A real charmer?  Casanova, Cardiff City Centre

Continuing with the Italian theme, with Prego last week (and the everyone is talking about “Baraceto”  – the hype is warranted – will do a post on that probably in the next week or two), tucked away on Quay Street in Cardiff City centre is the rarely talked about Casanova.

This is a proper Italian restaurant, with no chance in this place (thank the Lord) of finding spaghetti bolognese (unrecognisable to the actual Bolognese) or carbonara with cream in it (I am sure it is very nice, but a carbonara it ain’t).

Both the lunch and dinner menus here are admirably succinct, contrary to the often biblical ones in many a UK Italian.

Prior to lockdown and it seems post it, Casanova is one of those places that is seemingly not on many people’s radar when it comes to discussing quality places to eat out in Cardiff.

For those in the know, however, they talk of it as one of Cardiff’s little gems (that they perhaps don’t want to tell people about, for fear of not getting a table).

It is also, unlike most of the higher end restaurants in the City centre, one of the fabled few that are open on a Monday.  With the ongoing Covid effect (all round shxte), finding somewhere decent to eat on a Monday is akin to unearthing a surfit of HGV drivers (I assume the collective noun for these is a “load” or these days perhaps a “unicorn“).

Pity the poor buggers that have Mondays off and find sod all open, but look no further salvation is at hand.

As part of my post Covid “Relight the kitchen fires” tour of Cardiff,  I was there for the lunch menu which is £20 for two course and £25 for 3, which is a touch more than the Plata del Dia lunch offer at its neighbour Asador 44. 

I reviewed the fixed price lunch at this place back in 2014 and it shows an interesting divergence in the price of meals out as against inflation. Indexing up the £12 for 2 courses price in 2014 you get £15 in todays money (oh how I wish my salary had risen on that percentage basis over the same period) as against the £20 price now.

Still think on the face of it at least it is OK value (for the food rather than me, for my salary, of course) and they have certainly done the place up since the rather drab 2014 facade,

but it is perhaps pushing my lunch time budgetary cap to the max.

I fear there’s more to come, with more price rises inevitably on the horizon as inflation is baked in (I don’t believe it is a blip for one minute) and this will feed into menu prices.

The food

In terms of the food,  the short lunch menu offers plenty of interest

including a couple of specials (pumpkin soup, a carpaccio of flank of beef as starters and another risotto as a main) on the day of our visit.

I was drawn to the caponata for starter, with the allure of pine nuts, goats cheese and truffled honey  added to what should be an intense veggie mix.

Served cold here, caponata is the Sicillian version of a ratoutille with a nice bite to the veg. rather than a mush and a pleasing touch of vinegar sourness. 

Add the creamy, slightly bitter, goats cheese, the crunch and oily nuttiness of the pinenut and the earthy sweetness of the truffle honey and you get a real winner of a dish.

My fellow diner had the equally impressive smoked trout with beetroot, avocado, horseradish cream and pickled cucumber.

Pretty as a picture, it was a lovely marriage of flavour with nicely smoked (not overly) trout, earthy beetroot, suitably nasally horseradish, sweet and sour pickled cucumber and creamy avocado (or so I was told – didn’t get a look in).

A very good start I thought.

On to the mains, I ceded the choice of the goat ragu and after toying with the risotto went for the luganega sausage, with parmesan mash and pickled red cabbage (in place of the advertised peperonata).

Really good flavour to the sausages, which were heady with garlic and full on meatiness – no rusk or other filler in these – and had a nice lingering aniseed twang to them.

The mash was beautifully smooth and nicely seasoned, but was somewhat underpowered on the advertised parmesan front. Shame that, as I was really looking forward to that element

The slight sourness of the pickled red cabbage acting as a nice counterpoint to the meaty sausages. Nice as the cabbage was, I think I would have preferred the peperonata with the sausage which was advertised on the menu (we were told on ordering that it had been substituted for the cabbage).

The other main ordered, in the form of the goat ragu, had me suffering real food envy if I am honest.

Good size portion, with well cooked (al dente) filei pasta (great for the thick sauce here) and a deep rich red wine and tomato based sauce in which the tender slightly gamey goat bathed in. The light smokiness of ricotta added nicely to the flavour profile here.

I looked on in envy as my mate devoured it.

We skipped on the deserts

tempting as there were. I assume only the non wine based one come with the set lunch menu (but could be wrong, I usually am). If I had decided on a desert I think it would have been the cannoli.

The Booze

On the booze front the wine list is pretty succinct, but with enough of interest on it

Personally (as a wine bore) I like to know the producer and vintage details. You can ask I suppose and I wonder if, in the evening, a more expansive list is in play?

We went for a glass of the wine of the day, which (on enquiring) was a Nero d’ Avola.

Nice drop this, with a good hit of sour cherry, plum and a touch of peppery spice. It worked well with the two mains.

Not cheap at £8.75 a glass, I was happy enough to pay that for it.

Service was good – attentive, but not intrusive. There was a bit of a hiatus between starter and mains, but they were pretty full so understandable.

I liked the fact that tap water was brought to the table without us having to request it.

The Verdict

I enjoyed my lunch at Casanova, with decent portion sizes and good quality food with loads of flavour.

The bill (sans tip – good to see not automatically added) was a not cheap £57.50 – the booze did bump it up a fair bit.

£20 for 2 courses is at the top end of the fixed price lunch menus in Cardiff, with the booze increasing it well over that figure, but I didn’t begrudge paying it. Nor it seems did many other punters, as the place was full. Always nice to see.

Would I go back? Yes, there is a certain old world charm to this place which makes a return visit (probably to sample the evening fare) inevitable.

Great to have this place as a option any day of the week, especially on the usual dead zone that is Mondays.

The Details

Address: 13 Quay Street, Cardiff CF10 1EA

Website: https://casanovacardiff.uk/

Booking by phone only.

3 comments

  1. Nice piece! Looks like a “proper” Italian restaurant rather than a pasta & pizza.
    I totally agree on the wine list – who is going to order a Brunello Riserva without knowing the producer and vintage?

    Like

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