The American Vongole
Tower Bridge, 31 Shad Thames, London SE1 2YR
f this were New York, the story of Valentina would be The American Dream. In 1958, a young Italian couple immigrated to London in search of a better life. After years of working in restaurants, they opened a small deli of their own. Now, the third generation of the Zoccola/Arcari family run 8 shops throughout London. There’s no question it’s still a family business. You can taste the pride. Valentina is an Italian deli, a grocer and a restaurant. Their brand is fine foods, and fine it is. First rate charcuterie, cheese, antipasti, pasta, canned goods and an amazing selection of Italian wines are available for purchase or, with the exception of the canned goods, in the restaurant. I wasn’t expecting much from the restaurant. It is somewhat unassuming and at a glance, the menu seems simple and without innovation. What I hadn’t anticipated, was the quality. It is buonissimo! Giant green Puglia olives (£3.25) were a great start, followed by anti-
pasto della casa (£9.95). Quality prosciutto, salami and mortadella, provolone dolce and an excellent primavera salad of perfectly pickled artichokes, mushrooms, olives and sundried tomatoes. More than enough for two, and accompanied by a glass of La Fortezza Aglianico Campania (£5.95). Full and spicy, with hints of prune, dark berry and a dry finish. For our ‘primo’ course we shared the pasta of the day (£12.95). This was hands down the highlight of the meal and should be upgraded to one of the piatti permanenti! Egg fettucine, al dente and perfect in texture; noodles you can sink your teeth into. Served with porcini mushrooms, cream and great shavings of parmesan. Pasta that can stop your heart! Sharing is so trendy at the mo, so we kept on with our secondo, also a special of the day. Pesce spada (£15.95): swordfish and king prawns with cherry tomatoes, roasted potatoes and grilled veg. Another winner, notable for its quality, simplicity
Reviewed by Michael M Sandwick
and execution. By now we were most grateful that we were keeping up with the times and doing halvsies. So, since IT’S MY JOB, we loosened our belts and ordered dessert. Panettone (£5.75) warm bread and butter pudding glazed with orange marmalade and vanilla ice cream put us over the edge. Panettone, Italian Christmas bread, is so light, I had imagined the dessert would be the same. Instead, it was a very heavy pudding, dense with egg. I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but I imagine that had I grown up in Puglia, it would have sent me straight back to my childhood and granny’s kitchen. Yankee that I am, it only made me loosen my belt one more notch and pray I wouldn’t find stretch marks in the morning! On the way out, we perused the shelves of wine, pasta and goodies of all sorts. Such bounty. I thought again of the American dream. It doesn’t exist outside the U.S. Luckily, Italians have dreams too.
September - October 2015 31
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