Casa Bella has nabbed prime position at the upper level of the shiny new Pearl Walk shopping centre in Umhlanga Rocks. Serving wood-fired pizza, pastas and grills, the new Italian restaurant (which is part of a small franchise) has been buzzing with locals and holiday-makers since its opening. Eat Out critic Nikita Buxton grabs a table.
Parking: There is ample underground parking in the Pearl Walk shopping centre
Best for: Easy-going Italian with friends or family
Price: R110 for a main
Star ratings: Food 4, service 3, ambience 3
No-fuss Italian fare is what you’ll get at Casa Bella. The menu is extensive and features familiar favourites like antipasti, wood-fired pizzas, homemade pastas and hearty grills with Mediterranean flavours.
Kick off on the starters with caution, as the dishes can be rather generous in size. If you’re with a big group, the antipasti platter with salami, Parma ham, gorgonzola, camembert, cherry tomatoes and zucchini fries is a good, social choice. But it’s the fresh Caprese salad that makes a perfect start to a carb-heavy feast: generous slices of creamy mozzarella are nestled between tomato and fresh basil. It’s light and moreish and goes well with a glass of crisp rosé.
To follow, pizza is a top choice. The decent-sized bases are topped with the usual suspects and cooked off in the wood-fired oven to leave a crisp, slightly charred crust. The Pisa (pancetta, Danish feta and avo) is a winner, as is the classic authentic margherita with buffalo mozzarella and sweet cherry tomatoes. If you’re a pasta lover, look forward to bowls steaming with freshly made durum-wheat fettuccine, penne, spaghetti and ravioli. For a bit of indulgence, the silken spinach-and-ricotta ravioli is satisfyingly served in an egg-rich creamy sauce. Alternatively, try the penne Siciliana, with anchovy, olives and capers in a Napoletana sauce.
If you can manage dessert, the tiramisu will please, as will the intriguing-sounding cheesecake with ricotta and limoncello liqueur.
The wine list is filled with familiar labels and has some good options by the glass. Platter ratings, descriptions and wine-pairing notes are a good touch.
Eager but nervous and a bit haphazard. (The mains were served while a starter was still on the table.) Perhaps after time and training, things will run a bit smoother.
While the restaurant is at first glance welcoming with its wooden accents, modern touches and smiling staff, the outdoor terrace could do with a bit of a sweep when we visit. But the blue ocean view and sea breeze somewhat makes up for it.
Book a table inside and watch your pasta being made with the imported Italian pasta machine.
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Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.