The Story of the Restaurant
The story of Ta’ Frenc as we know it today is the story of two very young men, Ino Attard and Lino Cefai, who, more than 30 years ago, recognised in the crumbling limestone walls of this centuries-old farmhouse, a possibility, a dream, a promise, a renaissance. Literally stone by stone, step by step archway by archway, they restored the building without destroying its soul. Original features such as the animal mangers were retained and these are now a feature of the bar area. The high-ceilinged airy interior is divided into different areas by archways and screens. Mature trees were retained, and others planted. And thus they created Auberge Ta’ Frenc, which opened its doors to the public on 22 May 1982.
Checked red and white tablecloths, rustic French-style furniture and a classic French menu greeted their first guests, many of whom remain faithful customers today, of the internationally renowned restaurant now known simply as Ta’ Frenc Restaurant. Despite its name and pronunciation, Ta’ Frenc has nothing to do with France. It means Francis’ place; Francis was the farmer who owned the building.
Very soon after the restaurant opened, the owners were joined by Mario Schembri, the Maltese chef, trained in the classical French kitchen. In the years since the restaurant opened, Mario Schembri has trained a strong supporting cast including Joseph Buttigieg, who has been there for 15 years, Marlon Debono, the chef de partie and Emanuel Rapa the head pastry chef, whose creations are renowned far and wide. The kitchen brigade and front of house is always supplemented during the season by eager young stagiaires from France and England. During the quieter winter months the staff travel abroad to spend time in other kitchens, such as the Ritz in London and the Auberge de l’Ill in Alsace to broaden their horizons and learn new techniques in order to offer guests at Ta’ Frenc the finest dining experience.
Today you may still be greeted by a member of the Attard family, and your dinner may be prepared by Mario Schembri. Very few restaurants, anywhere, can boast of the same ownership and management over a period of more than thirty years. This in itself is a guarantee of quality and consistency, of an attention to detail and a desire to put the guest first, which is only found in an establishment whose patron has invested so much personally.
Joseph Tabone, the doyen of restaurant managers, has been an integral part of Ta’ Frenc since 1995, welcoming new guests to the restaurant as well as regular visitors. His knowledge of wine, especially of the extensive, purpose-built wine cellar housed underneath the restaurant, is second to none. This wine cellar is available to hire for private parties of up to twenty, in the most elegant surroundings, including a specially commissioned dining table overseen by the benign gaze of Bacchus, painted in the fresco style by the Italian artist Claudio Barolo.
Although now one of the longest established restaurants in the Maltese islands, Ta’ Frenc is, nevertheless, fearless when it comes to change and innovation. The restaurant’s last major rejuvenation included new furniture, china and stemware to add comfort and elegance to the dining experience. The interior of the restaurant was subtly enhanced by local art and antiques, including handmade Maltese clocks by the gilder Horace Farrugia and exquisite Maltese silver, and paintings by contemporary artists Raymomd Pitré and Anthony Calleja. Delicate glass napkin rings were specially commissioned from Gozo Glass. And on a completely different scale, the wine cellar was built underground to house the restaurant’s growing and important wine collection.
More recent innovations have included the introduction of several fixed price menus, in addition to the famous à la carte offerings. The fixed price market menu has proved to be a winner with diners: €35 for three courses and €40 for four courses.
The restaurant’s ‘face lift’ shows a fresh, modern and sympathetic approach to present-day concerns and financial constraints. With this formula, you know where you are, you know how much the bill will be, you can relax and enjoy the experience instead of wondering how it’s all going to add up. And knowing you are spending exactly €35 for a four course menu, you can browse the comprehensive wine list and choose according to your budget. You will find affordable Sicilian wines to accompany the kitchen’s Mediterranean-hued dishes. For the authentic Maltese dishes, you need look no further than the selection of wines from the Maltese islands, some of them made from grapes grown in Gozo vineyards. On the other hand, to partner the classic dishes for which Ta’ Frenc is famous, such as the flambéed steak Diane or Chateaubriand for two, prepared by Joseph or Frederick at the side of your table, the great wines of France are impeccably cellared underground in Ta’ Frenc’s purpose-built cave. Classed-growth Bordeaux wines are a particular feature of the restaurant, but there are also fine white Burgundies, hocks and Rhone wines, as well as an extensive collection of fine Italian and Spanish wines, and wines from the New World. Joseph or one of his colleagues will be happy to show you round this elegant space, which is also perfect for a private dinner party for family or friends.