Each time that we enter the lobby of Abu Dhabi’s St. Regis hotel, we can’t help but be amazed. The first impressions of a hotel are so important and this one evokes feelings of decadence and grandeur. A sweeping double staircase wraps around ivory pillars, while large Arabic-style lamps hang from the ceiling above. These sleek features immediately draw the gaze up towards the wrap around balcony and golden ceiling, the location of the fantastic Villa Toscana.
Villa Toscana is the St. Regis’ Italian eatery and one that has a particularly good reputation in a city overflowing with options for Italian fine dining. This was our first visit to Villa Toscana and having heard such good things about the food, we opted to sample the ‘Prenzo Brunch’ (prenzo meaning lunch in Italian).
Entering Villa Toscana, we immediately felt at home, the interiors feel rustic and charming, as though you have stepped into a Tuscan farmhouse, though still retaining the lavish feeling of the St. Regis brand. Inside it’s a mixture of leather chairs, heavy drapes and the finest displays of fresh pasta. Walls are painted with scenes of Tuscan landscapes and big band music from the likes of Frank Sinatra fills the air.
We opted to sit on the outside terrace, which has none of the decorative touches of the warm and homely interior, but does boast fantastic views over the corniche to Lulu island (and beyond).
Outside on the terrace there is an alfresco Mediterranean feel, with terracotta furniture inlaid with exquisite mosaics. Upon being seated, the chef immediately inquired as to our dietary requirements and before we knew it, brunch had started and dishes began arriving to the table in quick succession.
As we have said before, we are big lovers of Friday brunch, it is actually one of our favourite things about living in the UAE. Having been here for a number of years now, we tend to favour the à la carte brunch, as opposed to the ‘how long has it been sitting out for’ buffet.
Villa Toscana offers a number of surprises because each item is specially prepared for the table by the chef. There is no menu, so you have no idea what you’re getting, but with Tuscany being a region famous for wines, cheese and olive oil, all appear in abundance at the prenzo brunch.
Personally we liked the element of surprise and found the service to be formal and very attentive. The St. Regis is a sophisticated and luxurious hotel and the service here certainly reflects that impression.
The meal began with bread and a trio of vibrant dips. Sun dried tomato, pumpkin with artichoke and blue cheese, all boasting magnificent Meditarreane flavours that really set the tone for the classical home style Italian cuisine of Villa Toscana.
A large number of appetisers soon began to fill our table and accompanied by free-flowing Prosecco and sunshine, we couldn’t have been happier.
Small olive arancini sat on a generous serving of nutty green pesto. These traditional stuffed risotto balls were moorish and crisp, revealing their olive filled interior under a layer of soft and herby risotto rice.
Thinly sliced veal was unbelievably tender and the melt-in-the-mouth texture was nicely offset with a crunchy gorgonzola croquette, with each element of the dish delicately plated, resulting in beautiful presentation.
Though not the biggest fans of salad, we were once again impressed by the salad offerings at a brunch. The fresh ingredients of sun dried tomato, artichokes, asparagus spears and sharp balsamic vinegar, brought an unexpected freshness to an otherwise carb heavy meal.
Villa Toscana really succeeds in it’s simplicity and even the most common staples of Italian cuisine are executed with beauty and perfection. The tomato bruschetta for example, tasted unbelievably fresh, that we felt as though these ingredients could have come straight from the the fields of Tuscany, as opposed to being flown hundreds of kilometres to the desert shores of Abu Dhabi. The use of authentic Italian ingredients ensures a high quality to the dishes and even small things, like the olive oil on the bruschetta, make such a difference. Upon dining here we can really see why Villa Toscana is rated so highly amongst Italian food lovers.
The amount of food served at this brunch is enormous and the selection is extremely varied. The appetisers continued to arrive at the table, with beautifully plump shrimps in a garlic butter, a dish that you could smell before it even arrived. Small pieces of bread to dip into the garlic infused sauce really made the dish in our opinion and we greedily asked for more.
A colourful saffron risotto was presented with contrasting green asparagus. Yet more and more food continued to arrive with absolutely no sign of stopping.
Caprese salad is one of our favourite Italian dishes for its sheer simplicity. The combination of the three ingredients (tomato, basil and mozzarella) all worked together to showcase the flavours of the freshest Italian produce into a satisfying salad.
With the appetisers out of the way, we were treated to pizzas. Two flavours were available and they were a traditional Margherita and a goats cheese, honey and walnut variety. Both offerings were flavoursome and showcased two completely different topping combinations. We actually favoured the walnut and honey pizza, for it uniqueness and because you wouldn’t find on a standard pizza menu.
As if we hadn’t had enough carbs for the day, the next course was pasta. Three types of the most famous Italian staple were brought to the table. From the spinach and ricotta ravioli in a rich tomato sauce, to the thicker mushroom linguine. This freshly made pasta really makes you wonder why you would eat any other kind.
Feeling like we were about to burst, our waiter informed us that the main course would be served next! Since when do pizza and pasta not count as a main course? This consisted of a seafood platter that was wheeled over to the table on a large trolley and then dissected in front of us.
Grilled shrimp and calamari lay on a bed of lettuce, scattered amongst a number of fish and the largest segment of octopus tentacle that we have encountered in our journeys with food. The waiter happily began cutting chunks off the mollusc and plating them up with the fish and other seafood elements.
To be honest, it was really nice to have the seafood platter dissected on our behalf and despite the gigantic suckers on the octopus tentacle, the flesh itself was extremely tender with a smoky grilled flavour. Unfortunately for us, we found the fish to be far too bony, to a point that it detracted from the pleasure of eating it. It was the only element of our brunch that was left uneaten.
Midway through the seafood platter a second main arrived at the table! A tantalising beef dish that was accompanied by some crunchy broccoli. The beef was superb, but the portion size was unrealistically large considering what we had eaten beforehand.
We had to wait for some time, before plucking up the courage to enquire about the final course – dessert.
Not knowing what was on offer (we were hoping for Tiramisu), the first item was Italian gelato in a trio of flavours – coffee, pistachio and raspberry ripple. There is something about the creaminess and natural flavouring of Italian ice cream that just makes it appealing.
Next was a light vanilla infused panacotta which worked wonders after the heavy carb-driven items that made up the majority of the brunch experience. The panacotta was beautifully light, flaked with vanilla and presented ontop of a thin biscotti.
Now it wouldn’t be an Italian meal without a tiramisu and we were happy with the one offered at Villa Toscana. The tiramisu here is very rich and full of coffee and dark chocolate flavourings. Shaving our favourite Italian dessert to the very end of the meal certainly left us happy.
The brunch at Villa Toscana is a welcome addition to the thriving Abu Dhabi Friday brunch scene, but one that people are seemingly yet to discover. When we visited, there was only one other table participating in the brunch (the remaining tables were just ordering from the menu), which is such a shame, because this is such a great alternative to the usual buffet offerings. The food is of a very high standard and the amount you get almost verges on unmanageable!
Villa Toscana is not pushing boundaries, but it is presenting perfectly cooked Italian cuisine in a homely environment. If you like classic Italian cuisine, then this is the brunch for you.
After brunch why not head up to Azura, the St. Regis roof terrace bar, with astounding views over the corniche area. It is one of our favourite spots for a sundowner, for its killer happy hour that runs everyday from 5pm – 8pm and great shisha. It is the perfect spot to continue the post-brunch party.
The brunch at Villa Toscana runs every Friday between 12pm and 4pm. Brunch with soft beverages 250 AED++ / brunch with grapes and hops 370 AED++ / brunch with Prosecco, wine and hops 450 AED++
Location: St. Regis Abu Dhabi, Nation Towers, Corniche, Abu Dhabi
Hours: 12:00pm – 11:00pm
Phone: 02 694 4553
All views within this blog are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.