In Italy, a tavola calda (literally translated to “hot table”) is a place that serves pre-made food, fast, cafeteria-style. But Valentino’s is not your average cafeteria or food court. The casual eatery is an upgraded tavola calda – featuring robust home-style southern Italian food – right on Grenfell Street.
It’s the brainchild of a raft of industry vets, including Peter De Marco (who owns Chicco Palms, Pizza e Mozzarella Bar, Chicken & Pig, Borsa and Extra Chicken Salt) and pastry chef Claudio Ferraro (one of the original owners of Cibo Espresso before it was sold to Retail Zoo). The pair is joined by Tatiana Madruga (who has worked front-of-house at several of De Marco’s venues) and artist and designer James Brown (who previously partnered with De Marco on Chicco Palms).
The concept is inspired by places in Bologna and Rome, but a lot of the food comes from southern Italy, according to De Marco, whose family comes from Calabria. In the mornings, you’ll find a selection of brioche, toasties and focaccia, and on occasion a breakfast pizza. But try to save room for the sweets – the espresso bar has a classic Italian line-up of zeppole, rum baba, ricotta krafen, cornetti, a cake of the day, and more, available all day.
During lunch hour and beyond, the antipasto bar and open kitchen at the rear of the courtyard is the setting for an alluring visual menu, which might include roasted eggplant stuffed with pork and veal; peperonata (a glistening medley of fried eggplant, potato and capsicum); ricotta and spinach gnudi, or “naked ravioli”; eggplant parmigiana; and slow-cooked, cheesy pork and veal meatballs. They’re all hearty, nourishing, and tasty lunch options for time-poor city office workers.
There might also be chicken cotoletta; charcoal-grilled lamb skewers; a daily roast served with potato salad; and fried chicken inspired by De Marco’s mum’s recipe. Plus, Roman-style pizza al taglio made with fluffy focaccia-like dough. (In short, good luck coming back to your table without a plate absolutely brimful of food.)
To drink, there’s Italian and Italian-style wines, cocktails and aperitivo, beers, digestivo, coffee, juice and mocktails.
The spacious indoor-outdoor spot sits on the ground floor of a heritage red-brick office building, whose entrance, foyer and atrium had a $14 million refit by Ashley Halliday Architects. Brown’s design studio 2049 is behind Valentino’s interior, graphics and art curation, which is inspired by Milanese design and brutalist architecture, complete with arches, terrazzo tables, and concrete sculptures by Brown and Sabrina Sterk (with the help of Tim Hansford of Love Concrete). Two counters – an espresso bar and an antipasto bar – are separated by the piazza-like atrium, which has a retractable roof.
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