Do you ever crave the old ways? Not the days when you worked a field in the morning, caught the plague in the afternoon and slept with your horse in the evening. That is going way too far and those times were deeply unpleasant. I am talking about the days when eateries were not full of people with their smartphones out, photographing their food and Instagramming the shit out of it. I am not judging anyone who does it, I am guilty of it myself. However, there are days when I would rather not take my phone out of my pocket, and enjoy the delicate knife and fork dance without Big Brother’s watchful eye over my damn meat pie. This brings me on to Elia in Hamrun.
This place is a shrine to all things old school. The waiters are dressed in such a formal manner, you would be forgiven for thinking they just spent the previous night at some gala dinner from the 1980s. The decor is so old school, I would say it is verging on the kitsch. I do not mean that as an insult, I love it! In a world of minimalist wood planks for chairs and slates for plates, Elia in Hamrun offers something genuinely different in terms of a dining experience. Think less acai bowls and more your grandmother’s dining room, and you get the picture.
This place is so old school, in fact, photographing your food feels other-worldly wrong. I am a regular at Elia, and I had never thought to photograph my food for Instagram. But on this particular occasion, I decided, for the sake of this blog, to take some photos. If our Prime Minister had walked into Elia in Hamrun, stark naked, declared his undying love for the Leader of the Opposition and punched an old lady in the face, he would not have even begun to garner the kind of attention I was getting by photographing my food. You might think I am being hyperbolic in my words, but I swear to you, I shall not be taking my phone out again, out of sheer embarrassment. The woman on the table next to mine watched me as I took some shots of the food with such a baffled look, that I honestly thought she was considering whether to punch me or offer her food for my photography. Thankfully, she opted for the latter option and asked me to take a photo of her son’s Halloween cupcake.
Weird looks and quirky interior decor aside, the real reason you go to Elia in Hamrun is for the food. This is where things are unapologetically old-school. Avocado-toast, acai-bowls and salad jars? Not here. This place is all about pies, arancini, baked pasta, and qassatat – the good stuff. This is Elia’s bread and butter, and it is fantastic.
I ordered a slice of meat and onion pie and a slice of lampuki pie. The lampuki pie is a truly great fish pie. If you are not a massive fan of fish, I would suggest against trying this pie. The fish flavour is profound and pure. Couple these unashamedly Mediterranean flavours with the buttery, flaky pie crust and you have a magnificent slice of fish pie. The only way I can best describe this slice of pie is that it reminded me of my late grandmother’s own lampuki pie. Praise does not come any higher than that in my books. It took me back to my childhood, sitting at the dinner table at my grandmother’s house on a cool Friday night, parents to the left of me, grandparents to the right of me, all tucking into our fish pies. Elia’s version is no different to that pie my grandmother made all those years ago, and I suspect it won’t be much different from your grandmother’s either.
Then there was the meat and onion pie. This was another pastry knock-out. Definitely heavier than the lampuki pie, this has than a passing resemblance to the pasties the Cornish are known for. There is nothing complicated in the filling – minced meat, onions, peas which have been cooked with more care and attention than a mother might give to her newborn. This again uses the same sort of pastry as the lampuki pie, and that is no bad thing. Put simply, if you have gone to Elia in Hamrun and not taken a pie of some kind, you have failed at life.
After all that, do you think I skipped dessert? Nope. Baba au Rhum, show me what you’ve got. If I had to describe this dessert in one word, that word would be “boozy”. If you like booze in your confectioneries, this baba au rhum is the dessert for you. I loved it, along with its pastry cream and fresh fruit on top.
Elia in Hamrun isn’t going to set your Instagram follows on fire, nor is it going to satisfy your craving for avocado toast, if ever there was such a thing. This place is a time capsule for a world where pastry is king and smartphones are relegated to your jeans’ back pocket. And thank heavens for that.