People are surprised, indeed even shocked, when I tell them that my book group meet once a week. Most book groups meet once a month to discuss a novel, so for most people the idea of having to read a book a week is a bit much. But then I explain it’s not quite like that: we read one novel a month to discuss on the 1st Tuesday of the month; on the 2nd we discuss books based on a theme (the last was Writers from Hull to celebrate that city being this year’s City of Culture); the 3rd Tuesday is poetry night when we might discuss a particular collection of poetry or maybe just more generally the poetry of a chosen poet, and we always read the poetry aloud, which I really love; the 4th Tuesday is our short story evening. The last three choices don’t necessarily take up much time if we’re busy that week; maybe a quick search on the internet to find a poem or two; reading just a couple of the short stories. Then, of course, four times a year we find we have a 5th Tuesday to fill and in the last year or so that’s been turned into our ‘meal night’.
I’m not sure who first suggested it but now we have an occasional evening out at a local restaurant. We might talk about books, but really lots of others things too. Louise has been telling us about her new local Italian which she likes and so four of us ended up going there last night for our book group gathering.
Valentino’s Ristorante is on the main road running up from St Margarets to Isleworth. I knew the little parade of shops from when my son lived nearby but to be honest, it’s not a particularly attractive setting. Buses and other traffic hurtle by and it’s not really somewhere you’d think to go in search of a nice meal. But a nice meal can indeed be found there. So too can breakfast and lunch. Valentino’s open from 8.00am – 11.00pm Mondays to Saturdays; 8.30am – 10.00pm on Sundays. Their breakfast menu shows a range of cooked breakfasts as well as pastries and muffins to have with your coffee or tea. The lunch menu offers sandwiches, pasta and pizza. The dinner menu is more extensive.
Valentino’s is a family-run Italian restaurant. Inside its decor is an informal rustic style with bare brick walls but nice linen tablecloths and napkins. I was the first to arrive and so had plenty of time to look at the menu. There was the usual Italian choice of antipasti, but also some small plates to share; pasta or rice dishes, and then meat or fish main courses. The dishes are quite complex and had more ingredients than I expect to see on an Italian menu as Italian food tends to be very simple; there was also a touch of ‘fusion’ with ingredients like lemongrass, chimichurri sauce and miso. I also spied an offering of ‘goat ragù’. I have to confess it all made me a little nervous – would I like it? It’s so nice when friends take you to their new restaurant discoveries but it’s so embarrassing if you don’t like them too! Thankfully, my fears weren’t realised and we ended up having a delicious meal.
We divided into ‘reds’ and ‘whites’ for wine, so Tim and I shared a bottle of Primitivo, which was very good, while Louise and Margaret had a bottle of Orvieto.
We began with two ‘small plates’ of Bresaola with soft goats’ cheese, pink grapefruit and balsamic vinegar to share as our starter. The grapefruit worked surprisingly well – although Tim did say at the end he would have liked a little more of it with the beef, it was so good.
I chose a seafood risotto for my main – Gran Risotto di Vahide – made with Acquerello carnaroli rice and squid, prawns, monkfish, mussels, clams, baby spinach and Pachino cherry tomatoes.
I had felt slightly overwhelmed by the list of ingredients when I chose it, but when it turned up, as it was put before me there was a wonderful aroma. The rice was perfectly cooked (Acquerello rice is a chefs’ favourite for the wonderful way it cooks, retaining its shape and bite but cooking through, and you’ll find it offered in the best restaurants); the risotto was rich and delicious.
Margaret also chose a risotto – Risotto di Mamma Deza – with porcini mushrooms, beef fillet, rocket and parmesan shaving.
She said it was very good, though didn’t quite manage to finish it – they were large portions! Tim meanwhile was tucking into Ravioli via Condotti – homemade ravioli filled with burrata, pumpkin and pecorino, served with butter, sage and baby spinach.
It looked good and Tim said it was. Louise was the only one to choose from the ‘main’ list and had Polletto Gallery – corn-fed chicken stuffed with Tuscan fennel, salami, tarragon and fontina cheese, served with shiitake mushroom sauce.
This was good too. All the portions were quite large so none of us wanted dessert and we just asked for the bill. It came with glasses of complimentary limoncello – to help our digestion, we were told.
The bill for food and wine came to £35 each, including a tip. It had been a great evening of good food and good company in a nice informal and relaxing setting.
To find out more about Valentino’s visit their website: click here.
To find out more about the Richmond Hill Reading Group, click here.