There was a time, back in the early nineties, when Pavarotti’s was the go-to restaurant in Shanklin. Cat enjoyed many a work do or birthday party in this trattoria; with its lively atmosphere and traditional Italian menu, it was the place of many happy memories.
Fast forward thirty years or so (is it really that long?!), and Pavarotti’s is still there, as immovable as its hefty namesake. One obvious reason for the venue’s longevity is the vast stained-glass rendition of operatic tenor Luciano, wafting his handkerchief enticingly at passers-by. So anyone who has aspirations to rebrand the site would have to invest in a whole new shop window.
Anyway, as it was a Tuesday night on the last day of winter and during the throes of a cost of living crisis, every other restaurant in Shanklin (apart from the indefatigable Thai Mukda) was closed, presumably saving rising energy and staff costs for the high season. So, for the second time in a week, we went to Pavarotti’s. The fact that it was the second time does not only indicate its abiding availability, but also the fact that it is rather good.
Although the venue has been refurbished it still has that old-school Italian vibe and, like a journey in a time machine, we were greeted and seated by the same waitress who had so charmingly served us back in the twentieth century.
Pavarotti’s menu is amazingly comprehensive, with pages of pizza, meat and seafood options. We chose (again) from the ‘il pesce’ section; a lot of the fish dishes are pimped with prawns, and there is also no scrimping on the creamy sauces.
We had starters of garlic bread and whitebait, having been seduced by the garlicky aroma from a nearby table. It did not disappoint; a big disc of stone-baked pizza dough, bubbled and juicy with garlic butter, arrived alongside a plate of breaded whitebait. This was garnished with a decent fresh mixed salad, plus plenty of acidic tartare dip with which to baptise the tasty hot fish.
We continued our swim through the seafood menu, choosing seabass crema e gamberi. Like the other mains, it came with options of salad and chips, or potatoes and vegetables – and these accompaniments are pleasingly included in the price. As it was unseasonably cold, we had warming sauteed potatoes and a plethora of veggies. The spuds were sweet and tasty, and the vegetables were particularly note-worthy; greens represented by tight florets of broccoli, green beans and peas. The carrots were exceptionally nicely-cooked; al dente and scrubbed, not scraped to uniformity. The mild skin-on seabass fillets languished in a cream and wine sauce; there was enough of which to also anoint the potatoes and vegetables. A really filling and delicious platterful.
Garlic bread £6.50
Lobster risotto £21
Dessert 2 @ £5.35 £10.50
Cat’s lobster risotto was another hearty dish and arrived as quite a spectacle, with the crustacean’s half-shell jauntily roosting on top of the rice. Cat had the sense to ask for hers without its usual jalapenos but if you are not chilli-shy, then that is how it comes as standard. The carapace had been scooped out and its chunky flesh interspersed with the other ingredients, along with the characteristically-shaped meat from inside a pair of claws. Several dollops of caviar punctuated the dish and Cat’s fork spangled the black beads of roe throughout the rice. The risotto had a pleasing tomatoey taste and, naturally, the lobster brought its own distinctive sweet and tender contribution to the party.
Although almost at capacity, we still had room in our pudding stomachs. Pavarotti’s had an awesome range of our favourite ice cream flavours, and we shared a bowl of intensely-rich and nutty pistachio, smooth and creamy salted caramel, and outrageously almondy amaretto. This we ate alongside a gurt slice of tiramisu. None of that dry, over-powdery stuff here; this Italian trifle was wet with delightful masala wine and succulent fluffy cream. A perfect example of the genre.
By the time we had finished savouring our three courses, the restaurant was empty. We settled up and, wending our way past several effigies of Pavarotti, ended up in the chill air of Shanklin’s unchanging Old Village.
As it has done for decades, Pavarotti’s served us top-notch dinners in a relaxed and friendly environment. The veg and salad were really good, and likewise the freshly-made garlic bread. But what we enjoyed the most was our unapologetically rich and creamy dishes. Sometimes it’s good to revisit those gustatory experiences, evoking happy days of unrepentantly joyful Italian food.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.