Secret Casa is a fine Italian find

Head chef James Burkin at Casa Mia, Wostenholm Road.
Head chef James Burkin at Casa Mia, Wostenholm Road.

Psst! Come closer, for I’m about to share a secret.

On an ordinary corner of an ordinary street in Nether Edge, there is a new restaurant you most likely won’t have heard of.

Pan fried scallops with cured ham at Casa Mia, Wostenholm Road.

Pan fried scallops with cured ham at Casa Mia, Wostenholm Road.

There has been no social media hype about this one. No major advertising campaign, no Groupon deals.

In fact - despite spending all my time on buses or cars staring out of the window, looking for new places to eat - I didn’t know about it either.

That is until a handwritten letter - something of a rarity these days- arrived at the offices of the Sheffield Telegraph.

Readers Anthony and Anna Ashwell wrote to ask if I might take a look at ‘our new local restaurant, Casa Mia, on Wolstenholm Road.’

Casa Mia, Wostenholm Road.

Casa Mia, Wostenholm Road.

“We hope you might find it interesting and fun”, they added.

And so we went last Wednesday.

We must have driven past the set back Casa Mia - the former Priory Lodge Hotel, apparently a former working men’s club style venue - dozens of times since it opened eight weeks ago.

It has been simply transformed by owners Donna and Francisco Santos in a three year project.

Casa Mia, Wostenholm Road.

Casa Mia, Wostenholm Road.

Gone is the snug and snooker room, hello cosy bar, cool, modern dining room and a marvellously shiny mosiac style floor.

“It has been a labour of love”, said Donna, who managed Nonna’s on Ecclesall Road for 12 years and also ran Bella Donna’s in Renishaw.

“It just felt a little bit out of it in Renishaw, it is miles away from anywhere, so we were looking for somewhere around Banner Cross or Ecclesall Road - friends of ours have the building and asked if we wanted to have the downstairs.

“My grandmother was Italian and she used to live just around the corner from here so it is like going back to my roots.

Griddled lamb cutlets drizzled in honey, lemon and rosemary at Casa Mia, Wostenholm Road.

Griddled lamb cutlets drizzled in honey, lemon and rosemary at Casa Mia, Wostenholm Road.

“She gave me my love of Italian food, the only thing I could never pick up was making pasta as I was too impatient.”

There’s plenty of Mediterranean spirit in the place, as Francisco hails from Spain.

But the food is 100 per cent Italian - tapas doesn’t get a look in.

Donna added: “We wanted to stick to traditional Italian because that’s what we know with contemporary presentation.

“We’re not claiming to be fine dining but I don’t see us as a flying pizza place so we are somewhere in the middle.

“There are lots of traditional dishes which sell well but our own twists on things as well.”

Locals have clearly been waiting a while for a new place to eat, and there were a few tables when we turned up, but the couple do want to get the word out there.

On arrival there was a pleasant smell of garlic in the dining room, and we were helpfully guided away from a table with a crying baby.

My starter of scallops was prettily presented - with splashes of red pepper puree and dashes of truffle oil.

The scallops (£8.95) were exquisitely cooked - with colour and a light crispiness on the outside of the fat, juicy morsels of shellfish.

That takes real precision, in this case from head chef James Birkin, to achieve.

The scallops were topped with crunchy shards of cured ham, which gave a salty contrast, and watercress.

I always find this somewhat tangled salad difficult to eat but it does look well.

His plate of ‘insalata Caprese’ was a vibrant selection of heritage tomatoes in green, red and yellow, slabs of mozzarella and basil.

It was an exercise in simple flavours, made excellent by the sheer freshness of the ingredients.

At £6.95 however, it wasn’t cheap for a dish with no meat or fish.

For mains, not succumbing to the pasta took an iron of will.

There’s a spaghetti with clams, garlic and white wine that was calling my name - and there is a great ‘buy one get one half price’ midweek deal on pastas, pizzas, risottos and pancakes.

But the pan-fried escalope of pork (£16.95) was a winner. It came in a creamy mushroom, mouth-dominating gorgonzola and cream sauce - rich, with just a tone of the port which the meat had been flambeed in.

A circle of fondant potato was well herbed and tasty - while a sideshow of vegetables included sweet, sweet red cabbage and vibrantly orange carrots. There was yet more unnecessary watercress.

His penne bolognaise had plenty of flavour and was a large portion for £10.95 - ideal comfort food, though not the best he’d ever had.

Desserts are a great deal at just £5 each.

As someone who has tried, and spectacularly failed, to make roulade I admired the beauty of a lemon version. There was just enough gooey meringue to hold in layers of zingy lemon curd and thick cream.

His ‘crespella al cioccolato’ was a thin pancake encasing vanilla ice cream, and simply dripping in what tasted like melted, milky Alpine chocolate. Both were delicious.

Casa Mia is a real find, and with half price pasta/pizza deals on Sundays too, we are already planning a return.

With drinks, espressos and a (free) amaretto digestive we paid £69.45.

Casa Mia, 40 Wolstenholm Road, Nether Edge

Tel: 01142 586538