Our last pre-lockdown meal in a restaurant was an impromptu dinner at Call It What You Want, in Cowes, way back in March. A quick lunchtime drink at Comicoffee, Newport the next day, and after that, it’s been home dining all the way. We have enjoyed some great takeaways from some of our favourite restaurants, and even a few new experiences. We’ve learned that eating in is fun, and the Isle of Wight’s food industry is still capable of creating outstanding meals if you don’t want to cook your own.
Whilst we hardly live in squalor, we’ve come to realise the value that a good restaurant can add to the whole dining out experience – beyond simply serving food. The actual dining environment means more than you’d think. It’s only when you do without that you realise just how much a stylish, interesting, comfortable venue can add. And service, more than anything. How much we love it when we meet someone who really knows how to make their guests feel happy and welcomed. And how much we grouse and moan when we get the classic indifferent seaside café welcome from some miserable gubber.
Our latest takeaway adventure took us further than we usually roam, all the way to sunny East Cowes. We are fans of the town’s little Italian, Prego, that certainly does exemplify both good service and an enjoyable venue as well as pasta and pizza delights we both appreciate. So, when it’s just the food to consider, how did it fare?
A treat that Prego does particularly well is dough balls. Frankly, we’re embarrassed for Pizza Express having tried the big, warm, doughy blobs that Prego offers as a palline starter – filled, in this case, with a rich and memorable mix of blue cheese, bacon and red onion. Biting into these is a pleasure that was not dimmed by the takeaway experience. If anything the chance to cool down made them easier to consume.
Polpette was an unexpected starter option. These traditional pork and beef meatballs came in a light tomato and mascarpone sauce which was delightfully garlicky. Strings of mozzarella coiled on the warm sauce and the balls were pleasingly succulent.
Cat took advantage of the stunningly good value £9.99 for three courses offer. This had limited options, but still plenty that she was happy to accept. Her main course was penne in a creamy sauce with chicken, blue cheese and broccoli – or rather, that’s what she’d ordered. By the time we got it home it was too late to do anything about the fact that this chicken penne came with blue cheese and bacon, but no broccoli. An unexpected substitution that made Matt’s eyes boggle – meat instead of veg? Colour him jealous. Cat, on the other hand, doesn’t really care for bacon, so her two-meat-and-cheese pasta with no veg, was a bit protein-heavy. The sauce was creamy, with that blue cheese tang which caressed the chicken. The bacon infused the dish with its smoky kisses. A hearty main.
Meatballs, Chicken and blue cheese penne, New York Cheesecake: £9.99 (offer)
Palline doughballs filled with bacon, blue cheese & sticky onion: £5.50
Calzone piccante: £12.50
Chocolate fudgecake: £4.00
Matt chose his all-time favourite from the Prego menu, calzone piccante. He predicted, rightly, that the sealed-up pizza would travel well; retaining heat and moisture without spilling sauce everywhere. The calzone, like a giant pasty, gave up its delicious contents in a burst of steam and spicy fragrances. Hot pepperoni, chunky bacon, chicken and chilli were all smothered in a generous slathering of mozzarella and tomato; all laced, unusually, with a sweet BBQ sauce that actually worked well to bring this rowdy menagerie of forthright tastes together.
Dessert options were either chocolate fudge cake or New York cheesecake, so we had one of each – although two slim slices of fudgecake turned up in the bag, perhaps as a consolation for the penne. Why fudgecake is so-called is a mystery. Fudge is not involved. In times past this might have just been called chocolate sponge, and we’d have enjoyed its simple and unchallenging taste then, as we did this time. The cheesecake was more inspiring – a big chunk of proper cheesecake, displaying notes of sour cream. We pimped our puddings with Häagen-Dazs salted caramel ice cream – a great finish to this good meal.
Our Prego dinner was a good one, and it was great to recreate a few glimpses of the Prego ambience that we usually enjoy so much in East Cowes. The doughballs and the calzone particularly stood out as well worth recommending. The service at our own table is down to us alone, and it wasn’t a patch on Prego. We look forward to the day when we can return to East Cowes for the full experience.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.