Everything is made in-house at Valentino’s, a new casual Italian eatery that introduces the 'tavola calda' concept to Adelaide.
Don’t call Valentino’s a cafeteria
Behind the red brick façade of 101 Grenfell Street, a smattering of city office workers is spread throughout a newly constructed indoor-outdoor dining space.
101 Grenfell Street, Adelaide 5000
Mon—Thu: 7am ’til 3pm
Friday: 7am ’til late
Saturday: 5pm ’til late
At the northern end, on a slightly raised seating section that overlooks the Grenfell Street pavement, a woman sits alone in quiet contemplation, her eyes looking out to the afternoon sky, her fingers resting on the handle of her coffee cup.
At ground level, still at the northern end, in the section dedicated to coffee and pastries, three diners move from the café bar, where they’ve just placed their order, to a cosy booth, with pastries in hand and a coffee in progress.
Looking south beyond the café section, the space opens into a piazza format, with banquette seating and low tables strewn across the floor.
The southern section is punctuated with another service counter and the kitchen, where each day a selection of hot meals and salads are prepared from scratch, then laid out in a glass case for the lunch-time crowd to select from.
Among the options are a few varieties of pizza al taglio, some focaccia with assorted fillings, arancini, charcoal arrosticini, ham and cheese croissants, sourdough sandwiches, and a bevy of other options.
Everything here – from the sliced focaccia and loaves of bread at this end, to the sfogliatelle and cornetti at the other – is made in-house.
A line gathers under an umbrella, protecting hungry patrons from the midday sun, as each person selects two or three options, which they either carry back to where their colleagues are sitting, or take a buzzer and wait for their order to be prepared.
This is Valentino’s, a tavola calda concept from a new assemblage of hospitality professionals.
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Leading the project is Peter De Marco, co-founder of Pizza e Mozzarella Bar, Borsa Pasta Cucina, Chicken & Pig, Chicco Palms and Extra Chicken Salt, and Claudio Ferraro, the original pastry chef and co-founder of Cibo.
The duo is joined by designer James Brown, who is also a partner with Peter in Chicco Palms, and Tatiana Madruga, who is new to ownership but formerly worked front-of-house at Pizza e Mozzarella, Chicco Palms and Chicken & Pig.
Tavola calda, in the eyes of Valentino’s founders, is an Italian dining concept that combines efficiency of service with home-style recipes. It is an eatery made for a diner who is short on time but does not want to skimp on quality or flavour.
As we watch the line progress, CityMag likens the experience to a cafeteria, and neither Peter nor Claudio wholly disagrees (though they do wince at the term).
“It’s an Italian cafeteria,” Claudio allows.
“Cafeteria’s a dirty word in this country. But it’s pretty much what it is,” Peter agrees.
“All we’re missing is that tray runner,” Claudio laughs.
Both Peter and Claudio have made significant contributions to Adelaide’s quick-lunch marketplace. Peter’s Chicken & Pig on Pirie Street hosts a seemingly perpetual procession of lunchtime office workers, and Cibo once held the crown in Adelaide for coffee and larder-style lunches (before the market diversified with the introduction of a thousand or so boutique cafés).
Valentino’s merges the two approaches, with everything on site being made fresh in-house each day and available immediately.
“We’re here to satisfy a consumer that is quick, they’ve only got half an hour, got 45 minutes, we want something hot, we want something that’s great quality, they’re in here, they’re served and they’re out of here easily within 25 minutes – eaten and done,” Claudio says.
This doesn’t mean quickly made meals, though. The Valentino’s kitchen team goes to considerable effort to produce its wares.
By way of example, Claudio singles out the vanilla cornetto sitting on the table in front of us.
“This became an overnight ferment, so it’s like a 16-hour ferment for the dough,” Claudio says.
“Then you’ve got to come in, you’ve got to laminate it, that lamination process takes another couple of hours – butter temperature and all of that stuff – so it’s about 20 hours just there, and then you actually make it and you leaven it, and you cook it off.
“Look at this lamination. It’s fucking crazy. I’m proud of that, you know?”
It’s time consuming, yes, but to Claudio, it’s worth it to provide a quality experience.
“The flavour that comes through in the dough itself, there’s lemon there’s orange, there’s vanilla,” he says. “So it’s full of aromas and taste. And that’s what the traditional cornetto is about.”
It’s been a long time since Claudio has had the opportunity to witness the joy he brings to customers through food.
After selling out of Cibo in 2014, when the company was bought by Retail Zoo, Claudio started a food manufacturing business that was contracted to supply Cibo stores, and also founded a line of supermarket products under the Cucina Classica brand. This distance from the end consumer took its toll.
“I felt like I was losing my passion for food, in that supermarket space, because it’s driven by so many things, and passion is not one of them,” Claudio says.
“And that’s fine. It’s a business, and it’s a cut-throat style of business. I’m more of that artistic, I enjoy having quality ingredients and quality products, and watching people enjoy themselves.
“On a shelf, if someone buys it, you don’t know if someone enjoys it or they don’t enjoy it. You lose that experience as soon as it leaves the back door. So yeah, I missed that connection with people.”
Café hoppers of a certain vintage will be happy to have Claudio back on the tools and engaging with his creative side, with the sfogliatelle and ricotta cannoli of Cibo’s earlier days still lingering in local memory.
While the Valentino’s concept is heavily geared towards the morning and lunch crowds, the space will also open up on Friday and Saturday nights, adding a ‘feed me’ option to the tavola calda concept, with the venue hosting a decent South Australian booze selection, with a focus on Italian varietals.
What the founders hope to provide, and what the spacious fitout and casual concept provides, is a comfortable place to relax.
“For us, we see it as a hub for lunch. It’s outdoors, you can get out of the office, come in, have lunch, relax, pick what you want,” Peter says.
“Just because we’re doing restaurant quality high-end food, doesn’t mean we cant give them that product with the relaxed service style.”