“ Address: 704 Wilmslow Road / Manchester / England / M20 2DW / Tel: 0161 448 2515 „
Didsbury has two tapas places, handily located barely half a minute's walk from one another. The first is La Tasca, which gets a nice lot of custom thanks to its regular 50% off deals, and the fact that you could, until recently, spend Tesco vouchers there. The second is Casa Tapas.
We went mid-week and booked a table in advance, even though there would only be 3 of us. When we got there we were shown to a table and then asked what name the booking was in - clearly they had quite a bit of capacity at that point. As the evening progressed, though, the place became increasingly busy and free tables were few and far between. This is in part due to the small size of the restaurant, and in part due to the fact they weren't opening the upstairs room on that occasion. I think this is mainly used nearer Christmas, or when they have a large party booking, as it looked very packed away when I went up there (the toilets are on the top floor).
We had scoured the menu in advance as it's available on their website, and decided that even though exact details were rather scant, one of the three set menus was to be a good bet. The options are, ranging from cheapest up, a selection of vegetarian tapas, a selection of meat and vegetarian tapas, or a selection of meat, fish and vegetarian tapas. We went for the middle option, to suit the two carnivores in the group, and settled back to wait.
If you think of tapas, you might imagine a steady flow of dishes from the kitchen, or a multitude of plates all brought out in one go. At Casa Tapas, dining off a set menu gets you neither of these. Instead, we had what can only be described as a 5 course tapas meal. First, we got bread and olives. Hungry by this point, we dug in greedily, though I didn't fail to notice the fact that the bread was plain and with nothing to spread on it or dip it in. It was lovely - soft and freshly baked, with nice, chunky slices - but a little bit of olive oil or balsamic wouldn't have gone amiss. The olives were yummy - both black and green, all pitted, and with pieces of orange included with oil in the dish for extra flavour.
Having worked our way through most of these, we sat back for a few moments until the next 'course' arrived. In any other place, this would have been the main course: here it was starter number two, but eagerly received. We had a basket of garlic breads (plain and tomato topped) and a bowl of Greek style salad, with tomatoes, feta, and yet more olives. Had I realised we would be getting this, I might not have eaten as much of the first, boring, helping of bread, as if that was good then this second helping was great. I especially liked the way that this - and many subsequent dishes - had 3 of everything in, making sharing out between our party of 3 the kind of maths even the dimmest child could manage. The repetition didn't go un-noticed, however, and if you were off carbs or not an olive lover you would struggle with the first two servings and be wondering where the 'proper' food was.
When the salad was half eaten, and the bread almost all gone, the 3rd course came out. Though the restaurant was busy by this point, it was being very well managed, and they clearly had a good understanding of where each table was up to. This course, like the previous 2, was entirely vegetarian. It included a Spanish omelette, some cheese in a sort of filo pastry and other yummy things, all nicely presented and piping hot.
Next came the proper, substantial tapas, including sausage, meatballs and a sort of lamb stew. This was the first time meaty tapas had come out, but we also got some fresh veggie stuff as well. I'm not particularly fond of garlic mushrooms or patatas bravas, but that's not their fault, and since there was still a little bread left, I made do by dipping it in the super spicy but rather delish sauce that topped the potatoes.
After lots of food, a few drinks, and a good natter, I was quite ready to go home, but the Set Menu writer had other ideas, and our waiter popped back over to check how we were getting on, and see what sort of paella we wanted. Yes, paella. This was the 5th and, thankfully, final course, and since it was included we felt it would be rude to decline even if I at least was at the point of having to surreptitiously unbutton my jeans under the table. We chose the veggie paella but I was still dreading it arriving, imaging a massive pan like those you'd find in Spain (or on a particularly pretentious episode of Come Dine With Me). Thankfully, what arrived about 15 minutes later was a much more manageable mini pan, that would probably have fed one person normally but easily stretched to 3 when those 3 had already been eating none-stop for hours. It was my first ever paella, but if was delicious, with fresh, fluffy rice and nice crisp vegetables with a lovely glaze. We didn't scoff it all, but had a helping each and enjoyed what we had.
The menu at Casa Tapas is quite reasonable anyway, with the vast majority of dishes about £5 or less (some only £2 - £3), but we thought this Set Menu was especially good value at £15.50 each, as we had a huge number of dishes - many more than the highlights mentioned here - and the serving sizes were good. This is definitely the way to dine if you want a full meal, not just the traditional tapas snack to accompany your drink. In fact, we only just managed with the table we had, such was the number of dishes they brought out, and I think had we had a 4th person at our table for 4 we might have struggled a little...
Casa Tapas is not the swishest of restaurants, and perhaps slightly peculiarly looks like a rustic, northern pub in places, rather than a rustic, Spanish joint, but it has a certain quality that made me warm to it. I liked the fact it was an independent joint rather than some generic chain, and that the service was polite without being distant, and appropriate without being intrusive. That said, I was surprised not to be offered drink refills once our glasses were empty. I'm used to being asked whether I want another almost as soon as I set down an empty glass - I assume because the profit margin on drinks is so much higher than on food - but here it was the opposite, and we had to ask specifically for additional drinks.
In addition to the set menus, the restaurant offers a Sunday lunch deal of soup, salad and garlic bread, plus 3 dishes from a selection, for £10.50 per person. They also do a version of this minus the soup, salad and bread, for £6.95 per person at certain times.
The restaurant is not massive but is conveniently located in East Didsbury, with the School Lane free public car park just across the road. One of our party didn't know it was there and spent ages driving up and down looking for a place to leave her car because Didsbury is a bit of a nightmare in that respect. There's another car park opposite this one, but it technically belongs to La Tasca so I can't imagine they'd be hugely in favour of people parking there and then dining at their competition.
I would return to Casa Tapas, both for the ambience and the food (quality and quantity). I thought they had a good selection on their main menu, and catered well for vegetarians on their Set Menus. That might not be important to you, but it is to me. For what we got, I thought it was very well-priced, and we certainly didn't want puddings afterwards, though these are available on the à la carte menu. The set menu we had was £1 per person more than a similar menu some of our party had just before Christmas at a tapas place in Stockport. Considering this is Didsbury, which has delusions of grandeur, compared to Stockport and its delusions of adequacy, that extra pound is not that bad, especially because the portions here were a bit more generous, and I think you did get a bit more food thrown in, too.
The place always looks busy at weekends, so booking is recommended to guarantee a table (or maybe just turn up and steal someone else's reservation à la Date Night). However once in, we didn't feel at all rushed, and were only asked once if we wanted puddings or coffees - they didn't keep coming back to subtly or unsubtly hurry us on, and we sat there for almost 3 hours in total.
There are 2 Casa Tapas, this one in Didsbury and a further branch in Knutsford.
Their website is a bit naff, but includes full up to date menus, which is all you really need: