design & Decor Autumn-Winter 2023 issue
Geppetto Bar & Restaurant – a corner of heartfelt hospitality in Gozo’s harbour
Photography Ofion Marketing Services
Tucked away within the Mgarr marina on Malta’s sister island, Geppetto Bar & Restaurant easily stands out from the surrounding eateries – not only for its unique name but also for its impeccable service and the genuine cuisine created by the friendly Bulgarian family who runs it.
As we sat at a table in the covered veranda, we marvelled at the smooth teamwork between Dimitar Gitsov and his son, Lyuben. Whilst they alternated between greeting and serving customers, moving tables and chairs to accommodate groups, and sitting down to chat with us during the quieter moments, their ability to multitask and synchronise their efforts collectively was evident. Their talents also extend into the kitchen, as both of them are the chefs behind the delicacies found in their appetising menu.
The restaurant is named after Geppetto because he was the symbol of creation in the story of Pinocchio.
“Geppetto is definitely the major character,” Dimitar declared. “Pinocchio is an immature boy doing everything wrong, whereas Geppetto is his creator. We chose the name because we like the story, and it is also easy to remember, though people do tell me I resemble Geppetto,” he chuckled. “Like him, I also have my son, but he’s not like Pinocchio – most times, he’s actually my better half.”
As if on cue, Lyuben joined us at the table to tell us about the inauguration of the restaurant. “We’ve only been open for a few weeks – since July. We were under a lot of pressure to open during the summer season, so it all happened really fast. Our wish was to recreate Geppetto’s workshop by displaying wooden pieces and sketches of his carpentry work, including, of course, his drawings of Pinocchio.”
In fact, the restaurant’s décor is also enhanced by an authentic wooden workshop table at the entrance stained with red, blue, and yellow paint – the colours of the puppet’s clothes. An original storybook in Bulgarian stands on top of this table, one of the first copies of the popular tale written by Carlo Collodi in 1883.
The expedited launch certainly did not affect the calibre of the restaurant.
As soon as people began turning up, the positive reviews virtually poured in. The concept of using fresh local produce and making their own homemade dressings and sauces, including the ketchup and mayonnaise, is definitely one reason for its soaring popularity, resulting in a number of repeat clients in a very short time.
“We love to work with local farmers,” Dimitar explained, “and some products are really high-quality, in particular the Gozitan ġbejna (cheeselet), the delicious tomatoes, and the home-cooked potatoes. The fishermen bring us their catch of fresh fish – according to the season – and we create various recipes with octopus, which is either grilled or served with pasta or rice. We also offer specials such as stuffed calamari, as an alternative to the more common fried version.”
“The Gozo Bruschetta is made from fresh Gozitan bread from our local baker,” added Lyuben, “and we add a nice salty taste by grating the sundried ġbejna moxxa over the tomatoes, olives, and aromatic herbs. There are some things which we can only find in Malta, however, such as brioche buns, which are supplied by the family-run Emanuel’s Bakery in Qormi. And the main ingredient for the Smoked Chicken Salad, one of our signature dishes, is only found at Snow White Meat & Poultry Market in Mgarr, Malta.”
Lyuben also described the tempting selection of meat dishes available, among them the Beef Tagliata, Black Angus Rib-Eye, BBQ Meatballs, Chicken Skewers, Mediterranean Grilled Chicken, and Chicken Parmigiana. Dimitar’s wife, Maya, also pitches in with her own culinary expertise, creating a number of fresh and delicious homemade desserts every single day.
The restaurant’s menu is like a beautiful book that you almost want to take home with you.
Printed on old-school paper with traditional handwritten fonts, it presents visual descriptions of each dish rather than just a list of ingredients. Inviting phrases such as ‘warm crusty bread’, ‘hickory scented bbq sauce’, ‘smoke-infused bacon and cheese’, and ‘tomato sauce and molten mozzarella’, among many others, are enough to make your mouth water just from reading it.
We could not leave without first trying the aforementioned Smoked Chicken Salad, accompanied by a glass of crisp white wine. The dish certainly left an impression on us. The succulent smoked chicken and crispy bacon sat on a bed of fresh crunchy lettuce, seasoned with a delicious homemade dressing. The wine by the glass at Geppetto’s is also of high quality, as is the varied selection of bottled wines, whiskeys, gins, and other liquors and cocktails.
“Life is too short to drink bad wine,” quipped Lyuben. “We offer a selection of excellent wines from Malta – namely, Charles Grech and Marsovin – together with foreign imports from France, Italy, and New Zealand. Our cocktails are mixed with superior brands, and our gin and tonics are made with Tanqueray, Hendrick’s, and other supreme gins. We provide an exceptional but still affordable experience to local residents and tourists.”
“We didn’t choose Gozo – Gozo chose us!” Dimitar smiled.
After finishing their education in catering and hospitality in Switzerland and France and gaining experience in various chef positions in Malta, the family was asked to take over the restaurant by its owner, a friend of Dimitar’s.
The area can be easily reached from both islands. In fact, countless Maltese residents often leave their car in Malta and cross the channel for a leisurely dinner in Gozo’s harbour. The views from Geppetto’s veranda – which can be completely closed in inclement weather – and the outdoor sun terrace include the prominent Mgarr church on one side and the serene blue sea of the marina on the other. The interior section offers a cosy alternative for the winter months, complete with stone arches and wooden ceiling beams.
“We try to keep it informal here,” smiled Dimitar. “We want our customers to feel the same comfort and hospitality they would find at a friend’s house. Take your time, and enjoy the atmosphere. If you miss the ferry back, you can always catch the next one.”
Try your hand at creating two of Geppetto’s signature dishes in your kitchen!
GEPPETTO’S SMOKED CHICKEN SALAD
The creator’s most loved dish of hot-smoke succulent chicken served on iceberg salad with a homemade Caesar dressing, finished with parmesan cheese and grilled smoked bacon.
Geppetto’s homemade Caesar dressing
4 Egg Yolks
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
25g Apple Cider Vinegar
5g freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
1 pinch of Salt
500ml Sunflower Oil
1. Place all the ingredients, except the sunflower oil, in a blender.
2. Blend for 30 seconds to mix the ingredients well, and start adding the sunflower oil in a slow drizzle to prevent it from splitting.
3. Continue until the consistency is smooth, and transfer the dressing to a bowl.
1 clove of Garlic
150g Grana Padano Cheese
1 pinch of Smoked Paprika
1. Mince the garlic and place in a bowl.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix until they are all combined.
(Anchovies can be added for extra flavour.)
Prepare the salad
100g Iceberg Lettuce
150g Smoked Chicken (already pulled)
1 slice Smoked Streaky Bacon
2 tbsp Geppetto’s Caesar Dressing
5 pieces of Croutons
Grana Padano Cheese (grated)
1. Start by grilling the smoked bacon.
2. Meanwhile, in a salad bowl, mix the iceberg lettuce with the dressing.
3. Transfer to a plate, and add the pulled smoked chicken on top.
4. Once the bacon is grilled nicely, place on top of the chicken.
5. Finish off with the grated Grana Padano cheese and croutons.
Voilà! You can now enjoy Geppetto’s famous Smoked Chicken Salad at home.
Slow-cooked, melt-in-the-mouth octopus, delicately simmered in homemade tomato sauce, served with fresh olives, herbs, and cherry tomatoes.
For the octopus
2-3 pieces Bay Leaves
1 tsp Black Peppercorns
2-3 pieces Star Anise
Orange and Lemon Peel
2 pinches of Salt
1. Place all the ingredients in a large pot full of water to boil.
2. Make sure the stock is well seasoned.
3. Once it is boiling, dip the octopus a couple of times until the tentacles start to curl. After that, leave it to boil in the pot for 45-50 minutes, completely submerged.
4. Turn off the stove, and leave the octopus to rest for 1 hour.
5. Once that is done, remove and portion the octopus, leaving 2-3 tentacles to be grilled for the dish.
For the risotto
50g Carnaroli Rice
10g Onion (finely chopped)
50ml White Wine
100g Tomato Sauce
Diced Octopus + 2-3 Tentacles
1. Heat up a saucepan.
2. With 1 tbsp of sunflower oil, add the onions and cook until transparent.
3. Add the rice, and make sure to fry it for a minute or 2 until the rice also becomes transparent.
4. Add the white wine quickly and let the alcohol evaporate.
5. After that, add the tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, and diced
6. Start adding the octopus stock bit by bit until the rice is cooked.
7. Meanwhile, put the tentacles on the grill to char, which will provide a fantastic flavour.
8. Once the risotto has the perfect runny consistency and is al dente, finish off with a spoon of butter and freshly chopped herbs, such as parsley or dill.
9. Pour into a plate, and tap the bottom to spread the risotto evenly.
10. Decorate with the charred octopus tentacles, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
Your Octopus Risotto from Geppetto is now ready to be served!
Geppetto Bar & Restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner.
Triq Manoel de Vilhena, Għajnsielem
+356 7754 8253