This is an archive review. La Scala has now closed.
Matt spent his formative years in Sandown, pottering on the beach, playing on the railway and trotting up and down the High Street. Much has changed in Sandown since those days… but much has not. Matt can’t quite remember if it had the same name, but certainly La Scala was one of the very few up-market eating-places in Sandown all those years ago: as it remains now.
Intriguingly, all that can be seen of La Scala from the High Street is the eponymous staircase leading down to the cellar in which the restaurant is located. Matt and Cat made the journey down those stairs, wondering what they’d find below.
In the cellar is a chaotic but highly characterful little establishment. It bears the marks of many years of extensions, alterations and partial refurbishments. Indeed a prominent sign touts the benefits of the latest improvements: air conditioning, new carpets et al. – the effect rather spoilt by the date on the bottom of the sign: 2002. Undeterred, Matt and Cat pushed open the heavy wooden door and wandered into the labyrinthine interior. No human life could be seen, although flickering tea-lights lit all the tables, and a big fish-tank set into the wall bubbled merrily. Your reviewers wandered around, moving from one little room to another until eventually, in an inner sanctum they discovered a young lady sheltering behind a tiny bar. Even then, she seemed reluctant to speak or emerge from her shelter until Matt and Cat were obliged to actually ask for a table – at which point she gave in to the inevitable and started acting like a courteous, if timid, host. Perhaps some unknown protocol had been breached, because M&C were politely but firmly escorted through the empty restaurant to a minuscule table right next to the toilets.
However, what a restaurant. In one antechamber an indoor waterfall was on show – with an underfloor pond. In another room there was a further fish tank, and in a third chamber a wall of raffia-clad bottles demonstrated the real retro nostalgic Italian restaurant chic which La Scala seems to exhibit unashamedly. Every available niche was filled with a melange of interesting pictures, tat and souvenirs. A massive wooden pipe on the mantel opposite Matt and Cat looked like something to be smoked by a giant, whilst a curious relief work depicting Don Quixote loomed over their table. Similar odd ornaments were scattered throughout, giving a quaint and quite homely air – although definitely one with a feel of the last century.
Bistecca Alla Forestiera £16.75
Chicken Provençale £12.50
2 x veg & potatoes £5.50
Chocolate sundae £4.75
The menu proved to be substantial, and although certainly Italian at heart, it also featured English dishes such as Prawn Cocktail ‘Mary Rose’(sic), the decidedly Gallic Escargots Parisienne, and even Chicken Stir Fry. Matt chose from the La Scala Specialities, selecting Bistecca Alla ‘Forestiera’, sirloin steak with mushroom and red wine sauce. Cat was unable to resist the Breast of Chicken Provençale. The quiet waitress took the order without comment and was about to depart when Cat made a further enquiry – what did these meals come with? It transpired that they came with garnish. Was there anything else? Apparently not. A sinking feeling came across your reviewers – this was another one of those places that charge for vegetables separately. This deplorable practice, once common, is now thankfully almost extinct on the Island.
Indeed at the last place where Matt and Cat remarked on it, the excellent Yelfs of Ryde, the manager personally commented on the review and said he’d change the policy. So, taking a deep breath, M&C ordered a plate of vegetables and potatoes of the day each. It was fortunate that Cat’s timely question had revealed this shortfall in the order – perhaps some of the sting in this transaction might have been reduced had the waitress actively pointed out that they had ordered only half a meal, and made some suggestions to amend it.
Nevertheless, the meals showed up soon enough, and proved to be extremely good. Matt’s Bistecca was just about rare enough, and was a mighty slab of tasty meat. It was well-prepared; flavoursome and with no chewy edges. The dark and powerful Forestiere sauce was a good accompaniment, although the salad garnish had a few decidedly soggy leaves in it. Matt was very glad he’d ordered the veg though, as without this the dish would have been little but a hunk of meat – delicious, but hardly a meal by itself.
Cat’s enjoyably light chicken Provençale was a sizeable double-breast (with no bones) moistened by a delightful sauce with whole cherry tomatoes. The tender meat was dressed with shavings of tangy Parmesan. And, in true Italian restaurant style, a giant pepper mill was wielded above Matt and Cat’s plates by the mousy waitress, who may have wobbled as she tried to manipulate the colossal condiment container.
Feeling heartened by the excellent main course, Matt and Cat decided to stretch to a dessert. However, they should have known what to expect immediately the menu arrived. Here’s a rule of thumb: never trust a dessert menu that is illustrated with photographs. But, lulled by the quality of the previous dishes, M & C decided on what appeared to be a chocolate sundae: described as ice cream with ‘liquid chocolate’. This proved to be something that any beach café could have done for half the price, and in many cases bettered: it was nothing more than vanilla ice-cream, squirty cream and standard chocolate sauce. Admittedly there was plenty of it, and even with two spoons it was more than the two diners could manage between them. But classy? No.
So, La Scala proved to be an interesting evening. Worth the visit for the splendid and intriguing venue alone, but cheap it was not, and with the surprise of the separate vegetable charge this put it up into the top priced meals on the Island. For this outlay, Matt and Cat would have expected some pretty good service – and whilst it was efficient and courteous, La Scala didn’t fully deliver on that front. The food was great in parts, but couldn’t keep up a consistent quality. Nevertheless, given the lack of much competition in Sandown, La Scala certainly keeps its crown as one of the few better-class establishments in the town.
This is an archive review. La Scala has now closed.