We’ve won the Beef and Lamb Gold Plate Award of Excellence every year for the past 17 years (with the exception of the year the earthquake claimed our original restaurant) and took out a coveted TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2014.
If awards don’t cut it, here’s some of the nice things nice people have said about us…
“Café Valentino – love your fresh pasta”
Eartha Kitt, singer and entertainer
Cuisine rating: Eat: 6 Drink: 6 Look: 6 Care: 6
813 Colombo Street has made a colourful contribution to Christchurch’s dining history. Remember the Mandalo, where the city sophisticates congregated in the ‘60s and ‘70s? And the Paul Revere, known for its steaks and singles in the ‘80s? For the last decade it has been Café Valentino, known for its home-made pasta – featuring in up to 18 different dishes a day.
It has become a popular spot, not the least with the casts of shows performing at the Town Hall, just around the corner, and other nearby theatres. They have been encouraged to sign posters, which now cover several of the café’s walls. So you get the reflected glory of twirling your linguine alongside (as it were) the likes of Don McLean, Tina Turner, UB40, and the cast of Chess.
The pasta dishes are often quite innovative – ravioli filled with venison and porcini in a cream, mustard seed and leek sauce, for example – and several offer a diet-conscious choice between a cream and Neapolitan sauce. Purists may find classics such as lasagne overly generous with the meat.
Pasta is by no means all that is offered. The menu ranges wide, from house-baked breads with four pestos, through seafood starters and salads, such as chicken liver and blueberry, to beef and lamb mains.
There is quite an extensive, eclectic wine list, peppered with descriptions like ‘tough to pronounce – easy to drink!’. Most of these wines are available by the glass, and there’s also a special cellar list.
The service tends to be of the ‘Sorry to interrupt, but is everything ok?’ variety, but obliging and efficient. Say you want to be out quickly to get to a show, and they’ll whisk you through in an hour.
- Mavis Airey
THE CHRISTCHURCH PRESS
Upside: great range of dishes in warm, bustling, colourful surroundings.
Downside: there isn’t one.
You don’t have to squint much to conjure up the scene of an indoor-outdoor restaurant along Melbourne’s Italian flavoured Lydon Street. But this bright-coloured façade is one of the charming frontages along a block of Colombo Street.
On a Saturday evening, the place is jumping in a friendly, family way. The separate bar, through a doorway on the inside, is wide open to the footpath, which has tables on the streetside.
In the restaurant, you’re surrounded by interesting spaces of dark wood and brick. All around the walls are splashes of colour – paintings of jesters, posters from shows at the nearby Town Hall, signed and framed T-shirts, photos of personalities. I’m sitting in the crossfire of Clive James and Harry Secombe, who give me such a look. The hubbub isn’t raucous, it’s just warm. Music like Doris Day’s Move Over Darling and Louis Armstrong’s Mack the Knife is in the background. You can look around and enjoy even if the first course doesn’t arrive for 45 minutes.
The boss, who’s keeping an eye on everything, comes over and opens a door behind us, whipping out a near-silent vacuum cleaner to clear away anything left by a high-chair customer who’s just left. No fuss, and done quickly. Later, a worker delves into the same place and leaves the door ajar when he’s done. What the heck, he’s a teenager.
I had the seafood chowder first – creamy, hot, with an opened mussel and a buried lemon slice, in a wide bowl, full of chunks. They didn’t make chowder like this back home. They should have. We shared an antipasto, again delicious. All the usual, I suppose, but with unusual combinations and tastes. Sugared pecans were a first. Artichoke hearts, olives, pickled vegetables, sundried tomatoes, the works. Some people were coming in and having one course on their way to other places. We were in for the long haul. We had a Shingle Peak sauvignon blanc with the main courses.
Jocy had the fish of the day, which was seared blue warehou on a corn fritter and crunchy ribbons of courgette and carrot. It had a fresh, tangy mango and lime and red pepper salsa. She praised the meal as generous and bountiful, and when her resolve flagged, she was presented with a lovely foil package with a handle to take it home.
I had Penne Bassilicata – fresh penne pasta with Canterbury lamb fillet pieces, pan-seared with manuka-smoked tomatoes, feta, and spinach. All tossed with sweet chilli and sundried tomato-infused olive oil. It was superb. The main problem with Café Valentino, if it can be called a problem, is the range of dishes you can order. They may specialise in pasta, but they take on everything else, too.
Dessert was probably beyond us, but we took deep breaths and went ahead. Jocy noticed there was no choice of a fresh fruit platter, something you might expect in summer, but she had gelati, chocolate chip and strawberry liqueur, and a raspberry coulis with a pistachio wafer and chocolate fudge sauce. I had rhubarb, raspberry, and apple crumble, hot in a bowl (gooey and crunchy, the perfect combination), with a separate little dish of ice cream.
It all came to $116. We’ll be back.
- Stan Darling