Friday, 16 April 2010

Tasty Tuscan Kitchen

So, now that "I'm Back" I thought I better start posting some stuff! But then I thought, hang on... it's Friday night. So, I'm going to post something I actually wrote a while ago for the website but never put on the blog.

It's a review of a fantastic Tuscan restaurant in the historic town of Rye. It's only a couple of hours from London by car, so if you're stuck for inspiration this weekend I strongly suggest you hop in your motor and speed down there. Not only is Rye a gorgeous, quaint town, with plenty of cobbled streets to wonder along, but the endless stretch of white sand that is Camber Sand is only a ten minute drive away. And with weather set to hit 18 degrees this weekend you'll feel like you really are in Tuscany!

I feel quite excited about writing this review… I have read so many fiercely opposing opinions on the Tuscan Kitchen in Rye that I am itching to join the fight, and I'll tell you now - I am firmly flying the Tuscan flag!

Address: 8 Lion Street, Rye, TN31 7LB.

Tel: 01797 223269

We booked a table courtesy of a recommendation, and from reading several very glowing reviews. The trattoria (NOT restaurant - see definition at the bottom of this article*) is located on a quaint cobbled street in the charming Sussex town of Rye and is in fact housed within what used to be a very olde worlde teashop! This incongruous setting is your first indication that any preconceived ideas should be left at the door. You're in for an unexpectedly wonderful experience.

Looking beyond the low beams and memories of cream teas and doilies, the trattoria is simply arranged with wooden tables, paper napkins and lovely blue glasses from Italy. Don't expect interior design - it is all about the food (although the plates and mugs have all been imported from Italy and had me lusting after them).

Loving Italian food I was very excited about the meal and the intoxicating smell of truffles as you walk through the door only heightened the anticipation. Jen, the charming owner, brought us some wine (we just asked her to choose - it was excellent) and some bread and oil to eat while we decided what to order. This was the first teaser for our taste buds. The olive oil had an incredible taste and was made with olives from their own grove in Italy. Ask nicely and they might sell you some - it really is worth it!

After salivating over the menu it was time to order. Everything looked delicious but I plumped for Insalata Invernale (a winter salad of pear, blue cheese, walnuts and Tuscan honey) followed by Ravioli Porcini (homemade ravioli in wild mushroom sauce) and finished off with Pollo All 'Aceto Balsamico (strips of chicken in Chianti and aged balsamic, grilled with radichio and truffle oil). My Better Half chose the Antipasto followed by Tuscan meatballs, culminating with beef fillet with a white truffle sauce. It was clear we were in for the long haul; but we were ready!

Our food was incredible. It took its time in arriving but that was no matter as we were enjoying the Tuscan wine, the atmosphere and our host’s conversation. We really felt as though we were enjoying a home cooked meal in their kitchen in Italy (hence the name of the restaurant as Jen pointed out!). The salad was delicious, and confirmed what I had heard that Franco and Jen source their ingredients from either Tuscany or quality local producers - the flavours and textures really were superb. The antipasto was also great, and could have easily fed two.

Before our pasta course arrived we were treated to some truffle honey with Italian hard cheese. This is possibly the most amazing thing I have ever eaten. It felt so decadent, like you were eating something incredibly expensive, I think I'm going to name it liquid gold!

Swooning over the truffle honey happily occupied the time waiting for our pasta. Every dish is made to order and comes to your table piping hot, in a reassuring way, letting you know it has been made for you and you alone. It's no surprise that the pasta dishes were delicious but we were both getting a little full and made a mental note that next time we come we'll skip the pasta course and head straight to the meat (unless we haven't eaten for two days previously).

Again, no surprise for guessing but our meat course was sensational. Better Half managed to eat all of his, but I have to admit I was a little defeated by my delicious chicken (we had only just finished a full English Breakfast a few hours before)! At this point I should also point out that the "closed" sign was put up on the door. There were only 3 tables being served but Franco and Jen know when to stop. With only Franco in the kitchen they just can't serve up the quality food that they take pride in if the trattoria is overly crowded. There were no complaints from us - it felt like a lock-in in a secret, member’s only restaurant!

Desert looked enticing but was flatly refused by both of us. Better Half still had room for some 40% grappa though, so it was clear who was driving back to London. Talking of London, I can't stress enough that the quality of food we enjoyed in Rye completely surpassed any experiences of Italian food I have had in London. The prices are also a nice change from London (particularly considering the generous portions), with the meat course averaging at £14.95.

In order to digest our food we sat and chatted to Jen and Franco for sometime about their business. They've received a little bit of negative press from customers who have not understood the concept of the Tuscan Kitchen, so here are a few tips!

  • arrive hungry, with time to spare.
  • it is part of the Slow Food Movement which should give you a clue to ethos behind the food.
  • don't feel obliged to eat every course - unless of cause you have a huge appetite in which case lucky you!
  • sit back, relax and enjoy the Tuscan experience of a leisurely, delicious meal, cooked with integrity.

We think this extract taken from the menu at the Tuscan Kitchen really sums up the experience:

"We offer the taste and tradition of Tuscany in the heart of Rye. You will not have restaurant service, though you will be treated well, and with great respect, if you return the favour".

*A trattoria (Italian pronunciation: [trattoˈria]) is an Italian-style eating establishment, less formal than a ristorante, but more formal than an osteria. There are generally no printed menus, the service is casual, wine is sold by the decanter rather than the bottle, prices are low, and the emphasis is on a steady clientele rather than on haute cuisine. The food is modest but plentiful (mostly following regional and local recipes) and in some instances is even served family-style (i.e. at common tables).

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