Valentino Calabrian Kitchen Toorak is an Italian restaurant that specialises in Calabrian food from Italy’s south. I was invited to Valentino to help celebrate the launch of head chef and part owner Riccardo Momesso’s cookbook “Antonio and Lucia”. The book is reflective of the food that’s on offer at Valentino – that is, the food that Riccardo grew up with – food that his parents and grandparents cooked for him, family recipes that have been passed down through the generations.
The kitchen’s menu changes daily, with most dishes dependent on what produce is available fresh that day. A variety of mains and desserts are offered, as well as a small selection of pizzas and pastas however the main focus of the menu is the extensive anitpasto/stuzzichini selection, which is complimented with a focused selection of Italian wines, aperitivi and digestivi.
The space is a decent size, with a combination of bar and table seating and the anitpasto/stuzzichini on display in a cabinet that forms part of the large marble bar that looks across the open kitchen.
Tarali, Nduja, Calabrian Caviar
To start with were the tarali (semi soft savoury biscuits), nduja (a spicy spreadable pork sausage – Calabrian salami if you will) and Calabrian caviar, which isn’t actually caviar but rather baby sardines mixed with peperoncini, salt and fennel tips. It’s also known as sardella.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the tarali, I know that it’s supposed to have the semi soft texture that it did but to me that made it seem like stale biscuits. Never to mind, because I thoroughly enjoyed the nduja, which had a real kick to it and the Calabrian caviar, which was also quite spicy and salty.
Sourdough & Ciabatta
Some bread to spread the above with, and mop up sauces as the food came out.
Baccala and Potato Suppli
I really liked these – they reminded me of the fish cakes that my mother sometimes makes. Soft, dense, fishy (in a good way – baccala is dried salted cod) and crispy on the outside.
The swordfish was one of my favourite dishes of the night. Involitini translates as “little bundles” and the swordfish was tightly wrapped around breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, onion and a few other things. A surprisingly dense dish that was full of flavour.
Maccu di Fave, Prawns, Pecorino
This had a surprising texture to it. It looked very similar to hummus and that’s what I was expecting. While the flavour was very similar to hummus, the maccu di fave was a lot creamier and the taste of the fava beans was more pronounced than the taste of the chickpeas in hummus is.
Lamb & Eggplant Polpette
Like everything else on the menu these meatballs were examples of simple, honest Calabrian food. Nothing surprising flavour wise, just some tasty lamb meatballs.
Zucchini with a gratin of breadcrumbs and parmesan on top. Simple. Tasty.
Cavatelli, Spicy Sausage, Rapeseed Oil
Moving onto the mains, the cavetlli was perfectly cooked al dente with a spicy sausage and rapeseed oil. I wasn’t completely sold on this dish, with the flavours falling a bit flat compared to the other things I ate during the night. It wasn’t bad by any means, but didn’t hit the highs of some of the other dishes.
Braised Wild Goat, Broadbeans, Burrata
I liked this dish. The goat was tender, the beans (I’m usually not a fan) were nice and the burrata added a creaminess to each mouthful.
Zeppole with Orange Blossom Honey and Cinnamon
These “Calabrian doughnuts” had a nice flavour to them owing to the classic honey and cinnamon combination. Compared to the doughnuts that most of us are used to they were denser, drier and less crispy – nice, but lacking that je ne sais quoi that “normal” doughnuts possess.
Watermelon, Salted Ricotta, Pistachios
This was a surprising highlight of the night. Perfectly ripe chunks of watermelon soaked in a mint infused water, topped with super thin slices of salted ricotta and crushed pistachios. Light and refreshing, this is one for the summer.
Overall I enjoyed my dinner at Valentino. Momesso’s aim was to bring honest Calabrian food to diners and the food I ate definitely had a rustic character about it – it wasn’t trying to be a typical Italian “please everyone” menu. In fact Momesso himself stated on the night that some of the dishes might not be completely authentic as such, but were made the way his mum taught him, which I respect. The highlights came from the anitpasto/stuzzichini selection and if I was in the area I could see myself coming back and ordering a range of anitpasto/stuzzichini to share amongst friends.
Valentino Calabrian Kitchen
517 Malvern Road
Tue – Thu: 5:30pm to 11:30pm
Fri – Sun: 12:00pm to 12:00am