Ollie Hansford studied at Westminster Kingsway before working in the kitchens of Soho House, Mallory Court, Morston Hall in Norfolk and Two Rosette Woodhouse Restaurant in Leicestershire. At Stokehouse Q and Gauge in Brisbane he forged a reputation that saw him awarded Young Chef of the Year by the Brisbane Times Age Good Food Guide in 2015. He's now head chef at Stokehouse City in Melbourne. Hansford's family are long time frequent holidayers in Malta. See stokehouse.com.au/city/.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE TABLE IN MALTA ?
I have a couple of places I truly like but for very different reasons. For a total chill out after a beach day, I'd choose a table in the vine-covered courtyard at dusk at The Medina in Mdina (the ancient capital) with a cold beer and a plate of amazing fresh seafood. I also like L'Artist in Sliema. It's a busy, bustling family-run place where the art on the walls is matched by the artistry on the plate. It's good, honest food too and all served up in an atmosphere where you are made to feel like the guests of honour at the owners family get-together. See medinarestaurantmalta.com; lartist.com.mt.
THE LOCAL FOOD DISCOVERY OF THE PAST YEAR?
Malta is known for its rabbit dishes but the last time I was on the island I found a great little place tucked away among the labyrinth of streets in Mdina which served an amazing octopus stew (stuffat tal-qarnit). It was beautifully rich with apples and walnuts; the richness of the stock with a hint of sweet garlic, the inclusion of olives and sultanas delivering the taste of the Mediterranean on a plate perfectly. The only problem I'll have is finding the place again.
WHAT IS MALTA'S BEST-KEPT FOOD SECRET?
Perhaps not too much of a secret, not to the locals at least, but one of my guilty pleasures is the "patizzi" – light savoury pastries filled with either peas or ricotta. Find a coffee shop that has a queue and you've found the best coffee and patizzis on the island.
PLACE TO GO ON A DAY OFF?
I'm usually on the island when I'm on holiday so a great place to go for a day's total relaxation is Comino, which is just off the coast between Malta and Gozo. Jump on one of the foot ferries (no cars allowed on the island) and head straight for the blue lagoon, slip on the snorkel and fins, and lose yourself for three hours gazing at the amazing sea life in the crystal clear waters.
FAVOURITE INDULGENCE IN MALTA?
I have family who live on the island so it's always great to catch up with them, taste some home-cooked food, drink local wine and enjoy the roof-top view of the bay.
PLACE TO GO FOR A BIG NIGHT OUT?
Malta tends to get a bit sleepy after 10pm. There are clubs and bars in Valetta and The Bays where the more energetic can go the distance. For me, after a good beach day and a great dinner, I'm usually on a roof-top bar listening to chilled out music with a rum and Coke.
BEST TIME TO VISIT, AND WHY, FOODWISE IN MALTA?
Malta is like a lot of Mediterranean islands where the climate allows an extended growing season and many of the island's vegetables grow all year round. If you visit in summer, apart from the abundance of lemons and cherries, there are usually great crops of courgettes and figs which appear in the summer restaurant dishes. The last time I was there approaching winter I cooked with some late-crop autumn artichokes, fresh fennel and sweet garlic. You can also pick up some juicy winter melons and pomegranates. Late autumn and early winter also gives you the chance to taste the season's first press olive oil which, along with fresh fish, is something that is thankfully always in plentiful supply.
WHAT SHOULD A VISITOR AVOID, FOOD-WISE, IN MALTA?