O Sole Mio, named after the 110-year-old Neapolitan song, is about as stereotypically Italian as it’s possible to get.
It’s nice to see that the staff at the Portsmouth branch of this restaurant (the original one is in Cowplain) are not shy of striking up a tune on their way to the kitchen.
It’s a happy place. A place of incredible bonhomie and that hits you from the front door onwards. Staff greet you in Italian, serve in mixed English and Italian and the music is Italian. So is the décor – in fact it’s so over-the-top Italian you want to throw your hands up in mock protest: ‘OK, I get the message! It’s an Italian restaurant!’ Even the chianti bottles drip with red, white and green candle wax.
The menu is a throwback to what was considered chic, cosmopolitan Italian food in the 1960s, alongside those dripping chianti bottles. Parma ham and melon; minestrone; antipasto misto; prawn cocktail and tuna salad are just some starters.
The large menu includes many pasta dishes (lasagne, spaghetti Bolognese, fettucine carbonara); pizzas; chicken, veal and beef join fish such as deep fried calamari rings; king prawns in garlic butter with a tomato, cream and white wine sauce and black mussels.
T-bone steaks are the priciest option at £19.50. Meat mains range from £12.80 to £17.50, pasta from around £7.50.
I chose to duck around these prices and picked a set three-course menu at £17.90. Parma ham and melon was very good, the ubiquitous large pepper pot looming into view. But why those huge lollo rosso lettuce leaves, the poor quality olives, cucumber and tasteless tomato? Just the main event, thanks. That’s all that’s needed.
Pesce spada al limone, swordfish with a white wine and lemon sauce followed, the meaty fish pleasantly grilled, the huge plate overfilled with excellently-cooked broccoli, carrots, courgette sticks and the best potatoes.
Sauted with onion, they were nothing short of superb. I’d go back for the potatoes alone.
Tiramisu, that famed pick-me-up, needed more coffee, alcohol and less cream to make it sing. A Sicilian glass of wine bumped the bill up to just over the £21 mark.
Italian food, both on restaurant menus and at home, has changed considerably, thanks to chefs such as Antonio Carluccio and Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray of The River Café,
But there is something charming and comforting about O Sole Mio with the sheer kindness and hospitality shining through.
If you wish to have an uncomplicated meal with a bit of a sing-song, there’s nowhere better to enjoy la bella Italia.
I left smiling and, yes, happy. Grazie, O Sole Mio.
O Sole Mio, 19 The Boardwalk, Port Solent, Portsmouth PO6 4TP (023)9238 8697.
Open: Midday – 10.30 pm daily.
Food: Four stars (out of five)
Service: Four stars
Atmosphere: Four stars
Fine, large space for wheelchairs.
How to get there: Follow the Port Solent signs from the M27 and park in the main car park.
O Sole Mio is on the ground floor towards the end of The Boardwalk.