Lifestyle

VIDEO: From Italy, With Love

Thursday, April 10, 2014    

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Feel-good warmth embraces your heart and appetite at Toscanini. The Italian restaurant — founded 15 years ago by British-Italian siblings Pierluigi and Lella Ricci at Harmony Hall in Tower Isle, St Mary — has become a standard-bearer, of sorts, for authentic cuisine served up with a side order of agreeable personality.

Checking in for Sunday brunch two weekends ago, the restaurant-hopping crew of Jamaica Observer Food Awards judges were welcomed by Toscanini's irrepressible charmer of a hostess, Lella Ricci with double-cheek kisses for everyone.

A round of sangria cocktails over leisurely chitchat followed, with Chef Pierluigi flitting between obligatory kitchen duties and exchanging pleasantries with guests, as his sister Lella told the intriguing story of how the restaurant came to be.

The transplanted siblings initially laid their roots in the Caribbean isle of Antigua, where they opened a restaurant. That culinary venture lasted two years, its eventual demise on account of a fortuitous visit Lella took to Ocho Rios. She fell head-over-heels in love with not only the freshness of the produce but, too, the unshakeable spirit of the black-green-and-gold.

'Twas goodbye, Antigua; hello, St Mary, Jamaica!

The decade-and-a-half that has since unfolded for Toscanini has been a tale rich with accolades (multiple Jamaica Observer Food Awards), celebrity visits (Bill Clinton, John Major, Kate Moss and The Police's Andy Summers, among the more notable head-turners), and the real reason for its continued success: fantastic fare, inspired by recipes of the Riccis' late patriarch Lino.

The judges' brunch menu — a choice of all of Toscanini's Italian-leaning offerings that incorporate Jamaican seafood, meats, herbs, veggies, and ground produce — was decreed an exceptional dining experience by the table.

Be it the lobster risotto; scabice (fresh sprat) with pickled onion, pimento and Solomon Gundy; fresh fillet of Mahi Mahi, pappardello and rabbit 'ragu'; or pimento roasted loin of pork with honey balsamic and otaheite apples, palettes remained excited with Italian wine pairings, all the way to dessert: chocolate profiteroles (choux puff pastry stuffed with whipped cream and homemade Swiss chocolate sauce).

You're invited to brunch with Thursday Life at one the Rock's finest Italian culinary haunts, Toscanini.

— Omar Tomlinson

TRANSPORTATION PROVIDED BY ISLAND CAR RENTALS LTD.

Toscanini Italian Restaurant

Harmony Hall, St Mary

Lunch - 12:00 noon to 2:30 pm

Dinner - 6:30 pm to 10:30 pm

Reservations are recommended

SIGNED AND DELIVERED

Toscanini could be The Rock's celeb-spotting version of the Los Angeles hot spot The Ivy, frequented by A-listers and a prime location where the paparazzi get ever so snap-happy.

Restaurateur siblings Pierluigi and Lella Ricci, who have made Ocho Rios home for the last 15 years, are celebrity magnets; their charming eatery a must-do that improves your chances of sitting a table away from a former head of state, supermodel or music star.

Count former U S President Bill Clinton and wife Hillary, former British Prime Minister John Major and fellow countrywoman, supermodel Kate Moss, among Toscanini's instantly recognisable diners.

Lella Ricci told Thursday Life that one particular celeb, however, left all her flustered and star-struck -- guitarist Andy Summers of the English rock band, The Police. Mustering composure to tend to him as a customer, by the time Summers completed dinner, she confessed to him that she was a die-hard teenage fan of his, with a poster of his likeness hanging on the walls of her bedroom in England.

Ricci opened up the pages of her guestbook at brunch to share signatures and stories with us.

Here's a look.

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