It’s been a tough week for Matt and Cat. Having enjoyed a wonderful Valentine’s dinner at a distinctive Island B and B, they stuffed themselves with breakfast the next morning and legged it to the ferry. A mainland carvery completed the weekend’s eating out but that wasn’t the end of it: a trip to the Hong Kong Express, one lunch on the firm and three days of Boots meal deals plus a curry must surely make this one of the most indulgent weeks M and C have had for ages.
As part of this mammoth indulgence-fest, Matt and Cat decided to try out Shanklin’s newest Indian restaurant. Despite the earliness of the season, Matt and Cat noted that the Purple Mango was moderately busy as they entered its warm interior. Like its parent restaurant in East Cowes, Shanklin’s Purple Mango has been decked out in a contemporary style. Matthew was impressed by the oversized white banquette and Cat’s twinkle antennae were drawn to the ceiling’s glittering centrepiece, a recessed assembly of pulsing fairy-lights with the words Purple Mango written in a circle. The impressive waterfall, first seen in East Cowes, finished the signature house style. Having been pleased by their meal at Purple Mango East Cowes would M and C be equally delighted in Shanklin?
As with all good Indian restaurants there was a laundry-sustaining amount of linen on the table – all spotless of course. Well, it started off that way. Cloth napkins, stuffed artfully into wine glasses, stood regimented and erect on each table until the waiter flicked one off with a practised wrist and draped the white material over Cat’s expectant lap. Whilst perusing the comprehensive menu, Matt and Cat were lead to wondering why it was nearly always Indian restaurants which seemed to have such exquisitely laundered table linen. Many other eateries do not dress their tables at all, and sadly there are still a few which consider a coating of sticky beer to be adequate cover.
There were a few surprises on the menu; salmon samosas and what looked like a curry pie. Matthew, unable to resist the lure of pastry, chose the hitherto unheard-of handi gosht: described as lamb cooked in a wok with tomatoes, onions and capsicum topped with thin pastry. Cat was encouraged away from the chicken tikka masala; Matt insisting that it would be for her own good to eat out of her comfort zone. Therefore she chose rosun chicken, but was keen to stress to the waiter that she was a lightweight when it came to spices and could he arrange for it to be nice and mild – a bit like passandar? The waiter seemed at first genuinely puzzled by this entreaty, and Cat had some difficulty in explaining this request. But eventually the waiter joined in the debate, and suggested a mild and creamy variation which Cat agreed to try.
Nibbling on their poppadums with accompanying chutneys, including bright orange powdered coconut, Matt and Cat looked out of the window at Shanklin’s rainy high street. To be honest, there wasn’t much of note other than a faint glow from windows of the Siam Pearl. Mercifully there was only a single television in the restaurant, and it was far enough from M & C to be no disturbance. Instead they passed the time debating about which mythical creature would win in a fight between a unicorn and a mermaid (and concluded that the outcome depends on the arena, fact fans).
With some ceremony, distinctly tepid plates were placed in front of Matt and Cat. Despite the slick presentation Matt was not pleased to see a range of greasy thumb smears on his. By contrast the serving dishes were nice and hot, and Cat had a big steaming basin of rosun chicken. Perhaps the waiter had detected Matthew’s slight disapproval of the smeary plate as his dish was not brought out. Matt pointed out that his handi gosht was missing, and the waiter disappeared into the kitchen presumably to find it. He soon re-emerged to confirm that the chef was just cooking it – disappointingly this lapse did not even warrant an apology. So Matt had to stare at his cold, greasy plate a bit longer. In the meantime, Cat generously shared some of her chicken, and he had a side-dish and rice to keep him from wasting away.
2 x poppadums £2.70
Rosun chicken £8.50
Handi gost £9.95
Sag bhagee £3.25
2 x pillau rice £5.00
1 x Cobra £4.50
The rosun chicken was just about on the mild side of medium; any hotter and The Cat would have probably made ‘that face’. This was a pity, given the amount of discussion the diners had with the waiter on this topic. As it was, Cat’s dish was pretty tasty – a conspicuous amount of coriander helped give this garlicky dish a welcome aroma. It was nice and juicy with big chunks of chicken. A special mention must also go to the spinach bhaji; fresh-looking leaves with slices of garlic made this a subtle and welcome addition to the plate.
Matt’s handi gosht turned up about five minutes after the rest of the meal and his first impression was not good. The ‘thin pastry’ turned out to be a thick naan bread, casually slumped across the top of the metal serving bowl like an unleavened tea towel. Despite having been issued warnings about the temperature of the dish, Matt lifted up the flap of bread and was almost overwhelmed by a piping hot emission of steam – so no complaints about temperature this time. Dishing out the contents of the bowl, Matthew was pleased to see that they were as described: chunks of onion, tomato and peppers cooked up with a good few lumps of lamb, which unexpectedly turned out to be lamb tikka. Cat took a share in payment for her earlier donation of rosun chicken. However, compared with her tangy dish, she found it quite bland and rejected Matt’s offers of more. Matt, too, thought that apart from the meat the sauce was pretty tasteless, but he ate it nonetheless. It was nice to have the naan to mop up their plates and the last of the tasty saag bhaji, and there was no waste. But still, no pastry.
The portions were good and, having eaten everything, the duo leant back and metaphorically loosened their belts. Cat was reflecting on the many Indian restaurants that the Island has to offer, and asked why only in Indians is it accepted that diners pay extra for carbs and vegetables. Matt couldn’t offer an answer, and was surprised that neither of them had considered this before. Elsewhere, M & C have berated non-Indian restaurants for this practice, but never even thought about the extra cost of pilau rice. They suddenly realised that this was an anomaly, and seems to be true across the country. Perhaps it is tradition. However, it’s a tradition that should come to an end. Matt and Cat decree that £5 for two portions of rice is a bit on the steep side and, in the spirit of equality, should be included in the cost of the meal, like pasta or potatoes are in other restaurants.
Your reviewers paid up, said their farewells and left. Walking back to the car they passed the cheery lights of the Maharaja and the chirpy bloke at the counter waved at them, still recognising them from their frequent visits many years ago. This made M & C think about the experience they’d just had. Would they really rather go into the new Mango, or next time would they go across the road to the veritable Maharaja? Probably, on balance, the older establishment would get their custom. But why? After all, the Mango is new, it’s clean, and it has exciting things on the menu. It also has an impressive parentage in the very well-thought-of namesake restaurant in East Cowes. But despite all that, Matt and Cat felt it was hard to really get excited about it. Now don’t be misled – your reviewers enjoyed their meal. The food wasn’t bad, not by any means. Nor were the prices unreasonable. But perhaps there were just too many rough edges on the place – dirty, cold plate; misleading menu; poor communication with the kitchen. In a market where it’s sometimes hard to distinguish one Indian from another, little lapses like this can make all the difference.
Update: whilst researching for this review M&C noted that the environmental health ‘scores on the doors’ for both the Purple Mango Shanklin and the Maharaja are both worth reading for prospective diners. The Mango gets a single star “Varying record of compliance. Poor appreciation of hazards and control measures“; whereas the Maharaja has an extraordinary no stars “Some major non-compliance with statutory obligations“. This was correct at 30/8/10; these ratings do change regularly so to check for yourself, look at the updated Scores on the Doors website by following the link on our sidebar.