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Review: Italian Tapas in Putney

Published 26 May 2010

As a self-proclaimed foodie, I’m always interested to hear of new restaurants offering cuisines or foods which I haven’t tried. Valentina doesn’t quite fit into that category, but when I heard about London’s first and only Italian tapas bar, I knew I had to give it a go.

Yes, that’s an Italian tapas bar. And no, it’s not a typo or a geographical miscalculation; it’s the premise behind the Valentina Spuntino Bar in Putney. There’s no tortilla or patatas brava, though, it’s strictly Italian dishes, just served in small plates tapas-style making it ideal for sharing and for those who just can’t make their mind up.

Though the concept isn’t far removed from Antipasti, it’s still amazing that no other restaurant (at least that we know of…) has gone the whole hog and offered a full menu of small dishes. After all, once you’ve put pasta and pizza to one side, a lot of Italian dishes are remarkably similar to their Spanish counterparts. A platter of Parma ham, bresola and salami takes over from Serrano ham and chorizo. Whether they’re called polpetta or albondigas, they both have meatballs in a tomato sauce. There’s olives, capers, bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and Calamari also crosses the culinary borders, the only difference being the aioli that comes with it, which in Spanish would have an extra ‘l’ and become alioli.

As with tapas, and possibly even more so, the food at Valentina is very ingredients-led and so the quality is crucial. This isn’t a problem, though. As well as this Spuntino bar and another Italian restaurant, Valentina’s multi-storey Italian cornucopia includes a high-end Italian deli, so they know how to pick good ingredients. Ham that melts in the mouth, some very zingy olive oil, full-flavoured marinated artichokes and creamy mozzarella are cases in point.

Crispy calamari, seared but still pink lamb chops and a meaty tasting (but completely meatless) bean stew demonstrate that the Valentina kitchen can do more than arrange ingredients on a plate – there’s some expert cooking at work, too.

I always feel that a good test of a restaurant is the desserts. They tend to be the area that all too often gets skimped on. Thankfully, Valentina’s desserts leave only a sweet taste on the palette, with an extensive menu spanning sabayon, tiramisu, bombe and plenty more including some light, fruity options in case you got carried away on the savouries. I chose the tiramisu, something I tend always to do as I would count a good one amongst my top desserts, but there are some dire ones out there. Not least those which sit like a cake in a perfect round on your plate – how is something made of alcohol and layered coffee-soaked sponge and mascarpone supposed to stay upright without the aid of some gelling agents or perhaps freezing? Valentina’s didn’t defy gravity. It came as an oozy splodge on a plate – a much more attractive proposition than the upright alien sort. What’s more I could actually taste both brandy and espresso in the sponge, with little bites of chocolate. I’d go back for that alone.

Valentina further their foodie credentials as a one-stop for all things Italian with a host of special tasting evenings where diners will be guided through some of the deli’s finest products be it cheese, wine, meat, oils or just about anything else. All the details of these tasting sessions can be found on the Valentina website, but listed below are the tasting sessions that are coming up over the next few months.

Valentina Tastings – summer 2010

12th – artisan honey and jam tasting
19th – northern italian wine tasting
26th – parmigiano reggiano tasting

3rd – artisan cheese tasting
10th – spreads and toppings tasting
17th – charcuterie tasting
24th – central italian wine tasting
31st – artisan honey and jam tasting

17th – italian olive tasting
14t – artisan cheese tasting
21st – new wines tasting
28th – charcuterie tasting

Address: 75 Upper Richmond Road, Putney, SW15 2SR (location map)
Nearest Tube Station: East Putney (tapas bar is right next to Tube station)
Booking/Enquiry Tel: +44 020 8877 9906
Valentina Website: http://valentinafinefoods.com
Open: 8am till late, 7 days a week