A taste of Tuscan delights

September 17, 2019

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Up until a few years ago, there were only few restaurants in Islamabad that non-capital residents could really name. Of course, that has changed since then. But one of those restaurants was the high-end Tuscany Courtyard, popular for not just its quality continental cuisine, but also architecture. And as per some Islamabad resident, it used to be a favourite with premier Imran Khan at one point.

Tuscany Courtyard eventually opened its doors to Lahore in early 2017 with a mighty castle-esque restaurant on main M.M. Alam Road. And in April this year, it launched its second branch in Lahore, which I had a chance to visit this week.

Located in the commercial market of Defence Phase 5 surrounded by a host of other restaurants, Tuscany Courtyard stands tall with its imposing brick facade, pillars and arches. The interior reflects a contemporary approach to an old Italian cottage. The ground floor and mezzanine were made with thick bricks walls, arched windows and doors, low wooden ceiling, a fireplace and classic metal chandeliers.

The menu is not all-Italian, contrary to what I’d expected, and offers something for everyone: from pizza, pasta and panini to burger, sandwich, steaks and seafood, which may not really be a good thing after all. Italian entrees get a separate section, as do Thai (at an Italian restaurant?).

I started off with the Calamari Fritte, which was supposed to be crispy, fried calamari with tartar, but turned out to be calamari with a fresh, spicy salad, which I didn’t mind at all. Inside, the calamari was chewy and cooked well, but could have been crispier outside.

Next up was the Barbeque Chicken Flatbread. This whole section of flatbreads stood out for me in the entire menu for being unique. Thin, crispy slabs of flatbread were topped with tender, but slightly dry strips of mildly flavoured chicken, onion and lots of mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. A light appetiser before a whole meal.

For main course, I first tried the Pollo Tuscan. Thick cigars of tender, juicy chicken breast stuffed with a luscious spinach filling with a crispy coating were served with soft aromatic garlic rice, sautéed veggies, crispy fried shredded potato and a rich, creamy, but a tad bit salty – maybe because of olives and capers – sauce. But overall, the flavours of this dish complemented each other and it makes for a fulfilling meal.

The other main entree I tried was the Grilled Sole with Lemon and Herb Sauce. The fish fillets -- sitting on a bed of mushrooms, artichokes, beans and sautéed vegetables -- were soft, nicely grilled and coated with a tangy, spicy herb mixture. A lime green, supposedly lemon, garlic and herb, sauce had a strong, overpowering flavour of basil that left a bitter aftertaste. But I liked the fish fillets.

The entire meal was rounded off with Coconut Coffee Crunch drink, which was a smooth cold coffee sprinkled with toffee crunch as well as a soft, delicious, crumbly New York Cheesecake.

Save for a couple of items, the menu was run-of-the-mill and lacked novelty. I also wish it was a bit compact. Tuscany Courtyard is priced competitively and generally the food quality is also quite reasonable. At the end, it does leave one content.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2019