Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
This is an archive review. Mamma Mia has now closed this restaurant and opened another. This review and the comments on it refer to...

This is an archive review. Mamma Mia has now closed this restaurant and opened another. This review and the comments on it refer to the former venue.

Some considerable time ago, Cat was a regular patron of Pavarotti’s Restaurant in Shanklin. Its Italian staff were very welcoming, the authentic Mediterranean food was excellent and flavoursome and the venue was in the style of La Scala – raffia-wrapped wine bottles and piped opera.

Mamma Mia

The proprietor of Pavarotti’s opened a second eatery in Shanklin, the disappointingly short-lived Carrera’s (now Chubby’s Chunky Chip Shop) on Regent Street; a good spot for a lunchtime gossip over a thin pizza.

Ever-watchful of the goings-on in the Isle of Wight’s restaurant world, Matt and Cat noticed the arrival of a new Italian restaurant in Shanklin and, as they had cause to be in that seaside town one night, decided to pay it a visit.

Ravioli mari and monte

Mamma Mia occupies a prominent position on the corner of Orchardleigh Road and the High Street, perfect for reeling in passing holiday trade. Cryptically, they have been for some time advertising themselves with a rather feeble tangled banner (see picture) which makes identifying the place a little tricky. Undeterred, Matt and Cat were able to take a chance on a coveted window seat and took their places eagerly to the strains of Winner Takes It All – not a reference to Jimmy Tarbuck, but the hit song by Abba. The Swedish Pop Gods were an unexpected musical accompaniment to the whole Mamma Mia experience and, although Matt and Cat are not avid Abba aficionados (or ABBAholics, as fanatics are known), they certainly prefer to tap their toes along to the multitudinous hits of the harmonious Euro-superstars than opera.

The menu had a good, if typical, range of Italian food; pasta, pizzas and salads. There was also a vast fish selection including stuffed trout, red snapper and ‘ocean surprise’ which was mostly various crustaceans with salad (£41). Cat was feeling hungry and chose ravioli sugo antico – Italian sausage with a garlic and tomato sauce. Matthew also plumped for ravioli, ravioli mari and monte – described as prawns, peppers, olives, mushrooms in garlic olive oil. Cat ordered a glass of red wine to wash down her sausage and was taken aback at the vast (250ml) glass. Perhaps she should have specified a small (125ml) drink. The habit of bars super-sizing drinks is a new and worrying phenomenon according to the government and, when checking this one drink on the NHS alcohol units calculator Cat was shocked to see that it potentially contained over three units of alcohol. Didn’t stop her glugging it down though.

Ravioli sugo antico

The melodious sounds of Abba continued to warble through the speakers, competing with the yelling of one of the many children in the restaurant. Did her mother know? Probably, as Mamma Mia is well-patronised by families and in the commendable Italian tradition they were all given a hearty welcome by the staff. This venue definitely gets a child-friendly tick, although the menu does not seem to explicitly make any concessions to younger visitors, e.g. smaller portions.

The main courses were served very promptly. Cat’s bowl was filled with a good pile of ravioli with a concentrated tomato sauce and chunks of spicy sausage. A generous spoonful of Parmesan cheese was proffered by the waiter, topping the dish off nicely. It was all very tasty but the ravioli had a certain familiarity about it. Was it freshly made pasta created in the restaurant’s kitchen or – as Matt suspected – something more generic?

Although Cat was pretty pleased with her choice of dish, Matt was more scathing. He didn’t like the pasta because of its decidedly un-homemade nature. It was exactly the same pasta and filling that Cat had in her dish. Frankly, it tasted and looked just like the ‘fresh pasta’ that one can buy half-dried in supermarkets, even down to the tasteless paste of the filling. What’s more, ravioli is normally square, or at least flat. These were neither. He was also underwhelmed with his dish’s pretty bland mari and monte sauce, counting a mere three prawns. There were some unannounced mussels and some curious rubbery things which tasted decidedly fishy (squid?) but the dish was not as anticipated, or advertised. He mumbled as he mopped up the fishy liquid with some very nice cheesy garlic bread.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Ravioli sugo antico £8.50
Ravioli mari and monte £8.50
Garlic bread £3.90
White wine (glass) £2.50

More Abba tunes drifted through the air; Matt and Cat felt thankful for the music and did some synchronised nodding to ‘Voulez-vous’. Cat finished off the glass of wine, Matt downed the rest of his Peroni beer and they looked out of the windows at the meandering pedestrians. M & C discussed what to have for pudding and decided that tiramisu was the only possible choice. Yet more Swedish songs yodelled their way through the ether – but no waiting staff were to be seen. ‘I have a dream’, said Cat, after some considerable time, ‘…it’s of a marscapone and brandy dessert’. Finally catching the waiter’s eye with an S.O.S. of her own, she asked for the tiramisu. Alas, there was none. Matt and Cat decided to leave but, by then, the waiter had cleared off before they could ask for the bill.

Yet more Abba – no waiter. You get the idea. Cat decided to take action and, making her way to the counter was tempted to shout “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme the bill”. Money, money, money changed hands and Matt and Cat left to find coffee and pudding at Vernon Cottage, before finally taking their seats at Shanklin Theatre for ‘two hours of chuckle therapy’ with the legend that is Barry Cryer.

Matt and Cat were underwhelmed by Mamma Mia. The service was erratic, if amiable, and the food, whilst adequate, was neither particularly good nor especially cheap. There are several places across the Island where better Italian food can be had for as much or less – Olivo in Newport is perhaps the most obvious. Actually, it probably doesn’t matter what Matt and Cat think – location is the name of the game and its extensive menu and friendly (if distracted) staff will probably be enough for Mamma Mia to succeed in this Summer Night City.

This is an archive review. Mamma Mia has now closed this restaurant and opened another. This review and the comments on it refer to the former venue.
Archive review: Mamma Mia, Shanklin