When he was still at sixth form, Michael Diacono’s family had taken over the wine bar called Giuseppi’s in Mellieha. At that period in time, he had no idea where his life was heading or what he really wanted to do with his future; you see, things were slightly different in the early eighties.
I used to work at Sardinella in St Julians during the summer, which gave me my first taste of the catering trade. I then started to help out at Giuseppi’s . I am one of 11 siblings, and the idea was for all of us to pitch in, which worked out at first, but then they all started dropping out, leaving Karl and myself there. When Karl eventually moved on as well I took over and stayed there for 34 years!
Ten years ago Karl and I were offered the possibility of taking over Rubino in Valletta. We knew that Valletta was slowly flourishing and would become a cultural hub over the years, so we saw an opportunity and took up the challenge; at this point, I started working in both places. Eventually, my nephew Edward joined us and now runs the show brilliantly together with Tony.
In the last few years, I knew that something had to change. Lots of restaurants were opening in Mellieha and the competition was stiff. Parking started to become an issue and many clients from further south moaned about the time it took to get to Mellieha, so, when I was approached by the owners of the revamped Salini Resort to move Giuseppi’s there, I took the plunge.
Another nephew of mine, Chris, joined me as my partner; the operation is now too big for me to handle all on my own and he looks after all the administration and front of house. We officially opened in Salina in August 2016. The name Giuseppi’s was there already, I dared not change it, after all it is a tribute to the previous owner, Joe Serge.
In reality, it wasn’t a conscious choice that I made to get into the restaurant business; things seemed to fall into place by themselves, as I found myself running a small restaurant at 20. I had help of course. My eldest sister Veronica used to lend a hand in the mornings with the orders and admin. I did not know then that this would be my path in life, but as time passed and the restaurant started to get busier and establish a name, I realised that maybe I was good at what I do, and that was that, the pieces of the puzzle fit well together.
The restaurant is doing quite well now, and I do not have anything to complain about. What I think many of my clients like is the fact that you never know what might be on the menu as we change it daily.
While I would not say that I have a particular signature dish, as I find that a bit restricting, my style is quite simple to define: Mediterranean. I love our Mediterranean diet, I love the seasonality of our ingredients, the freshness of local produce, the reawakening of pride in our local artisanal products. I like to keep this as the basis of my kitchen, but then we like to experiment with new ingredients and techniques.
In Mellieha, I used to have a small printed a-la-carte menu, but everybody would only want to see the blackboard with the daily specials chalked on. This board was carried to every table and explained in detail. It was like a mini ritual. I tried this at Giuseppi’s in Salina, but the restaurant is too big and it turned into a logistical nightmare, so we decided to print a menu every day. I like this as it gives us so much more space to create new dishes while not get bored churning out the same stuff every day.
The very obvious downside to my work is the hours and the main sufferers are my family. They have to put up with so much given that I work weekends, Sundays and public holidays. The fact that I own restaurants is like an artist owning an art gallery. I get to do what I love doing at work. “Is it stressful?” many people ask; Of course it is, and very. Many a time during a hectic service I ask my team “Are we actually enjoying this? Or Why can’t I have a 9 to 5 job?” Describing my job in three words, I would say that it is creative, hectic and stressful, but I would not have it any other way. This is what I do.
The new Giuseppi’s is a great chill hangout. The décor is inviting, very elegant but in a relaxed and laid back way. The views are great, especially from the terraces, with the winter terrace being heated for added comfort. Rugs and shawls are available too.
One of the biggest change came with the bar service. In Mellieha I did not give this much importance, I’m more of a wine person but Chris has changed all of that. We now stock a wonderful selection of single malts, spirits, and liquors, although the wine list is still extensive and varied.
If I had to do it all over again, there is not much I would change. Time is such a great teacher and in hindsight, we are all so much wiser. I do not regret how things have turned out but I would have liked to have had the opportunity to work abroad for a few years when I was younger. I am quite jealous of the opportunities available to our young and upcoming chefs.
As for the future of Giuseppi’s, we should be opening our private dining room in spring. It is a beautiful, blue paneled room that seats 14 very comfortably with a gorgeous sea-view witnessed through our glassed-in wine cellar.
Another concept available soon will be a menu tasting table. The kitchen is very open at Giuseppi’s and we have a banquette table that runs around the outside grills seating 8 to 10 sort of chef’s table. The idea is for small groups to interact with the chef whilst their food is being cooked at the same time, being able to see all that is going on in the kitchen.