You will know when it exists -- Obscure journalism direct from our man on the ground.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Il-Kantina - an underground Maltese dive-bar in South London

In most places there is an invisible ideological divide between the north and south.

In London the River Thames gives a definite geographical line to this rift.

In Malta the north is embodied by the upper-classes - who are most concentrated in Sliema and are known as tal-pepe - whereas the south of Malta, otherwise known as The Dirty South, has a reputation for being uncouth. 

I recently visited a Maltese patisserie; it was reminiscent of a Sliema café and unsurprisingly was located north of the river in West London.
This Sunday gone I had the pleasure a fenkata (rabbit feast) at its south London counterpart and found the stereotypes I just outlined to follow suit accordingly.
Down the Rabbit Hole

The exact location must remain a secret but here is an image of the entrance to the bar / canteen. 

It is not the cafe. It is the open doorway in the left hand corner of the photo.

It is obvious from the outset that this establishment is by no means above board.

The meal has been booked in advance my Maltese friend Steven for 17 of his friends.

I was the first to arrive and when I did the only other customers were a group of old men sat at the back playing cards and one guy in his mid twenties wearing a black puffa jacket, twiddling a toothpick with his lips and pacing back and forth whist taking phone calls.

One of the old men was heavily bearded and wore a baseball cap and superman t-shirt. He sat alone smoking and looking at me. he stared so hard that he did not notice the cherry from his cigarette fall off, setting a small patch of the carpet on fire. Super Mario was his nickname - he had been a tug-boat captain most of his life but had now retired and settled in London.

Soon the rest of the party arrived, looking as out of place as myself until we all had a can of Cisk larger and a cigarette on the go. 

The first course was pastizzi which Steven kindly served himself.

The second course was rabbit in a tomato sauce on pasta. I did not want the owner thinking I was taking pictures of anything other than our party but in this photo I managed to capture the card game at the back as well as Super Maria who is at the bar slightly hidden by the guy in the black hoodie called Mike.

After eating a plate of pasta it was hard to believe that the main course of rabbit and chips was yet to come.

In this image you get to see the bar, the method of serving (placing the dishes on the bar) as well as a sneaky peak into the kitchen, where the chef in the white t-shirt prepares the meals on a normal oven like the one you would have at home.

By this point though most people were already too full to serve our own food and the man who I presume to be the owner started to give us our plates and told me that he personally bought the rabbits from France.

In this photo Nina proudly holds her plate of rabbit while Mike in the background (who is from the south of Malta) contemplates whether bunnies ever ponder the meaning of life.

Finally we have the money shot: 'home' cooked rabbit in a garlic sauce with peas and a chip side.

Update: One of the guests at our feast was photographer Stephanie Galea. She took a series of images based on national identity and memory in the Maltese Social Club of London.

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