Trying their hardest not to go to Olivo in Ryde until it had been open a couple of weeks, Matt and Cat had to assuage their desire for Italian food by heading to Shanklin’s Pavarotti’s.
It was about time the reviewing duo went to this well-established restaurant; previous attempts had seen Matt and Cat thwarted by the venue’s popularity. However, Cat phoned ahead and was assured that a table would be available – and by arriving just after 6.30pm on a Monday they made sure they wouldn’t be gazumped by the holiday-makers in this popular tourist area.
Pavarotti’s is an established business in the Old Village and it sits well alongside the gifte shoppes. In fact, so confident have its owners been of its long-lasting appeal that the vast front window is a stained glass tribute to Luciano Pavarotti himself, instantly recognisable from his outstretched arms, one hand clutching his trademark white handkerchief and with his, er… stunted little legs (the window artisan must have run out of leg room). Certainly this shop could never be mistaken for any other with that prominent and iconic branding. Matt and Cat pondered the permanence of the window. Cat eventually decided that, in the year 2020 the restaurant could be turned into a poundsaver-type shop, when it would be called Tenner (tenor) World!! But enough of the dismal puns, what was the food like?
A very friendly waitress greeted Matt and Cat at the door, instantly enquiring if Cat was the lady that she’d spoken with earlier on the phone. Allowed to choose their own table, M and C soon settled in and prepared to glance over the menu. The waitress kindly described the two specials, one of which turned out to be unavailable. This halving of the specials did not really limit Matt and Cat’s choice; the regular menu was very comprehensive. There was a whole page each of starters, pizzas, pasta dishes – just as you would expect. In addition, there were some excellent meat and fish dishes and even some veggie options. It was really difficult to choose.
After much deliberation, Matt chose agnello rosmarino, lamb rump slices glazed with butter, rosemary, red wine and garlic. Cat as usual vacillated between fillet steak and chicken, finally settling on pollo agli asparagi, chicken breast with asparagus, white wine and cream. To start, your reviewers agreed to share a portion of the stuffed mushroom special.
Throughout their visit Matt and Cat were serenaded by opera-lite versions of popular songs, possibly rendered by Luciano himself – or if not, certainly a soundalike. The only recognisable warble was that of perennial classic My Way. This was entirely on-topic and not as pervasive as the ubiquitous Phil Collins, for example. The venue itself was decorated in a naïve Italian style – stone walls and plastic vines – yet it didn’t seem as dingy or as dated as La Scala. And the food itself was pure Italian in style.
Ground floor diners get a great view of the busy kitchen which, at the time of Matt and Cat’s visit was already a hive of activity. It wasn’t long before the starter was delivered to the table – a single large flat mushroom stuffed with mozzarella and wrapped in Parma ham. It was absolutely delicious. Really garlicky, with freshly chopped tomatoes in a kind of benign salsa all atop a tiny nest of salad leaves. There was just about enough for sharing and M and C gobbled it up. If that was anything like the rest of the meal, they were in for a treat.
Mushroom starter: £5.75
Pollo asparagi: £11.95
Agnello rosmarino: £12.95
Italian salad: £3.50
1 bottle Peroni: £3.10
Many years ago Cat used to frequent Pavarotti’s and back then it was a really lively family-run restaurant. It had lost none of its charm in the intervening decade and, if anything was slightly slicker; the menu was certainly more comprehensive but the Pavarotti knick-knackery was pretty much the same. One thing that had changed was the crockery. When Matt and Cat’s meals arrived they were on branded plates – generally a swanky touch. However, these Pavarotti’s plates were a kind of 1970s avocado bathroom suite green and, frankly, were not the best backdrop for the otherwise well-presented food.
Cat was very keen to try her chicken and asparagus, anticipating a garlic blast through the white wine and cream sauce. It may have been because she was experiencing the beginnings of a cold but the sauce was so subtle as to be almost bland. The little sticks of asparagus livened the meal up visually and there was certainly plenty of tender meat laying in the plentiful sauce. Matt’s lamb was more of a taste sensation; a nice meaty bit of lamb cooked medium rare as requested. Delightfully moist, the meat had obviously been prepared separately from the rich, dark sauce, and the two united at the last moment. Matt enjoyed it very much.
To accompany their meals, Matt and Cat had a bowl of piping hot chips the temperature of which contrasted with the slightly cool lamb. Because the choice was chips, vegetables or salad, they also paid a supplemental charge to have both chips and an extra Italian salad – a very pleasant mix of queen olives, avocado, mozzarella and cherry tomatoes dressed with oil and balsamic vinegar. The meals certainly needed some greens and it took a moment for the waitress to explain to M and C that the choice wasn’t the more common chips plus salad or chips plus vegetables. Sometimes nerdy Matt is moved to wonder whether menus need to develop a mathematical symbolism to clearly express these things. For example to say You can choose (chips OR veg OR salad) but not ((chips AND veg) OR (chips AND salad)) is a much easier way of explaining the whole thing. But maybe that’s going to be a bit of a niche market. Anyway. As regular readers of this website will know, Matt and Cat are mystified as to why a few places do not include carbohydrates and vegetables with the dish and were delighted when historic Yelf’s decided to change its policy on charging extra for veg. Perhaps Paverotti’s might do the same?
With mixed opinions on their main meals (although in full agreement about the yummiosity of the starter) Matt and Cat decided to forego a pudding or coffee. The waitress offered them the illustrated dessert menu, which was politely declined – in fact, waved aside unstudied. Matt has an irrational prejudice against menus with photographs of food on them, and was instantly turned off. He most often has this reaction when offered sweets in Indian restaurants, but sometimes the dreaded photo-dessert menu makes an unexpected appearance, as it did here. He explained this to Cat; apparently his theory is that the puddings come from from some external supplier which also supplies the illustrated menu – and, worse, it might involve a frozen punky penguin. Cat was not particularly satisfied with this explanation but it was the only one Matt had.
Having paid the bill, Matt and Cat strolled out of the restaurant and into the evening light. With tummies full of Italian food and their ears ringing with operatic warblings, they tried to imagine that they were in Tuscany. But however touristy Tuscany may have become it couldn’t beat the gift shop’s metal wine bottle Elvis; and a grimy fur-fabric googly-eyed sugar cube hanging forlornly in the window of the Rock Shop. Don’t you just love the Isle of Wight?