Come with us on a journey through time and space, to a land of long hot summers, Cinzano and pop charts where ‘Do You...

Come with us on a journey through time and space, to a land of long hot summers, Cinzano and pop charts where ‘Do You Wanna Touch’ was considered a tour de force.

Tornedos rossini

A place where, if they weren’t having the neighbours round for fondue bourguignonne – dipping their meat to the vibrato warblings of Demis Roussos – your parents were eating out at a restaurant like Valentino’s.

Although a venerable feature of the Carisbrooke landscape, Valentino’s has never really appeared on Matt and Cat’s radar. They’ve eaten at the village’s other food venues: The Waverley, the Eight Bells and Cafe Number 44 but not the Italian restaurant. However, a prompting tweet from their virtual friend Englane, proclaiming that it was her favourite restaurant, inspired M&C to see what it was all about.

Breaded whitebait

With some chums in tow, Matt and Cat rolled up on a mild Saturday night in autumn. Despite there being no sign of life in the village, Carisbrooke’s car park was mysteriously full. As the gang made their way up the quiet hill, they speculated where the cars’ occupants were. Pushing their way into the restaurant they found out; it was jammed with jolly people chatting and eating, the lights were bright and Dino was serenading the diners with ‘That’s Amore’. After the silent gloom of the street it was like wandering into a surprise party!

Taking their seats and absorbing the atmosphere, Cat was bug-eyed with delight. Where Sandown’s retro restaurant La Scala had promised the 1970s experience, with its raffia-sheathed decanters and Mateus Rosé-bottle candelabras, it had failed to deliver. However, Valentino’s stucco walls and authentic Italian waiters looked set to press all of the right buttons for Cat, who never really got over the seventies. Regularly peering through her rose-tinted specs at punk fashions and early Grange Hill she fails to see the strikes, static-cling nightwear and the pre-pubescent popstrel puppets ‘Our Kid’ – imagining nostalgically that 1970s were entirely ‘supersonic’.

Choosing from the menu the group settled in. As the restaurant was so busy there was a bit of a lag before the first course arrived. This was mitigated by the delivery of sliced bread and butter and a half carafe of house white. So far so old school. Cat, who forewent a starter, gazed about her as the others tucked into theirs. The whitebait – or bianchetti fritti – was obviously pre-crumbed and pretty generic, but it came with a plentiful fresh salad which included a slice of orange. As Cat looked at nearby tall jars containing decoratively layered pasta she was reminded of their mineral cousins, Alum Bay’s coloured sand-filled vials.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Whitebait £5.20
Fillet al porto £18.90
Tournedos Rossini £18.90
Crepes Suzette (for two) £15.20
2 x coffee @ £1.60

The main courses were delivered with the slightly theatrical flourish that good Italian waiters are obliged to affect the world over. Cat had fillet al porto: prime fillet steak served with a decadent port and Stilton sauce. Matt, too, had fillet steak – tornedos rossini – with the meat topped with pâté and generously smothered in Madeira wine sauce. Both came with vegetables which were served to them by the waiter from a compartmentalised tray. At first glance there seemed to be plenty but, as Matt and Cat forget how to say ‘when’, the veg soon became depleted and the waiter offered to bring more. On his return the party asked him to leave the tray of greens on the table so they could help themselves. There was a consensus that this could lead to additional expense but, as it turned out, there was no charge for the extra vegetables, even though the group had double their allotted amount. Neither were they charged for the bread and butter which came first. Matt and Cat were very impressed by this – not only was there no charge for these extras but the waiter, seeing a need, offered them without being asked. Other restaurants would do well to emulate this generosity.

Fillet al porto

Cat’s was pleased that she hadn’t filled herself up with a starter. The fillet al porto was delicious. The port and Stilton sauce was rich and tangy, and the meat was beautifully tender without any trace of gristly bits. For what must be the first time in history, Cat ate all of her red meat dinner; not a single bit of meat was rejected. Usually she can find a chewy bit or a random tube or vein but there were none. The selection of vegetables was excellent and included cauliflower cheese, sautéed potatoes, carrots and leeks.

Matt’s tornedos looked, on first glance, not dissimilar to Cat’s splendid fillet. A generous hunk of beef was topped with some thick, rich-looking brown sauce. The traditional foie gras and truffle sported by this classic French dish had been replaced by pâté and mushroom, but Matt’s not a one to complain about such niceties. The meat was great – tender and mild as fillet should be. The sauce was remarkably thick, almost solid in places, but tasted rich and comforting. It probably wasn’t something that Auguste Escoffier would have recognised; but was nonetheless a decent meal which, with the bottomless vegetable dish, proved highly satisfying.

It was a relaxed dinner; the replenished wine lubricated the conversation which veered from positively modern topics like Twitter to the knotty matter of ‘vegetarians’ who eat fish. Twice during the evening the conversation was interrupted by a fanfare from the speakers which crackled a presumably non-copyrighted birthday song. Each time this heralded the arrival of a cake accompanied by the majority of the staff jigging along and clanging handbells. In a spirit of community, the diners chanted “happy birthday dear Whoever” and dutifully clapped.

For dessert Matt and Cat were unable to resist the crepes Suzette flambée, pancakes flambéed at the table with an orange, lemon and Grand Marnier sauce. They filmed the whole spectacle – and what an elaborate performance it was. A handful of citrus halves were squeezed of all their juice into a pan of melting sugar. Liqueur and crèpes were added and the whole lot was ignited with a whoosh then served with gelato. It was absolutely delicious; the alcohol certainly hadn’t all burnt off, there was still plenty to give the dish a fabulous kick. And what a treat to have such a drama right there at the table. It may be corny and touristy, but Matt and Cat were enchanted by the whole business.

Finishing their meals with coffee, Matt and Cat knew they’d chosen well from the menu. The food had been just right. The waiting staff were authentic and charming, as well as knowing their jobs inside out. The venue was genuinely retro without a trace of irony. Funnily enough while it channelled Cat’s inner Margot, for young buck tweeter MattDWhittaker it conjured 1980s halcyon days.

Valentino’s is an anachronism, but that is not a bad thing. Eat there and be transported back to your parents’ era. If you want the matching cuisine, go for the flambéed options. However, there is more to Valentino’s than its steadfastly traditional delivery. The service and food are spot on too. Any place that makes Cat clap her hands with glee and lick her plate clean get the thumbs up from Matt and Cat.

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  • Northsylvania

    20th November 2013 #1 Author

    We went there once on a crowded Saturday night and had the two course special, which was excellent for a discounted meal. We went there again tonight for our anniversary and had meals from the top of the menu. One other table was seated, so it was an off night for the chefs. Nevertheless, the meal was splendid. The filets were huge, the sauces exemplary, and the vegetables perfect. We had a long chat with the gaffer, who told us the place hadn’t changed for 30 years, except for the occasional painting added by his mother, who seems to be a passing fair painter. We had a lovely evening and will probably make this place somewhere we come back to when we feel like having a special meal.

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  • suzieq

    8th August 2013 #2 Author

    went to valentinos last night, had not been there for a couple of years and certainly wont be returning. Waitresses too busy chatting to greet us properly. bread delicious but the rest of the food awful. I ordered chicken which appeared to have a had an entire tin of tomatoes poured over it, my husbands pork was so tough as to be inedible,starter of garlic mushrooms ok butcertainly no frills. Vegetables luke warm, and not very nice. Noone asked if we wanted pudding and the staff didnt even say good evening and thank you when we left. I suggest you avoid, much nicer places on the Island than this

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  • Dave

    9th September 2012 #3 Author

    Terrible service – I made the mistake of booking at this restaurant at 8pm on a Saturday night. We arrived on time and were shown to a table…hidden up the stairs and in the corner. We ordered drinks – one was correct, one fizzy drink was flat and one was wrong!45 minutes later we were still waiting to be served a simple starter of 3 bruchettas and decided to leave. On our way out we pointed out the shortcomings but the manager didnt seem to care.

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  • da yw wyth

    3rd December 2011 #4 Author

    Exceptional vegetables – the acid test when it comes to eateries! The first time I ever had decent sprouts when eating out. And even the broccoli and cauliflower were crisp and carefully prepared!

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  • rambler

    1st November 2011 #5 Author

    Went to Valentinos for an office ‘do’. Had the place to ourselves. Nearly 60 people were served efficiently by a friendly, helpful staff ( no last table being served half an hour after the first) ; atmosphere great, food ‘nice’ rather than spectacular (apart from the pudding which was superb). Enjoyable evening – well done !

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  • blythe

    27th October 2011 #6 Author

    never had a bad meal there. food is fantastic. and service is excelent very friendly place for all the family.

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  • Wildlife Gardener

    24th October 2011 #7 Author

    Lucky Cat! All I remember of the 1970s was they were very, very Acrylic, and very, very brown.

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  • Helen Vrba

    22nd October 2011 #8 Author

    Haven’t been there for years and years. Used to go when my son was much much younger and he really enjoyed the frogs legs!! Glad to hear it’s as good as ever and will be revisiting shortly. Another fab review

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