GAVIN AITCHISON reports on a new Italian restaurant in York

UNDERSTATED, this certainly is not.

The restaurant is bright, the chairs and faux marble tables are loud, and the confidence is abundant.

“Valentinos - The regions finest Italian food,” declares the menu immodestly.

What this place lacks in subtlety (and apostrophes), however, it makes up for in hospitality and in authentic, enjoyable, uplifting food.

If you travel along The Mount regularly, you’ll probably have seen work progressing here over the past year. The building refit seemed to take an age but Valentinos opened its doors at the end of May and is now steadily building up a following.

The story goes back far further, however. Owner Alberto Abid had studied in York many years ago, then worked in a couple of Italian restaurants in the city. He wanted to go it alone here in the 1990s but high costs meant he could not initially afford to. Instead, he opened in Bingley and this new addition of a sister restaurant is the culmination of that long-held dream to open in York.

So, with babysitters standing in back home, my wife and I went to check it out. If you’re looking for a cosy, quiet trattoria, you may be disappointed. If you want somewhere fun and friendly, with big portions, then you’re in luck. I could well imagine young families, birthday groups, or work parties finding Valentinos fantastic.

We each had three courses, and five of the six dishes were excellent. The only slight blemish was my wife’s tagliatelle arrabiata, which lacked the all-important kick. Arrabiata translates as angry; the sauce is meant to pack a punch. This one had pleasant flavours but they were delicate rather than defiant. If one were being generous, we could speculate that they couldn’t find cause here to be angry, such was the general conviviality and quality. But no; it should have been feistier.

Things had got off to a positive start. My wife began with the mozzarella in carrozza (mozzarella coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried), and received two triangular slabs rising from a sea of Napoletana tomato sauce – a towering, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth Italian stereotype.

I’d wanted that too but the editor wouldn’t thank me for reviewing one starter twice. Instead, I ordered the lamb meatballs in spicy sauce. There were three pieces of meat, each a little larger than a golf ball. The meat was tender and rich; it was a simple dish executed well, with slices of toasted ciabatta helping to mop up the sauce.

I followed that with cod in a white wine, cream and prawn sauce, which came with a radicchio leaf and half a purple carrot splayed across the top like fallen arrows – and a mussel just for good measure. The fish was wonderful, falling apart with ease, enlivened and enhanced by the sauce. A ramekin on the side was overflowing with bright, al dente vegetables. My wife’s side salad, meanwhile, contained every colour of vegetable you could ask for, from yellow beetroot to scarlet tomatoes to purple radicchio to the ubiquitous greens.

With the starters and mains, the kitchen staff had emblazoned the white plates with thin green and red streaks (pesto and tomato puree, I think), presumably just in case you’d briefly forgotten that it’s an Italian restaurant. It added to the ever-present gregariousness of the place, evident also in the friendly and attentive staff, and the free liqueurs handed out to the family at the next table.

No such perks for us, alas, but we did enjoy two excellent desserts: tiramisu for my wife and Sicilian torta volcano for me. The former was flawless – light in form, rich in flavour. My tart contained biscuit, nut, chocolate and chewy praline flavours, and was overlaid with a chocolate sauce. Both desserts were accompanied, rather oddly, by fresh fruit – sliced plum and nectarine in my case, and sliced plum and diced watermelon in my wife’s. That wasn’t unpleasant, but if the chefs could bring themselves to briefly ease off on the colour drive then a simple scoop of Italian ice-cream would have been a better addition to my plate, at least.

Our total bill came to £44.75. My wife’s starter, main, salad and dessert were £6.95, £9.95, £2.95 and £4.95 respectively. I took up the special offer of three courses for £19.95 (available all day on Sunday to Thursday, or noon to 2.15pm and 5pm to 6.30pm on Friday and Saturday).

Fact file

Valentinos, 80 The Mount, York, YO24 1AR

T: 01904 733722

Food: Enjoyable 4/5

Service: Friendly 4/5

Ambience: Unrestrained 3/5

Value: Fair 3/5