CUSTOMERS are mourning the demise of an Italian restaurant which has been an institution in Bournemouth for decades.

Valentino has occupied its distinctive building on Exeter Road for 32 years – and has spent most of that time under the shadow of various plans to redevelop the nearby site of the town’s Winter Gardens.

Writing on Facebook, the owners said BCP Council wanted the site back to make way for redevelopment and the coronavirus crisis made it impractical to reopen in the meantime.

A message signed by Giuseppe, Christine and family said: “The council have requested the site back due to redevelopment and although we were preparing to open in July and August, we have found that due to the coronavirus it would be difficult to ensure the safety of our customers and staff due to the size and design of the restaurant.

“A very big thank you to all our customers from near and far who have supported us over 32 years. We have made many personal friends and there are so many happy memories to cherish.

“Our love and best wishes to everyone. Stay safe, we will miss you, but we are looking forward to our retirement!”

Among customers paying tribute was Allan Taylor, who said: “Bournemouth just won’t be the same without Valentino.”

Lee Alexander Woodward wrote: “Totally gutted—the high point of Bournemouth. Dining here was a joy.”

Buckinghamshire resident Korrie Ford wrote: “Unbelievably gutted! We make the trip every year to Bournemouth just for Valentino.”

The Winter Gardens concert hall, which was Valentino’s neighbour, was demolished in 2006. Last year, councillors approved a £150million plan for 350 flats, 600 parking spaces plus leisure facilities and shops, proposed by Bournemouth Development Company – the developer part-owned by the council.

Cllr Mark Howell, BCP council’s cabinet member for regeneration, said in a statement: “We’re sorry to hear of the closing of Valentino restaurant. We’ve had a very open conversation for some time about the future of this location. The family have been valued tenants, and we do wish them every happiness in their retirement.

“The Winter Gardens scheme on the site will be a landmark development for the town and conurbation, providing much-needed homes and retail, leisure and new exciting public realm space to help make Bournemouth town centre a great place to live, work and visit.”