Stepping into Tuscany Bistro in the lovely village of Ballina, Co. Tipperary is like leaving the real world into a subtly classy, welcoming and unpretentious friend’s house. Warm staff and minimal yet sumptuous décor lead to fulfilling hopes of a good appetite. This is a new establishment but follows on the much-lauded first Tuscany in Castletroy, Limerick.
The menu has the Italian classics, yet reads like a lighter version of the usual book. Dishes like Pollo alla Siciliana - for olive lovers only - and Spaghetti Marinara offer diners a fulfillment rarely achievable away from a beloved trip to Italy. Irish touches are welcome with the presence of the excellent chowder; a light and refreshing take on the often too-heavy classic. Here, delicately cooked fish and mollusks sit happily with vegetables (that still hold their flavour) in a cream soup; the char grilling of the crab claws brings an extra flavour and lovely attention to detail.
Scallops are pan-seared and served with just the right amount of crunchy green salad and the perkiest basil and balsamic dressing to give a smoky aside to the juicy sweetness. The garlic bread has something different too with a flavour that could only come from the heat of a stone oven, while the addition of lemon to the butter, makes it burst from its juicy middle. Pizzas are super thin and crispy with toppings from the simple Margaritha to the mother load Mamma Mia with everything.
The specials change daily and the Rib-Eye with Bone Marrow fritter was lip smackingly tender and loved up to by a rich red-wine reduction with the subtle yet cheeky addition of a hint of coffee, while a cauliflower puree gave the dish a soft sweet balance. Homemade chunky chips are crispy and fluffy; salads as they should be. The lasagne is authentic, a creamy and meaty, full-on comfort food. Fresh fish like roasted Sea Bream with lemon and thyme and an orange salad is original, and creative.
Deserts step into the fine dining arena and don’t disappoint with an excellent fondant pudding, a witty upside-down cornetto with salted chocolate ice cream and a selection of the best ice creams.
Tuscany is refreshing yet homely with a clever menu that caters for all appetites and pockets; families, couples and bunches of pals. With a menu like this, one visit just isn’t enough.