A private restaurant is born at the Heritage Malta museum in Mdina
The courtyard of one of Mdina’s most historic palaces – the Palazzo Vilhena, run by government agency Heritage Malta – has been transformed into an open-air restaurant without any tenders or expressions of interest.
Heritage Malta sources told The Shift that the five-star restaurant has been operated in recent weeks by a private third party, which offers a set seven-course menu that sets customers, mainly tourists, back at around €120 per person . .
The Shift is also aware that Heritage Malta, and various Ministers, have already received several complaints about the sudden and unexplained use of this public space for a commercial restaurant, and questioned who made the decision to allow it.
Allegations of abuse of power have also been leveled at the highest levels of Heritage Malta, primarily Chairman Mario Cutajar and CEO Noel Zammit, as no tenders or expressions of interest were issued for the court. of the Natural History Museum be transformed into a restaurant.
Investigations by The Shift show how the museum is used as a restaurant by the owners of the Grotto Tavern in Rabat, who also run a similar restaurant at another Heritage Malta site in Valletta, the Museum of Fine Arts, known as Muza’s name.
While the owners of the Grotto Tavern competed and won a public tender to operate MUZA’s restaurant, the same cannot be said for Palazzo Vilhena.
Instead, The Shift is told that someone at Heritage Malta has decided to grant use of the historic public space through a direct order and no one at the agency knows what arrangements are in place. place between the owners of the restaurant and Heritage Malta.
“At the moment there is absolute total secrecy over this deal and no one knows if Heritage Malta is sharing in the restaurant’s profits or if they are receiving any sort of payment.”
Asked about the development, Noel Zammit, politically appointed CEO of Heritage Malta, completely avoided going into details of the deal.
Insisting that this was a “temporary” experiment, Zammit confirmed that no tenders had been issued, although adopting such an approach could make the operation illegal catering.
“The National Museum of Natural History has organized a catering and snack service in recent weeks. No food preparation or cooking takes place on site.
“It is managed by third parties; however, no call for tenders was launched since the said third party already has a contractual relationship with the Agency following a public call.
While declining to name this “third party”, Zammit added that “this is a trial for a temporary period, which will allow the Agency to assess the potential for such an undertaking and possibly consider to publish an expression of public interest”.
A ‘snack service’ or a ‘unique gastronomic experience’?
While the public agency’s CEO called the initiative a “snack service,” the private website marketing the new restaurant called it a “one-of-a-kind dining experience.”
Also, while Zammit insists no cooking takes place on site, The Shift is told otherwise. In fact, restaurateurs even offer customers the opportunity to “look” into the open kitchen on site.
So far, Zammit refuses to say who authorized this unique arrangement, whether the restaurant is covered by a permit, how much Heritage Malta is paid for the use of public space and whether it was normal for the public agency uses a call for tenders. had already awarded for a new project outside the mandate of the initial call for tenders.
When contacted, Grotto Tavern owner Jonathan Pace said he could not remember who came up with the idea to open the ‘temporary’ restaurant at the Heritage Malta museum. He confirmed there was no tender and he could not discuss whether he had shared the profits with Heritage Malta.
Just a few weeks ago, the chairmanship of Heritage Malta was taken over by Mario Cutajar, who was unable to retain his post as head of the civil service after reaching retirement age. Instead, the government had given him what is seen as a token appointment to Heritage Malta.