It’s been a year since we last dined at Villa Toscana and much has changed. A new manager joins the team fresh from the pre-opening of Dubai’s Palazza Versace Hotel. Hailing from the town of Sorrento on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Giuseppe Palmieri brings not only years of experience, but plenty of Italian charm to the ever popular Italian restaurant in the St. Regis Abu Dhabi.
Villa Toscana has struck a chord with diners in the capital, bringing authentic Italian cooking (the chefs hail from the Italian Islands of Sicily and Sardinia). presented home-style and packed full of flavour. The food marries perfectly with the rustic surrounds of Villa Toscana’s homely interiors.
We’ve fond memories of our previous brunch experience but do recall the portion sized being overly generous and ultimately too much to handle. With the change is season (and economic climate), Villa Toscana’s brunch has changed not only its day, but its concept. Moving the brunch from a Friday to a Saturday lunchtime is a clever move, taking it out of direct competition with the ‘big brunches’ to which diners inevitably flock. Saturdays are better suited for the Tuscan Brunch, which is casual in nature and a wonderful way to wind down the weekend.
Returning to Villa Toscana we again felt at home, the interiors are rustic and charming, while still maintaining the lavish feeling of the St. Regis brand. Brunch begins with a welcome drink in the bar area, a space of dark wooden panelling that also doubles up as the dessert room. We’re pleasantly surprised to see Ivan as our bartender, a familiar face to regular visitors at the St. Regis and a man of many talents, playing tea sommelier by day and mixologist by night (or brunch) . Ivan’s cocktails are wthout a doubt one of the many highlights of the St. Regis’ popular Brunch In The Clouds and his presence in Villa Toscana is welcomed.
The welcome drinks present Ivan’s twist on classic cocktails and are a showcase of mixology. From an Espresso Martini that forgoes sweetness in favour of subtler hints of grenadine, to Pomegranate Margarita’s and the Bartenders Choice – mixing Limoncello, pomegranate and beer! The welcome drinks are just the start and our brunch included many bespoke cocktails created on the spot. If you visit Villa Toscana ask for the Peach and Olive Margarita, it may sounds unusual but the blend really works.
The previous incantation of brunch involved the entire menu being served to the table but things have changed significantly. In it’s new and improved format, appetisers and desserts are presented buffet style, while the remaining courses are served directly to the table, meaning diners get the best of both worlds. The appetisers are spread out on a central table, reflective of the restaurants farmhouse setting and includes a good selection of salads, cold cuts, quiches, cheeses and freshly baked breads. In addition, there’s also a carvery station of both lamb and salmon.
One of our favourite things about Villa Toscana is the rustic setting, promoting the feeling of a villa set deep in the countryside of Tuscany. The central dining room with it’s shuttered windows and painted murals is the focal point of the restaurant, but a small outside terrace and narrow passageway offer more intimacy. We’re lucky enough to be seated in the private dining room with its rose petal strewn table, thick woven rugs and selection of vintage wines.
We would advise diners not to over-indulge on the buffet, as the courses served to the table are pretty extensive. Beginning with a selection of pizzas that included a simplistic margarita on a classic Italian base. The dish acts as a showcase of flavour and quality, with the rich intensity of the tomato sauce really shining through against a light and crisp crust.
Following in quick succesion, the pasta course presents two different offerings. A homemade Ravioli stuffed with buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomato and fresh basil, was the size of a pancake and representative of a perfect pasta — not too thick and oozing with cheese. Similarly, the Classic Spaghetti maintians the simplistic approach with an olive oil emulsion complemented by hints of the sea, offered by the clams.
With the intention of replicating a traditional Italian family lunch, the pizza and pasta courses are followed by Short Ribs (served with sautéed vegetables and barley risotto) AND Salmon Fazzoletti. As expected, the short rib is tender and well seasoned, with the barley risotto making for an earthy match to the rustic surrounds. The salmon is encased in pasta (similar in concept to a cannelloni) and served on a bed of scarola cabbage that complements the delicate fish without overpowering.
The dessert selection sticks firmly with the traditional Italian favourites and offers tiramisu, profiteroles and puffy meringues, amongst heavier options like apple cake and a chocolate and pear torte. The tiramisu was the winner, offering espresso soaked lady fingers, a thick layer of mascarpone and a generous dusting of chocolate. We’d also recommend the lemon meringue pie, which utilised a sweet Italian meringue as a means of cutting through the tartness of the citrus filling.
Villa Toscana’s charms are inescapable. From the authentic home-style cookery to the venue itself, the restaurant feels lived in, as if there’s history contained within the walls. When comparing the Saturday Tuscan brunch to the previous offering, we actually prefer this one. It’s more manageable and the portion control will likely result in minimal wastage.
Villa Toscana offers a simplicity to the brunch scene that has been severely lacking in the capital. Complemented by attentive service and a charismatic manager, this is a brunch with one firm focus – to provide quality food amongst the company of close friends.
Location: St. Regis Abu Dhabi, Corniche, Al Khubeirah, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook / Twitter
Hours: 12pm – 3pm (4pm on weekends) / 7pm – 11pm
Phone: 02 694 4553
We were invited to dine at Villa Toscana. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.