x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Villa Toscana in Abu Dhabi celebrates all things Italian

St Regis Abu Dhabi's Villa Toscana is a breath of fresh Italian air.

ABU DHABI - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - 09OCT2013 - Fillet of baked red snapper with pizza dough crust, young potatoes and taggiasca olives at Villa Toscana Restaurant at St Regis Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National (to go with Freelancer article for National) *** Local Caption ***  RK0910-VILLATOSCANA01.jpg
ABU DHABI - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - 09OCT2013 - Fillet of baked red snapper with pizza dough crust, young potatoes and taggiasca olives at Villa Toscana Restaurant at St Regis Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National (to go with Freelancer article for National) *** Local Caption *** RK0910-VILLATOSCANA01.jpg

The sophisticated St Regis, with a quiet entrance on a side street off the busy Corniche, is a notable setting for Abu Dhabi’s newly opened Italian restaurant Villa Toscana.

Located at the summit of the hotel’s classic grand double staircase, Villa Toscana is quick to impress. The large window at the entrance lets guests watch the chefs, whom we found working like a well-synchronised orchestra.

It’s a formal affair inside, but far from stuffy. The main dining room resembles the home of a Tuscan aristocrat. The high ceiling, oversized chandeliers and walnut decor give the room a sense of nobility, while remaining inviting and warm.

There is a large communal table, where guests can start dinner as strangers and end as friends, a nod to the food-sharing tradition typical of Italy.

Unfortunately, we were seated at a table lining the hallway. To make matters worse, our table was pressed against a window so we could see the guests enjoying the lively main dining room. I asked to move inside, but was told they were fully booked. I’d made reservations the night before, so was surprised – and disappointed – at the placement.

The terrace on the other side of the hallway offered an outdoor option, which might have made this seating feel less occluded, but it was closed on the night we visited.

As I pondered this, the food started arriving: crispy, Italian flatbread with pesto, hummus and sun-dried tomatoes, two fried risotto balls, bruschetta with mozzarella foam and a small juice mocktail. We hadn’t even opened the menu yet. Our waiter, Enrico, told us the chef always likes to have food on the table – “just like a big Italian mama”. It was a nice welcome.

Enrico was attentive and knew the menu well. He suggested the cured raw Chianina beef appetiser, which came wrapped around a mound of rocket, radicchio and caramelised onions. The crunchy radicchio went well with the delicate meat.

My first course of lobster ravioli with bisque on foam was a hit. The four, large handmade raviolis were generously packed with lobster.My husband’s asparagus saffron risotto was presented in an unusual cake-like form – the rice encased in a crispy Parmesan coating. We cut through the crust and found rich, creamy risotto and melted smoky scamorza cheese, with just the right amount of bite.

At first, my stuffed veal chop main course seemed slightly overcooked. And then I hit the centre: juicy and tender with buffalo mozzarella. Served with a delicate mushroom ragout, the dish is a standout.

The baked red snapper my husband ordered came in a pan sealed with pizza-dough crust, enhancing the flavours and juices of the snapper, potatoes and taggiasca olives.

We realised each dish we ordered was either wrapped or stuffed, adding a noteworthy level of interest. We appreciated chef Stefano Viola’s creativity. He visited each table, and we were struck by his relaxed and decidedly unpretentious manner.

We ended the evening with desserts as inspired as the rest of the menu. The vanilla crème brûlée with balsamic vinegar was blissful. The top layer of the sugar could have been crispier, but the velvety custard underneath made up for it. The soft and creamy hazelnut gelato is made on site and was enough for two. It’s a must-try.

The bottom line is Villa Toscana is a breath of fresh Italian air and worthy of praise.

Just don’t sit in the hallway.

• A meal for two at Villa Toscana – including service, but excluding beverages – costs Dh865. For reservations, call 02 694 4444. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito

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