Just how sumptuously beautiful is Italian food packaging design? Cherubs frolicking amid tropical flowers on chocolate bars, beautiful dames in retro fashions on biscuit tins, gorgeous hat-boxes filled with panettone and pandoro that wouldn’t look out of place in a princess's walk-in wardrobe. The luxe paper that feels silky to the touch; the saturated colours like something out of a technicolour movie. Even everyday confectionery, wrapped in bright tissue paper, looks like precious gifts. All these and more are found stacked on the shelves or hanging from the ceilings of the culinary art gallery that’s Valentina.
Located opposite Turnham Green, Chiswick Town Hall and the Turnham Green Church, this bright blue-fronted store is the newest branch of a popular chain of deli-restaurants. Valentina was first set up in East Sheen in 1991 by the Zoccola and Arcari families. Both these agricultural dynasties hail from Sant’Elia Fiumerapido, a small village in the Lazio region in central Italy. They harvest olives annually from their family grove for their own-label olive oil and source many of the products from the Italian countryside. The shop is named after the daughter of one of the families, and today the business is run by third generation family members. As well as the original in East Sheen, there are other branches in Putney, Sevenoaks, Weybridge and Reigate — and many of the regular customers from the Notting Hill branch, both Italian and non-Italian families, now flock to this store which opened a month ago. It’s a smart, brightly lit, well-staffed, split-level venue, with a spacious café at the back.
In the deli at the front, the own-label olive oil sits in a plump stainless steel barrel with a tap and costs £8.50/500ml or £15.50/litre. When you bring back your empty bottle to be refilled, you get £1 off. Underneath is an olive bar filled with assorted Italian olives (all £1.49/100g); and a shelf devoted to luxurious San Pietro a Pettine truffle products from Umbria, including Great Taste Award-winning oil (£5.95), paste, honey, salt and sliced truffles. Nearby, amid other acclaimed brands like Sant’elia, Rummo and De Cecco, there’s a separate wooden rack crammed with Morelli pasta in flavours like nettle, porcini, saffron, salmon and chilli.
Several popular Italian cheeses are found under a glass counter, including burrata (£4.50 small/£7.25 large), stracchino (£3.25 each), scamorza (£4.95 each) and cambozola (£2.59/100g). Next to it is a good selection of charcuterie such as finocchiona (£3.19/100g), culatello (£5.25/100g) and salame abruzzese (£12.50 each). There are prepared dishes to take away too, freshly made daily on site, like pollo milanese and pasticcio di spinaci (both £4.50 per portion). Cakes, biscuits and pastries are from Italy, and there are also fresh pastas with assorted pestos (£1.99 - £2.29/100g). On the counter top are glass trays filled with antipasti, including antipasto di mare (£2.89/100g) and acciughe marinate (£2.39/ 100g). A small selection of Italian breads is supplied by the Exeter Street Bakery every morning and there’s a freezer filled with Ariela gelato.
Neat wooden shelves and marble-topped racks are packed with assorted crostini, toasted bagel-like rings of fresella bianca, pangrattato (Italian breadcrumbs), breadsticks and crackers. There are jars of jams like the Zuegg brand (£1.50), preserved fruit, beans in brine, pasta sauces, olive spreads, preserved fish and vinegars. Also available are a variety of rice including black riso venere; dried beans and grains like farro and fagioli neri; and pre-packed soup and polenta mixes.
Italian cooking isn’t complete without top-quality tinned tomatoes, passata and tomato paste, and there’s plenty of dried porcini, saffron, oregano and diavoletti rossi (small hot red chillies) to give it oomph. To drink, there’s a great selection of coffees, herbal teas and Italian wines and prosecco at the back of the store. We’re most seduced however by the abundance of sweet stuff: lush Sorelle Nurzia chocolates and torrone, Venchi chocolate bars, assorted confectionery, amaretti, biscotti and best-selling own-label panettone as well as pandoro in assorted flavours and sizes.
In the summer, store manager Carmine Macari tells us, they’ll slide open the glass doors at the front by the al fresco seating area, and sell ice cream from the window. Meanwhile, looking at the bespoke hampers and festive treats such as baked figs in fig leaves, we’re wondering whether it’s too early to mention Christmas. As if reading our minds, Macari says: “All this — this is nothing compared to what we’re going to get for Christmas. Nothing! We’re getting lots more products in”. So prepare to treat yourself and your loved ones.
Valentina Fine Foods Chiswick, 404-406 Chiswick High Road, W4 5TF. Tel: 020 8987 9190. Images via the shop.
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Note: businesses featured in this series are chosen editorially, and not as part of a promotion.