A new restaurant opens its doors this month in an 18th-century Attard heritage home, with a décor that is inspired and enhanced by the iconic pottery workshop next door and a design to create the “perfect Villa Bologna experience”.
Behind the new venture are Rowley and Sophie Edwards, who have made Malta their home. They first took over and reignited Villa Bologna Pottery – and have since dished out a shop in London and grown its export; then, they moved on to spill their creativity over to the new trattoria.
Its design is a reflection of the unique aesthetic of Villa Bologna Pottery. Patrons eat out of an array of patterned crockery the workshop churns out, and these even adorn the walls – a hallmark of Sophie’s interior design style.
When Villa Bologna owner Jasper de Trafford offered the couple the lease of the restaurant, they jumped at the chance to show off their tableware within “this most magical of settings”.
But while the look and feel of the trattoria are “very much consistent with the workshop and shop next door”, it is not just a showcase of their beautiful tableware and also highlights Villa Bologna’s “special” architecture and gardens.
“The grounds of Villa Bologna are stunning, and we have created the restaurant to reflect the location’s very special atmosphere,” the new owners stress.
Rowley and Sophie have not only drawn inspiration from the historic villa and its magnificent gardens, but they have also been “completely sympathetic to the atmosphere of Attard as a whole”.
They acknowledge they are “so lucky to run a business in this tranquil and stunning location and to have Villa Bologna as the backdrop to all that we do”.
A sense of entering a private Maltese garden
The restaurant has been conceived and designed to complement what was already there, while extending its offer with a charming family-focused eatery.
Structural changes included the sealing off of the large opening to the restaurant, allowing more wall space for the hanging installations of classic and vintage plates, while a former door has come back into use, creating a more discreet entrance into a cosier space.
The design and décor of what was the old kiln room have veered towards “very Mediterranean” light and stone-like colours. Its walls are washed with pale yellow stripes, while castellated Roman blinds are a direct reference to those of Villa Bologna and its towers.
Much of the furniture has been sourced locally at auctions in keeping with the couple’s house-proud style of collecting pieces with a story to tell and also along their travels.
It is a predominantly eclectic feel that cleverly and tastefully comes tobether, oozing the charm that the couple themselves are brimming with
It is a predominantly eclectic feel that cleverly and tastefully comes together, oozing the charm that the couple themselves are brimming with.
As for the pièce de résistance in the cool and airy dining area, Sophie points to a tiled piece of art by Frank Portelli that has pride of place. Made at the pottery workshop in the 1950s, it depicts the various aspects of the Malta Industries – from pottery to weaving and lace making.
“Malta Industries was founded as a women-empowered organisation, and at Villa Bologna Pottery we are proud to continue this legacy. The artwork, originally a tapestry, has really beautiful colours and details within it,” Sophie highlights.
On to the outside for al fresco dining, the idea is to give guests the sense of entering a private Maltese garden, and the adjoining outdoor courtyard really shows off the villa’s grounds and architecture.
This natural and Mediterranean environment speaks for itself and needs barely any intervention, thanks also to the roses in bloom. The courtyard has been planted with lemon trees, and classic white metal tables and chairs nestle in their gently scented shade, softened with striped cushions and invigorated with crisp white tablecloths.
“It is what we look for in the perfect family trattoria as guests, so we have tried to replicate that across the decor, the food and the ambience,” says Sophie.
The pottery connection
The couple, who took over the running of the adjacent workshop in 2020, intrigued by the unique craftsmanship involved, are aware that many locals know or own a piece of Villa Bologna Pottery, a Maltese institution with a fascinating past. But perhaps, they may have not engaged with it for a while.
“This has been a great way to invite people back to Attard; to revisit what we are doing and experience the new chapter in the life of the pottery, which celebrates its centenary next year,” Sophie continues.
When they took over the workshop, one of the first things the Edwards did was edit the collection to offer what they believed to be the best and most iconic pieces of its past 100 years.
But they also added new designs, which, while sitting within the aesthetic of the pottery, would appeal to a new audience.
Now, the innovative cream Scalloped-edge collection and the Stripes and Palm Tree designs sit alongside classics like the Scroll from the 1950s, as well as their Glug Glug jugs.
Archive and current designs have been incorporated on the walls of the restaurant as decoration, along with pieces from the Edwards’ personal art collection to give that “very personal and home-from-home feeling”.
Very much a family business
That element is a strong driving force Rowley and Sophie are building on.
They hope the romantic nature of the garden, in particular, will prove to be popular for couples looking for a different place for dinner.
But as parents, they also want the restaurant to appeal to families – at least during the day – for their relaxed style and dishes to suit all ages.
The Instagram account of the Villa Bologna Restaurant has an image of a child helping to get the garden ready. It depicts the journey to opening, painting the project as a lifestyle in nature apart from a business.
“We are very much a family business – from the shop and pottery to the restaurant,” Sophie stresses.
“We have young children, and we are married, so, of course, Villa Bologna is completely intertwined with our family’s life.
“Just like the pottery, where our children are playing with clay and running around the gardens, so too the restaurant is entirely family focused.
“We are growing our own vegetables and herbs – something that was important to us to offer as part of the restaurant. So, it really is a case of all hands on deck, and we would not have it any other way!”
The new owners hope it will be popular with both their neighbours for evenings out, or family gatherings for Sunday lunch, as well as attracting guests from further afield.
For unabashed foodies
A full trattoria, Villa Bologna Restaurant is offering a different experience from what there was before.
“We are both unabashed foodies and we love Italian food,” the owners admit. “So, the menu will reflect that along with Maltese and Italian wines.”
The trattoria is focusing on unpretentious, home-style cooking, with classic Italian dishes on a menu that is being fed by the large vegetable garden attached to it, giving the chef access to its homegrown organic herbs and vegetables.
The Edwards truly believe there are not many places in Malta like Villa Bologna and “to get to sit and eat in such a beautiful setting is something very special”.
Their new culinary adventure in Triq San Anton is open every day except Mondays for coffee and pastries in the morning and lunch to dinner and cocktails in the evening.