It does appear as if the new trend is for restaurants to remove themselves from the traditional confines of hotels and locations in the city and relocate to more residential areas in Bukit Timah and Holland Road. One of the latest offerings is Valentino's, a neighbourhood Italian eatery very much in the vein of Cantina and La Braceria, located off Rifle Range Road.
Valentino's facade is modest, almost humble, and only the maroon awning gives it away as a restaurant. That, and the fact that had I not made a reservation, we almost certainly would not have got a table.
The interior of the restaurant is very homely, all earth hues and pictures of Maseratis, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Also, a significant proportion of the staff is Italian, leading me to believe that Valentino must have imported his entire family over from Italy to help him run the place.
Michele had the penne in spicy tomato sauce, whose pretentious Italian name I can't remember off-hand, but I do remember thinking that it was quite good. The pasta was fresh and homemade, with just enough of the piquant sauce to give the dish sufficient body and kick.
Valentino offers a lot of pizza; nothing exceptionally jaw-droppingly original, but once the pizza is brought out on a specialised revolving circular wooden board, you know the chef really knows what he's doing with pizzas. I had the Prosciutto e Funghi ($17) - the default option - and it is quite possibly the thinnest pizza I've ever had. Truly wafer thin, it was a delight to eat; my only gripe being that the toppings the pizza was adorned with were rather skimpy (3.5/5).
I've never seen a dessert trolley in an Italian restaurant before. This novelty amused me greatly, and it helped that the Italian guy explaining the desserts to us was very humourous.
He described the chocolate salami as "I know it doesn't look very appetising, but it's very good". Personally I thought it looked like a rather phallic chocolate cookie, which it was, too, but I guess that made it all the more interesting.
I decided to have the tiramisu ($9), again, the default option. Now, if an Italian restaurant can't make a decent tiramisu, something is seriously wrong. Thankfully, Valentino can make a decent tiramisu. A bit rich on the mascarpone, but delectable nonetheless (4/5).
Valentino isn't a large establishment, and it gets full very quickly, so it's advisable to make a reservation. Cosy and comfortable, the restaurant attracts many families that come to have a nice dinner together. In terms of service, the familial Italian warmth really shines through. From what could have very well been the genial Italian father to the tongue-in-cheek Italian brother, you're never deprived of genuine service. We were even provided two sets of dessert utensils without even having to ask.
11 Jalan Bingka
Tel: 6462 0555
Overall: Italian food the whole family can enjoy. Try the pizzas.
[Edit: We celebrated Aaron's birthday at Valentino's a few weeks ago (26/01/06)]
Some of the food sampled:
I had another pizza, this time one with rocket, parma ham and porcini ($25). Unlike my first pizza, this one had a generous heap of ingredients, but I would have preferred less rocket, and more of everything else.
Zhixiong had what I think was called a Pizza Bismarck ($22), which was basically tomato, cheese and egg. It was okay, I guess, since I'm not really that fond of eggs in my pizza.
Now this was something else again. A Special of the Day, 850g of meaty Italian goodness. This is some serious meat, and I suspect it has to be shared among at least two people, if not three. Aaron, of course, was more than happy to take it on all by himself.
See how happy he looks? 850g of meat is a very tall order though, and even the mighty Aaron had trouble finishing all that steak.
Dessert took the form of panna cotta ($10) and creme caramel ($10), which were okay but not fantastic. The creme in particular seemed a bit dry and unpalatable.