Archive review: Tuscan Hills is now closed. Some partnerships seem destined to endure longer than most marriages: variety stalwarts Morecombe and Wise’s relationship was...

Archive review: Tuscan Hills is now closed.

Some partnerships seem destined to endure longer than most marriages: variety stalwarts Morecombe and Wise’s relationship was only curtailed by the untimely death of Eric. Other seemingly inseparable double-acts, such as the legendary Lennon and McCartney, are torn asunder through creative differences, never to be reunited.

Tuscan Hills panini

Matt and Cat, whose juxtaposition seems at first glance to be predicated only on their rhyming nomenclature, have prevailed to date because of their common affection for the Island, and a shared idea of what’s good and what’s not when eating out. However, a visit to Tuscan Hills, Newport’s latest eatery, may be the wedge that drives the duo apart – at least for one review.

Tuscan Hills duck

It all started out well; one lunchtime Matt and Cat managed to resist the delightful and excellent value Primrose Fine Foods, and strolled instead to the new Italian restaurant where they met some friends. The venue, which occupies the erstwhile Volcanic Rocks restaurant in Holyrood Street, has a cool chic. Whitewashed walls and wooden furniture gave it a minimal look – bordering on Hambroughesque austerity – which was leavened by jolly Italian muzak. A smartly-dressed waiter approached and, having told the party that the linguini alla norma was not available, distributed menus, cutlery and placemats about the table, with the placemats ending up – slightly randomly – on top.

The menu was concise, with a range of panini, pasta and similar Italian bits with a straightforward pricing structure: panini and a drink £3.50, soup of the day and a drink £4.50, pasta and a drink £6 and cake or gelato and tea £3. This struck Matt and Cat as a nice simple offering, at pretty good value: waiter-served lunch for a similar price as a chain store meal deal.

Cat, once she had got over her fixation with the unavailable aubergine linguini, played it safe with what Tuscan Hills calls roncolla – panini with bresaola, wild rocket, Isle of Wight cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Matt chose from the pasta menu opting for tagliatelle all’anatra, helpfully translated as commendably locally-sourced Brownrigg Farm duck sauce. Their friends had bean soup and bolognaise.

While waiting for their food the chums chatted about what they’d been up to. One of Matt and Cat’s friends had been making quiche and autumn fruit tarts out of kitchen leftovers which caused Cat to interject the fact that she didn’t even have flour in her cupboards, let alone blackberries and butter. Still, she didn’t need to do her own baking as a laden Tupperware box was slipped her way under the table.

Matt and Cat’s Bill
Tagliatelle all’anatra £6.00
Roncolla panini £3.50
Total £9.50

The lunches arrived in a decent time, but this was when the spirit of unity around the table dissipated and the opinions diverged. Cat’s tasty panini looked pretty good; it was as described, nicely warmed and even had two varieties of tomatoes, which was a bonus.

Matt’s eagerly awaited duck tagliatelle looked pretty workaday, with the tagliatelle very well-cooked, and dressed with a supply of minced duck with a hint of ragu. Sadly, that was all there was to it. Duck doesn’t stand alone very well, and some kind of sweet flavour or different texture would have gone a long way towards elevating the dish. As it was, Matt was even more disappointed to find a modest selection of tiny bits of bone distributed through the minced meat. True, simple Tuscan cooking was what was on offer, but for Matt, the simplicity teetered into the realm of blandness.

Rejecting the offer of coffee and cake, Matt and Cat paid up and left. Strolling back to their workplace, they considered their meal. Cat argued that the place was clean, the service polite and prompt enough for a lunchtime venue, and her food and particularly the prices were very agreeable. Matt couldn’t disagree with the majority of these conclusions, but the bottom line of any eatery is the food itself, and in that respect he felt unfulfilled. The dining duo batted the subject back and forth all the way back to the factory. They never did come to a consensus. So you’ll just have to go and make your own mind up.

Archive review: Tuscan Hills is now closed.
Archive review: Tuscan Hills