Falling in love again – Casanova, Cardiff City Centre.

Of the list of my favourite places to eat a full on sit down meal in Cardiff, I think Casanova is perhaps the one that seems to fly the most below people’s radar. It has been at it’s Quay Street location for as long as I can remember (2005 apparently, which is slightly worrying in terms of my long term memory) and just sort of quietly gets on with it (without any razzamataz – just letting the food and wine do the talking, it seems). This is not the sort of place that feels the need to offers freebies in return for “instamaaaaaaaaaaaaazing” feedback.

To me it is easily my favorite Italian restaurant in Cardiff, but one I am guilty of forgetting about when asked (I rarely am, I have to say – which is odd given my welcoming, “and you can …. off“, demeanour 🙄) for recommendations of where to eat in Cardiff. This I need to rectify (not the being asked, but rather the telling) and in an attempt to do so I decided it was about time the blog revisited this little gem.

Interestingly and rather contrary to my “Not a lot of people know about the joys of this place  and a lack of me telling them” intro, a picture of the place’s frontage is my highest viewed picture on Google Maps at a staggering (well at least to me) nigh on 7.3 million views (in a year or so). I mean that is more than twice the population of Wales!

A long overdue catch up with friends provided the perfect excuse to revisit and a table was duly booked for 19.00 on a Saturday (been years since I have been out in town on a Saturday night – if am honest I was expecting post meal carnage on the streets, but it was actually rather sedate for the 10 yard journey for the place to the cab that whisked us back to Llandaff – suspect if we had ventured further into “Gotham” it may have been a slightly different story).

The menu here is the antithesis of your standard UK trattoria, with just 4 starter and 4 mains (the fish option being grey mullet on the day in question),

plus a couple of specials (including suckling pig, a chicken breast stuff with mortadella and truffle and a wild mushroom risotto).

I much prefer this to the 4 bazillion of each you often get in UK Italian restaurants, not least as it is easier to reach a decision.

I like the fact that they seem to be happy to be a master of a few things (rather than a jack of all trades and master of none, throw everything you can think of on the menu) kind of place. I find it quite odd when people seemingly praise vast menus, as “ooh there is so much choice” rather than “ooh eck, there is no way all this can be freshly prepared” (exhibit 1: the Ivy m,lud).

We kicked off proceeds with a trio of rather fine starters and I went for one of the specials in the form of a belly piece of suckling pig (£11).

Absolutely lovely this, with a infeasibly thin sheet of crackling (perfectly salted and with such a satisfying crunch to it),

spoon tender meat under a creamy cap of flavor packed fat.

Iron rich cavelo nero operated as a nice counterbalance to the meaty richness of the dish and a really good glossy, flavor packed, jus (not over reduced) brought things together nicely

Mrs. SF’s grilled mackeral (such an underrated fish), with a crab and potato salad (£11) was top notch and a fulsome portion size too.

Lovely flavours here with mackeral one of Mrs SF’s favourite fish and crab a firm favorite of her’s over other more feted crustaceans. Nice balance to this dish, with the oiliness and robust flavouring of the mackeral working well with the sweetness of the crab, the sharp anise of the fennel and the tanginess of a lemon mayo.

The final starter (had by both our friends – just to clarify, we do have more than two 😂), a rotolo (£12), was another stunning, full on flavour, affair.

Rich slow roasted beef short rib looked the absolute business and was kept in place by a spiral of micron thin pasta and surrounded by a rich jus. I didn’t get a taste, but both of those who ordered it consumed it with gusto and pronounced it one of the best things they had eaten all year (OK it is only the end of Jan, but….). An al dente spear of tenderstem broccoli and a sweet onion puree complemented the beef nicely.

The main were split along gender lines, with the chaps going for lamb and the ladies the chicken special

The lamb rump (£28) was a beautiful bit of meat, cooked bob on for me, with a blushing pink interior and a crisp cap of flavour packed fat

The parmesan mash was all I had hoped it would be, with a generous loading of the cheese. More cavelo nero and a nicely caramelised carrot were welcome additions, as was a rich glossy jus, but the star of the show (when combined with the lamb) was an almond bagna caoda. The sweet nuttiness of the almond as against the almost aggressive brininess of the anchovies was an inspired combo and worked a treat with the lamb. Glorious plate of food this, with the sauce playing the one ring role of bringing them altogether.

The chicken special (£24) also went down a treat, with the same excellent veg,

a beautiful cooked bit of breast (full of flavour, as opposed to the watery streak of piss you get from a supermarket) and a very interesting filling of mortadella (surely the most underrated of cold cuts) and truffle. Truffle, to me is a tricky ingredient. Too much and it blasts every other flavour out of existence, but too little and why bother (well other than to be able to bump up the price). Here the balance was just right with it making its earthy presents felt, without bulldozing the other flavours. Mrs. SF really enjoyed this and from the mouthful she allowed me I could see why.

On to the puds

Mrs SF went for a special, in the form of a jumbo cannolo (£8).

Very nice it was too, with a crisp shell and a big hit of pistachio in the creamy filling

The licorice pannacotta (£8) was as good, if not better,

with the requisite wobble, a subtlety to the licorice in the pannacotta itself and a bit more of a hit of it in the drizzled sauce. Not sure what happened to the sesame brittle (just seemed to be a smattering of seeds), but it didn’t really need it. The sweetness of the chocolate crumb (good to see it not being called “soil”) worked well as against the bitter sweetness of the licorice.

Others (including me) went for cheese and booze (£10).

Nice sweet passito wine went well with a tangy blue cheese (despite the menu saying “..a cheese of your choice from our cheese board” we were offered a choice of well this one). It was slightly let down by some (a misery two) rather regulation crackers. Despite the generous wine serving, I thought the cheese and cracker portion a touch on the mean side for the price.

On to coffee (a flat rate £5.25 regardless of what coffee you have) this was advertised as coming with biscotti. I have to say I was expecting cantuccini or something of that ilk and was slightly surprised when a plate of  shortbread from (I would say) a Walkers’ selection box arrived.

Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against shortbread, but it is just a bit odd to get it when you are expecting Italian biscuits.

Bit like ordering haggis on Burns’ Night in  Scotland and getting an offal pizza (that would be all Domino’s pizzas, J). I wonder if they had run out of the usually biccies and pilfered someone’s left over Christmas biscuit selection box.

The booze

On the booze front there is a fulsome list, with plenty of stuff that is off the beaten track in terms of that wonderfully diverse wine country that is Italy.

I like that they give the retail/takeaway price so you can clearly see the mark ups applied (most seem to be below the standard 3x mark up, which is nice to see and know up front)

We went with a grillo (£35) from Sicily  and an aglianico (£40) from Campania.

The aglianico was nice full bodied fruity number, with dark fruit and distinct espresso notes.  Great with the lamb.

The grillo had a nice minerality, with fresh citrus notes. Good with the fish starter and with enough oomph to stand up as against the chicken dish.

The verdict

An excellent meal was had by us at Casanova, which continues to get on with the job of putting excellent food on plates for us punters.  Minimum fuss, maximum taste I would say.

Our meal for four, with drinks ( including a fair amount of booze) and an automatically added service charge (still really don’t like this practice),  was just shy of £300.

This is far from cheap, but personally I think it was worth it and we will definitely be back. The £55 tasting menu option has certainly piqued my interest (next date night in 2028 Mrs. SF?).

Falling in love again (by the rather lovely, very classy and quite remarkable Marlene Dietrich) sums up this revisit very nicely.  Shiny and new is nice, but there tends to be a reason why the golden oldies are such. Because they are classy not brassy usually.

The details

Address: 13 Quay Street, Cardiff, CF10 1EA

Website: https://casanovacardiff.uk/

No online booking, so you have to do it the old fashion way and pick up the phone (we all have them but seemingly one of the things we rarely use them for is to ring people – odd that).


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