It seems that the hottest dinner ticket in Shanklin is Fine Nammet. Again and again, Matt and Cat have pressed their noses optimistically at the new restaurant’s windows, only to see the place packed with diners who’d had the foresight to book a table.
They’ll have success there one day, but for the moment Fine Nammet seems to be managing perfectly well without the Island’s “notoriously hard-to-please” reviewers, as for a third time they were turned away unreserved and empty-headed. Fortunately Shanklin is a town with other eateries and, as Matt and Cat moved away from the steamy windows of Nammet and headed up the hill, they knew that they would encounter several great restaurants in the Old Village. With maybe the Black Cat, Pendletons or the Village Inn in their collective minds’ eye they moseyed up to the traffic lights.
At the top of the town, just before the descent into the Old Village, is the appropriately monickered Paramount Café. Matt and Cat casually studied the menu outside and it didn’t take years of eating out experience to see that food seemed remarkably good value. A glance inside caught locals tucking into what looked like satisfactory meals. So, it was swerve o’clock for M&C; intending to go to a restaurant, they were equally delighted at having found a café that stayed open for dinner.
Inside, the Paramount had a big counter for takeaways, and a seating area at the front. The prime position by the big window afforded views of tourists heading to the picturesque village for a bit of thatch-appreciation, last-minute purchases from the Rock Shop or perhaps a visit to the illuminated chine. Shanklin Theatre‘s evening production was just about to start, so drifts of nattily-dressed couples were seen promenading briskly along. All in all, Shanklin was creating the impression of a thriving resort; an impression assisted, no doubt, by the recent heatwave which had apparently been bringing people to the Island’s beaches in their droves.
Garlic chicken £7.25
On entering the Paramount Cafe, Matt and Cat were immediately greeted by a neatly-uniformed young waitress who invited them to order drinks whilst they looked at the menu. In fact she demonstrated considerable patience as she had to make several passes before M&C eventually ordered their food. They took an age as they wanted to peruse the entire range of burgers, salads, jacket potatoes and fried fish that was on offer – and, although it was evening, there was even a breakfast menu on the back. Matt was licking his lips with anticipation, and Cat was pleased to see just how much chicken was on offer; even in the finest dining room she likes to know that she won’t miss out on chicken if it takes her fancy. The butterfly chicken with garlic and herb seasoning was the thing that rang her bell at the Paramount; it was attractively-priced at £7.25.
Supping on their coke and tea (not in the same vessel, numbnuts – one each), Matt and Cat watched as the front-of-house staff tidied tables, swept the floor and generally kept busy while the dinners were prepared by the chef. There was a telly to entertain them but they were keeping a casual ear open to the conversation at the adjacent table, which was about mackerel fishing. Before long M&C were reminiscing about the time that they went to Rocken End. As they lowered themselves down the rope to the beach below Blackgang’s fissured cliff, they spotted some freshly-caught mackerel tied together and kept moist in a little stream. Other mackerel were being cooked on open fires. Letting go of the rope and dusting off their jeans, M&C glanced around the beach to see men swimming, men sunbathing and men using their tackle to catch the tasty sea fish. Men – who without exception – just happened to be stark naked.
Cat’s chicken dish arrived with a mound of peas, a small salad garnish and a stack of – hold on, could those be – are they – is that – yes, those were actual chip shop chips. No skinny fries, no frozen prepacked chips, Paramount Café actually had a fish bar at the back and cooked fresh chip-shop style chips. This was an unexpected bonus indeed. The butterflied chicken was perfectly tender and the sort of portion size that pleased moderate Cat – and which would probably go down well with thrifty pensioners. It was not a mean serving, just one that harked back to the days before the gut-busting ten-ounce chicken breast. This meant that Cat was able to clear her plate with a satisfying lick of her lips instead of ending up exhausted through gluttony or having to pass it to Matt to finish. With her chips anointed with ketchup and mayonnaise, she made light work of her dinner and gave it a resounding thumbs up.
Matt could hardly wait to see his 8oz butcher’s burger with cheese and chips, ‘made locally by our butcher.‘ This, on arrival, looked pretty good too. A heap of those excellent chips was alongside a big bun with two burgers nestled inside, garnished with a bit of salad and a very generous dollop of oozily melting cheddar – no synthetic cheese here. Matt ate it with enthusiasm and the satisfaction that came with knowing he’d only spent £6.75. It was a good feed, although the meat was probably the weakest element. As the burgers were made locally by their butcher, and as (the menu promised) they were ‘all made from prime cuts of meat‘, then Paramount might have been better off saving their money because these were pretty standard burgers. Not that Matt was that bothered. He washed down his dinner with a cup of tea, which was proper café tea of strong constitution and large volume; and at 85p was yet another keenly priced item. For a mere 340% of that sum you could serve yourself a cup of coffee at Well Bread, in Cowes High Street.
There’s often something to be said for good food served well at affordable prices. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant or supermarket which doesn’t claim to sell just that. How satisfying then, to discover that elusive combination actually on offer – and on offer at the height of the season in the small resort of Shanklin. The Paramount is a simple café and takeaway, which does its job exceptionally well; from the good range of food to the pretty exceptional service and excellent value. In a crowded and hard-pressed market this is unusual. For that, it gains Matt and Cat’s unreserved approval.