When one thinks of the southern village of Qrendi, the first associations that likely spring to mind are the Neolithic temples of Mnajdra and Hagar Qim, but a poorly concealed secret local foodies have come to know should also make the list: the homely, traditional restaurant at the Qrendi Bocci Club.
Qrendi Bocci Club has been around for almost 40 years, and Manuel (Leli) Sciberras was one of the many that would play bocci there. Then, 19 years ago, he decided to take it over, together with his brother.
“Back then it was a bar, and we used to serve appetisers, like the type you’d find in local village bars and kazini, until one day a couple of our customers asked me to serve them rabbit,” Leli recalls.
From that rabbit, things evolved organically, until the brothers decided to turn the bar into a restaurant.
“I’m not a chef, but I learned to cook from my parents, who are both great cooks – real, genuine food. In fact, when we began cooking here, we made a variety of appetisers, all using a regular oven like you’d have in your kitchen at home,” the affable Leli laughs.
“My brother was more keen on keeping it as a bar, but I won in the end, and we stopped doing appetisers and set it up as a restaurant.”
Looking back on those early days, he reflects, “I wanted to be known for rabbit, not because I don’t know how to cook other things, but that is the focus I wanted for the restaurant, and nowadays it’s rare to find restaurants specialising in only a few dishes.”
Such was his conviction that today, the menu at Qrendi Bocci Club is purposely limited, focusing on Leli’s specialty dishes: rabbit, horsemeat, snails and, more recently, rib eye.
And since the beginning, Leli has been involved in every aspect of the kitchen, cooking everything himself.
He also buys the rabbit and butchers it, insisting that it’s local, so it’s no surprise that he’s adamant on cooking and serving everything fresh:
“I’ve been here for 19 years and I’ve never frozen a rabbit. I believe that in business you have to be a gentleman. The money people pay for the food is genuine, so the product you give them needs to be genuine.”
Asked what his top priorities for the restaurant are, he doesn’t mince his words: “I believe in cleanliness, genuine food, and being a gentleman, and I think that is where the restaurant’s success lies.”
The first, throwing a spotlight on Mosta-favourite XUFI (Olympic) Café and Bistro, can be found here
The second, showcasing Gozo’s beloved Tal-Furnar Restaurant and Bakery, can be found here
Photos by Inigo Taylor
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