517 Malvern Road Hawksburn, VIC 314203 98268815
|Opening hours||Fri-Sun, noon-3pm; Tues-Sun, 5.30pm-late|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Wheelchair access, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, eftpos|
Finally, someone named a restaurant after me. But that's not why I like Valentino, the new restaurant by chef Riccardo Momesso. At his previous digs, city stalwart Sarti, Momesso got fancy with Italian food – a foam here, savoury sorbet there, an eye on the Joneses. At Valentino, he's digging deep into his Calabrian roots to create a big, noisy, fun restaurant with soul. The place is an earnest homage to his parents, who grow much of the produce, and the food works enough angles to satisfy the merely hungry and those hankering to tour Calabria without leaving Zone One. It's food you can chat over, but there's enough meaning and history to reward a closer look.
Calabrian food is strong on preserving, spice and seasonality, and that's all represented here. A spreadable salami called nduja is porky, earthy, smoky and spicy thanks to capsicum skin paprika. There's no shyness about repeating ingredients that are eating well. Eggplant might appear on a barely yeasted slow-risen pizza, then turn up in a layered parmigiano and, once more, fried after a light cure in vinegar, orange juice and cocoa.
The flipside of bounty is paucity (so, no asparagus or basil right now) and in that sense Valentino is truly Calabrian.
You could feast here for about $60. That's good value but it doesn't pay for heaps of waiters, so bring an extra anecdote at busy times. I ate with an impatient nine-year-old pasta expert who did the restaurant version of "are we there yet?" before sinking into reverie when her dinner arrived. I admit to a pang when she declared it the best pasta she'd ever eaten but I couldn't rightly argue. Momesso has borrowed his mum's technique of kneading leftover polenta with flour to create a sturdy, supple dough. It's then rough cut, quickly cooked and stirred with an outstanding clove-scented chicken ragu.
It's almost too easy to build a meal from antipasti here – there are about two dozen. But if you make it to mains, the suckling pig is lightly brined and spiced, marinated in a herbal liqueur, and roasted to sticky, succulent perfection. Momesso saves his cheffy tricks for dessert; he's even permitted his pistachio panna cotta with salted caramel popcorn to follow from Sarti. It's good but I think the most delicious thing about Valentino is how clear the mission is: it's a heritage project and it's full of heart.
4 stars out of 5
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