Italian at Villa Toscana - St. Regis, Abu Dhabi

Imagine visiting a  well to do land owner in the heart of Tuscany. He has an eclectic and cosmopolitan group of friends and  decides that he would like to have them over for dinner. But rather than have them all gather in his garden, he decides to use his villa instead. However, he does not want to put them all in one large room; he wants their dinner to be intimate and cosy. He opts to host 32 in the main dining room, 12 further on from the entrance hall, 6 in another smaller area with romantic overtones and then he puts 8 guests in one more private dining area and 8 in another?  This is the concept at Villa Toscana, the fine Italian restaurant at St. Regis in Abu Dhabi. Come with me as I recollect my evening.

While not marketed as romantic, the possibilities are here. 

We walk in and are shown to our table. We are seated in the larger dining area. Immediately I feel I am in someone's home. No doubt. The wooden floors have a used feel to them. They could have been made using a shiny and glossy wood, but then it would seem unnatural. No, this is a villa in which people live - that is the concept anyway, and it works. Drawn curtains continue the illusion, as does a fireplace in the centre of the room. Ornate chandeliers place this villa in a specific period when it was not politically incorrect to be wealthy and to celebrate that wealth. The first thing I notice is that staff tread elegantly here - there is not the annoying clip clop that often comes when a restaurant has  a wooden floor. Graceful.

The bar cum lounge area - ideal for a pre dinner drink. 
We meet Enrico, a waiter who immediately makes his way into heart and mind with his infectious joy and verve for life. But that is not where it stops. He knows the menu and wine inside out. He kicks off my evening with a glass of sparkling wine, while I peruse the stunning leather bound menu. We are offered some appetizers, the highlight being a grilled eggplant bruschetta. The homemade bread could have been an appetizer on its own, that is how good it is. Another one of the appetizers, pumpkin, is another strong offering,  made in a very traditional way.

I loved this sparkling wine.
First up, I have the Burrata served with the pappa al pomodoro, focaccia crouton and emulsion of basil pesto. The burrata is as expected, but the dish wows me through its quite rustic presentation and the pappa al pomodoro. The latter, a typical Tuscan dish prepared with tomatoes, bread, basil, olive oil and basil, served with the burrata, is a dish you are unlikely to have in many places in the capital. Highly recommended. 
Beef carpaccio

Next up we have the Cured raw chianina beef, rocket, radicchio, tomatoes, parmesan cheese and caramelized onion. It is exquisitely presented, with the rucola ensconced in the beef. As I cut through it, I see  rucola in abundance. Very creative, even in this traditional approach to Italian cuisine. 

Spicy prawns
Finally, we round off our starters with Spicy prawns baked in the oven with roasted golden garlic, olive oil, focaccia croutons and tomatoes. This dish, a quintessential Sardinian-style dish, notwithstanding the use of chili flakes, still maintains a purity that allows me to enjoy and savor the taste of the prawns. A stellar group of starters leaves me wondering how they will be topped by the main course!

While I wait for my main I have another glass of Stefano Antonucci Spumante Brut. This golden yellow coloured sparkling wine is full and flowery - easily one of the nicest sparkling wines I have had by the glass.

A lovely chianti to pair with my ravioli. 
My main course is then served. I have the Handmade artichoke and ricotta ravioli, sunchoke sauce and truffle butter. The unusual shape of the ravioli is a tribute to the Burj Khalifa. Again, Chef Stefano's creative flare while still being married to tradition, is appreciated. The ravioli is perfectly cooked. As for the truffle butter, it  brings another dimension to the dish, as does the shaved truffles on the plate. I sip on a Gabbiano Chianti 2012. Medium bodied. Simply a divine  pairing. 

As my evening progresses the one disconcerting element in an otherwise excellent evening, is the music. In wanting to create the atmosphere and feel of a villa in Tuscany, I find the music choice curious indeed. I understand it would be cliched to play Italian music, but even if it were pop it would work better. I kept waiting for Bocelli to start or even something something light heartedly romantic by Cesare Cremonini, but nothing. 

Chocolate sphere
These musings are cut short when, in anticipation of dessert, Enrico takes me to teh Grappa room to try and find some grappa to my liking. This makes an already memorable dining expereince evn more so. Again, his knowledge is illustrated as he presents me with three choices, highlighting the salient features of each. Eventually, I settle on the Ornellaia, a sophisticated Grappa in-keeping with the tone of the evening. 

Soon after, dessert is presented. We have the Tiramisu which comes with chocolate tuile, kahlua jelly, praline and chocolate sorbet. The mascarpone cream is much richer than I expected,  and I love it. The absolute highlight for me though is the bitter cocoa that sits atop the tiramisu. It brings an added intensity to the dish. I also try the  Chocolate sphere with caramel. This is served with wild seasonal berries, milk gelato and hot chocolate fondant. Great taste and presentation. My daughter has a selection of gelato, and the pistachio gelato delights!

Grappa to accompany my dessert
Enrico, grazie!
Villa Toscana offers exceptional dining. The emphasis on quality and authenticity is a major attraction. Apart from the music, the restaurant is true to what it is trying to create, and this is also reflected on the menu where dishes are carefully chosen for appropriateness, rather than just having something generically Italian. What I loved was watching Chef Stefano add the final touches to every single dish that came out  to guests. He not simply glanced at every dish - he actually studied it before sending it out.

Villa Toscana is one of the most authentic experiences you are likely to have in the capital. I arrived a stranger, but thanks to true Italian hospitality, I left richer for having interacted with the people inside, eaten from Chef's Stefano' plates and drunk from Enrico's glass.

The Essentials

Villa Toscana,
St. Regis Abu Dhabi (Corniche)
02 694 4553

Starters 75-130 Dhs
Mains 75-395 Dhs
Desserts 40 Dhs

                                                                                     Pictures thanks to Nokia Creative Studio on my Nokia 1520
Brandon Stoltenkamp