132 Livingstone Road
Marrickville, NSW 2204
I have a deep fascination with American roadside diners. Although I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, something about the classic neon-lit greasy spoon just pushes all my buttons. And whilst there are plenty of restaurants serving American-styled food around, the classic diner experience has remained elusive, as most places are just looking to capitalise on the aesthetic.
With that said, Valentinas does look rather promising. Whilst it’s more of an Australian café take on the American diner, the menu is full of all the Southern American dishes that pop culture has taught me to love. The little nods to traditional diner decor are also rather charming, and I was especially a fan of the olive-green banquette seating and backlit mirrors. The result comes off as a classy tribute to retro Americana, rather than sycophantic mimicry.
It was a disgustingly muggy day in true Sydney style, so the Sweet Iced Tea ($8) went down a treat. Better still, the refreshing bitterness of the strong black tea was a great way to cut through the heaviness of the meal that we were about to have.
The Tina Classic ($22) was as, well, classic as it gets. With hefty portions of eggs, bacon, home fries, and a choice between a pancake, English muffin, or cathead biscuit, you’ve got all your breakfast bases covered. And pretty much everything on the plate was just right; the scramble was light and creamy, the home fries well-seasoned with a smoky spice mix, and the pancake impossibly fluffy – perfect for soaking up the maple syrup (feel free to ask for a top-up if you’re keen). The only shortfall was the bacon, which could’ve been a smidge crispier, but otherwise this this your quintessential breakfast fry-up done well.
But it was the Fried Lunch Plate ($22) that was the real show-stopper. We were advised the chicken fried steak was the way to go (the other option was fried chicken), and although I have minimal experience with the diner staple, it’s hard to imagine it getting any better than this. The beef, pounded thin, was covered with a salty, crispy batter, exactly like the kind you expect to find on southern fried chicken. And if you’re worried about it getting dry, both pieces were covered in a generous amount of white gravy – a rich, bechamel-like concoction – and served on a pile of mashed potatoes so smooth and buttery it may as well be a second sauce.
Here’s where the sweet iced tea comes in handy, because there’s no relief in the collard greens either – the braise is more ham hock than greens. And just to round everything out, a dense, crumbly cathead biscuit (so named for its size) that tastes like it was made with equal parts butter and flour. This ugly-delicious platter falls squarely under the banner of ‘so bad but so good’, and I found myself going back for ‘just one more bite’, even as I swore that I could not possibly eat another thing.
Valentinas may not be the neon-lit 24/7 diner by the highway like my imaginings, but it’s got the most important thing right – the food. Everything on the menu is shamelessly indulgent comfort food, and there is so much of it you’re guaranteed to roll out the door. My only regret is not having room left over to try their desserts – the colourful doughnuts, face-sized cookies, and home-made pies in the front cabinet were absolutely mesmerising. And so, like these things tend to go, my only recourse is to come back. What a shame, hey?
Rating: 14.5/20 – be my valentina.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.