GIOVANNI'S. That was the name of the Italian where everyone would go in the town I grew up in. Special occasions, GCSE results, tentative first date as a 17 year-old with £50 in your pocket from your Mam and Dad.
"Like a more complex Russian doll, dessert was a black cherry inside ice cream inside meringue, sat atop some shortbread."
The place had pictures of Middlesbrough players on the walls and it found fame in the mid-1990s after diminutive Brazilian playmaker Juninho had a knee-trembler on top of a fridge with a local girl.
After that, it was Joe Rigatoni's. Italian restaurants always seem to appeal as a safe form of going out for a 'posh' meal.
Which can have mixed results.
At best, they are rustic, homely, honest. At worst, they're lazy, charmless, boring.
Thankfully, Casa Mia has taken the best of that old-school charm and mixed it with a dash of the contemporary. And it works rather well, in the main.
Occupying one of the corners of The Electric Press, near Millennium Square, Cassa Mia has grown out of a Chapel Allerton coffee shop founded almost 15 years ago.
Fish pancakesAnd it's grown into a handsome-looking restaurant. On a sunny afternoon, a bottle of Piave Pinto Grigio set the tone. The meal was to be grown-up without being flash. Knowing, but not pretencious.
When the fish pancakes (£6.95) arrived they were a delight. Healthy chunks of salmon topped with white sauce and cheese. Interesting, in a good way.
Opposite me, Jen was tackling a generous portion of calimari (£7.80) that was cooked just right. Not twangy or soggy, a common error in so many places.
The standout dish was my main of lobster ravioli (£12.95). Robust, perfectly cooked pasta with delicate, creamy lobster filling. The king prawn sauce was just subtle enough to add depth. I've had the same dish at San Carlo. It's good there too, but comes with a bit of added theatre. Neither is better or worse for the presentation, but it serves as a useful reminder that Italian restaurants can differ despite similar menus.
But there is flair in the menu. A dessert of baked Alaska (£6.45) served 'on fire' - after a decent dousing of Cointreau. Like a more complex Russian doll, it was a black cherry inside ice cream inside meringue, sat atop some shortbread.
A blob of cherry compote made the plate look nice and the idea behind the flammable dish was admirable, although the effect fell a bit flat as the wind started to pick up. It tasted good though. Perhaps theatre isn't Casa Mia's thing - that's nothing to be ashamed of.
Baked alaska (on fire)On the other side of the table, a creme brulee (£4.95) was quietly, confidently, stealing its thunder. Hard on top, creamy in the middle. Simple. effective but difficult to pull off. And not reliant on the prevailing winds.
Casa Mia is very good at what it does; authentic Italian with a touch of polish. The cooking is assured, the presentation rustic - except for a rogue meringue dish that tries a bit too hard - and it all adds up to a restaurant worth visiting.
You can follow Simon Binns on Twitter @simonbinns
ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.
Casa Mia Millennium
Great George Street
Leeds LS2 3AD
Tel: 0113 245 412
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