Meet the chef: Giovann Attard of Sicilian-Maltese restaurant Norma


Swapping the sunny scenes of Malta for London was no mean feat for Giovann Attard. But it is one that has certainly paid off. After leaving the island he calls home at 16, he went on to enjoy cheffing stints at notable hotels such as The Palm Dubai Resort and London’s The Stafford before joining Norma in 2019, soon after it opened. Now executive head chef at the celebrated Sicilian-Maltese restaurant, the foodie establishment has grown with him at the helm and is now renowned for its curious food offering and lavish interiors. 

Set across three floors of a Victorian townhouse, away from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, Norma is among a melting pot of culinary influences on Charlotte Street ranging from Goan to Greek. Inside, the low-lit dining rooms are lined with paisley tiles and spread across two floors, with a large conservatory at the far end where visitors can sip glasses of Sicilian red and tuck into fresh seafood beneath a canopy of green foliage. 

When Norma first opened, it had undergone an extensive renovation and offered a Sicilian-inspired menu pioneered by the team behind The Stafford, but it’s thanks to Attard that these dishes now enjoy a Maltese perspective. Having grown up on the Maltese island of Gozo, it’s there he found his passion for cooking, seasonal produce and fresh ingredients which is now evident in the menus he creates. Pick from venison haunch and juniper berries, seared scallops with pancetta and pangrattato or cuttlefish crudo and candied capers. 

Norma restaurant

In between shifts at Norma during the Christmas rush, Attard sat down with us to reveal his culinary process and hopes for the future. 

Tell me a bit about your childhood in Malta. What’s your favourite memory?

I come from a very small village on the west side of Gozo called Gharb, with a population of 1,300 people. Gharb is quiet, but it’s full of culture, great food, and amazing people. I grew up on a farm and we always had sheep, chickens, rabbits, bees and a wide spread of fruit and vegetables from our own fields all year round. During the summer holidays, my brother and I used to help my dad in the fields but our aim was to finish as quickly as possible so that we could enjoy the hot summer days by the sea. 

How did you become interested in cooking and creating recipes?

For as long as I can remember I was always trying to get involved when my mum was cooking. I remember going to my grandma’s house while she would be cooking and I just watched her endlessly. I was never bored, that was always my happy place. The fact we always had our own produce from our [farm] meant I was used to making sure nothing went to waste. This is the way I’ve always created recipes, by using everything I could.

What’s your favourite Maltese dish?

My favourite is ‘Ftira’, the Gozitan one. It is like a pizza but made with puff pastry [topped] with sliced potatoes, tomatoes, red onion olives, capers, and anchovies.

Aside from Norma, what’s your favourite restaurant in London?

It’s hard to pick one restaurant but I went to Manteca (an Italian restaurant in Shoreditch) recently and I loved it! I had a great lunch there and everything about that experience was just right. The food, the open kitchen and the in-house salumeria captured me.

Norma menu

Which chef inspires you most?

Josh Niland intrigues me, I am fascinated by fish butchery and his dishes. [Josh Niland is an Australian chef whose sustainable approach to cooking seafood has won him global recognition. He opened seafood restaurant Saint Peter in Sydney in 2016 to widespread acclaim.]

How did it feel to be made executive chef of Norma?

It felt great! But I knew I had a responsibility to keep Norma great and make it even better. It’s very special to me as I have been here from the beginning.

What inspired the dishes on Norma’s menu?

The menu at Norma is always a work in progress, it’s never ‘job done’. You have to keep going and use your imagination. I think seasonality is the main inspiration when creating new dishes for the menu. There has to be Sicilian influences and finally I add some of my childhood memories and that seems to do the trick.

 I am super proud of what I do and it’s very important not to take my eye off the ball and keep working towards bigger things.

Giovann Attard

How have you incorporated Maltese influences into the Sicilian menu?

Malta is set right between Sicily and Northern Africa so Maltese food is influenced by both. Back home, we use a lot of aromatic spices and herbs, the same as the Sicilians. We have ‘kaponata’, very similar to the Sicilian caponata [a relish made of aubergine, onions, celery, tomatoes with olives and capers]. Bragoli is the same as the Sicilian braciola [steak slow-cooked in tomato sauce] and so the list goes on. It’s a mix of both cuisines and comes very naturally to me. I grew up surrounded by these influences so cooking at Norma feels quite comfortable.

Giovann Attard Norma

What’s your favourite dish on the menu?

One of the new dishes for the festive season is venison haunch, juniper berries, bergamot, white sweet potato and chanterelles. It’s comfort food at its best. Childhood memories and fantastic flavours all on one plate.

What do you want Norma to be known for in London?

I think Norma is already known for its great food and service, as well as the ambience that can [transport] you to Sicily simply by dining with us. I would like to maintain that as it doesn’t get much better really.

norma restaurant

You have been dubbed ‘one to watch’ by Great British Chefs. How does that feel?

It feels really good. It makes all the hard work worth it. I am super proud of what I do and it’s very important not to take my eye off the ball and keep working towards bigger things. I am also really grateful for the people around me who have supported me through the good and hard times and allowed me to start expressing myself through my food.

What are your future plans for Norma?

As I always say, Norma is very special to me and I will keep working hard to hopefully make Norma one of the best restaurants in London. My dream is to see Norma as part of a portfolio of restaurants, all unique in style but the same in the quality of food and service that we deliver. An amazing experience that you will long to return for.

Read more: Woven by Adam Smith: Contemporary dining with old world grandeur at Coworth Park

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