St Regis Corniche.
Stepping into Villa Toscana is a cross between walking into a Tuscan farmhouse and a really stylish, lively eatery. Decor is elegant while still maintaining that authentic Tuscan feel - and that's an exact reflection of the food, though with some surprisingly fabulous twists.
The first twist in the plot was the bread. Served with three dips, I could be mistaken for thinking I was eating Arabic bread. It was light, tasty and meshed perfectly with the dips, my favourite of which was the eggplant. The purpleness of it alone was a thing of beauty!
Soon after the bread came a baby saucepan of tomato soup, fine and full of notes of basil. Such a smooth taste!
The starters were also superb. My fritti misto was so beautifully presented and the calamari was unequivocally the best I've ever had: soft, perfectly seasoned and lightly battered, it melted in the mouth. And the hugest portion ever! The carpaccio wasn't our usual preference but we flew in the face of normalcy and dug in. The perfectly cured beef paired with Parmesan was a genuine delight and had us both concentrated over the plate unwilling to contemplate finishing!
So we're at the point of the meal where we've had bread, we've had sizable starters and to be honest, the risotto had a hard act to follow. There's a difference between a good risotto and an excellent one and this seafood and lemon risotto was so very good that we completely finished it. It was a level above anything else.
Guanciale di manzo, sounds a whole lot nicer than beef cheeks, don't you think? I'm a huge fan of this lovely slow cooked, brisket-like meat and was excited to order it for my main. But for me, a lot rests on how good the accompanying sauce is and this balsamic reduction was perfect. The whole dish was enormously satisfying, not least because I'm a huge fan of pumpkin. This is a much underused and underrated vegetable in European cuisine but very much a staple where I'm from and for me it rounded off the dish exceptionally.
And then, amici, we rested. We sat back, enjoyed the people watching, watched the chefs do their thing in the kitchen and took our time to order dessert. Pffffft, of course we were full but are we men or mice?!
We stuck with traditional fare: tiramisu and tortino, hoping for an 'if it ain't broke, why fix it?' mentality from the chef. And unsurprisingly, the tiramisu was creamy, tasty and ... oh would you look at that! finished! The fondant had that vital ooze, and was sweet enough to please my sweet tooth but not too much at the end of what was a generous meal. In short, they did what they had to do and executed it well. What more could we ask?
Villa Toscana is perfect for date night, special occasion, better-than-the-average dinner with friends. If you fancy a taste of Tuscany, this has to be your first choice.