Having previously celebrated the start of my fourth decade with a full-on twenty person weekend bash, I wanted something a bit more understated to mark the progress of another year. A more refined, dare I say elegant, affair. So what better than a posh meal with a small group of good friends. But where to go? The Critical Couple’s review of Casamia was all the persuasion I needed to give this restaurant just North of Bristol the honour. I booked several months ago and began the long anticipatory wait, making the eventual arrival of the day even more exciting.
We were staying an hour or so North, or at least thought we were until the coach fire on the M5 made a mockery of our sat-nav timings. But fortunately we navigated the back route and were barely half an hour late, with the restaurant being very accommodating. Given we were in for a 4hr+ lunch it wasn’t much of a worry. Casamia is located on the high street of Westbury-on-Trym, and has a classy understated grey gate hiding the unusual astro-turfed corridor entrance. The restaurant is family run, the nice twist being the Iglesias parents handed the kitchen over to their very talented sons who have elevated the food to a spectacular standard.
We were greeted very warmly and shown through to our table for six, complete with a birthday card which was a nice touch. It’s quite a small restaurant, maybe 40 covers, and has a relaxed feel. The design aesthetic is clean but with some interesting large photographs on the wall and stone crockery, fortunately not naff and apparently designed by the brothers and sourced locally. I particularly liked the cutlery stacks (held in place by a stoneware rack) as an interesting touch, and it gives much more room than layers of knives and forks for tasting menus. Smart casual in a good way. There is the option of a small 5 course or larger 10 course menu at lunch, priced at £38 and £68 respectively. Given the travelling to get there and very reasonable prices we opted for the 10 course menu, along with matching wines at £60. We were asked if we wanted the apple pie (at a rather steep additional £12!), apparently their signature dish from the Great British menu, and opted to decide later how many we wanted.
A quick note about the dining room and pass setup, cleverly the food is plated in the corner of the main dining room and then brought straight over, often by the brothers themselves who can explain the dish and answer any questions. This provided lots of interaction and made the meal seem even more special, particularly given the brothers and rest of the staff are so enthusiastic and passionate. It was also exceptionally calm, probably helped by the fact the menu is cleverly designed and doesn’t require a lot of frantic last minute cooking. They also aim to follow the seasons closely and hence have 4 main menu changes a year to reflect that.
Pre-dinner drinks were offered (without menu or prices) but I wanted to see the options. The wine menu started at £15 a glass for champagne (admittedly from 2004), pretty steep so we made other choices. They did make a very well balanced Negroni for me at a more reasonable £8.50 and a Hendricks and tonic was served with cucumber for the wife. The order of the “cheap option” of an Estrella beer by Ollie was surprising, when a champagne size bottle designed by Ferran Adria arrived, along with a slightly odd tasting to check it wasn’t “corked”. Apparently designed for food and flavoured with coriander, orange peel and liquorice, I found it pretty bland. Not a big deal but perhaps a warning before ordering on the size and price would have been good, it was ironically £15. A generous helping of focaccia was presented along with bowls of a tangy, fruity olive oil. The bread was very very good, it had a springy, fluffy and light interior surrounded by a thin crisp salty crust and strong rosemary flavour throughout.
A first course, or amuse-bouche given the size, was a one bite quiche lorraine. A crisp thin-pastry shell contained a ridiculously light savoury egg custard filling flavoured with ham and chives. Almost ethereal at first, the addition of strong Keens cheddar grounded it and added some needed body and a touch of earthiness. Just as we were getting thirsty the first of the wine course arrived, an Austrian Gruner Veltliner very much to my taste and paired with the chilled broad bean soup. This recalled the chilled pea soup at Dabbous which was a revelatory course for me. The Casamia version is instead made with broad beans and a mint snow. Perhaps an unfair comparison since Dabbous has less courses, but I wish there had been more of this soup, particularly to balance the copious amount of mint snow. However the soup was very well balanced, completely smooth and paired perfectly with the mint and garnish. And I can certainly appreciate the work in preparing broad beans, being a favourite of mine but a pain to prepare in volume.
Tomatoes. Lots of them. Preened, pinched and prepared in many ways. Paired with mozzarella. I LOVE a good tomato so this course sounded great and was clearly a nod to the classic Insalata Caprese. Beautiful “heirloom” tomatoes of several varieties were sat on a tomato jam and dressed with black olive and a dehydrated(?) tomato crisp. The mozzarella had very interestingly been blended and re-set for a softer texture. It was also very salty, presumably from the brine that was mixed in with the blending. Salty soft cheese with ripe tomatoes went beautifully. And it was paired with a tomato liqueur, new to me, almost Marsala like and with notes of salty black olives and of course tomatoes. Some of the others felt it was overkill with this dish but I can’t get enough tomato-ey goodness and loved it. Clever stuff.
The next course was a summer salad. Perfectly inoffensive sounding, dull even. But things got more interesting when we were presented with a pair of tweezers each. We were given a pretty assortment of carefully placed flowers, vegetables and herbs, and a hot very punchy cider vinaigrette was carefully pipetted (literally) on. Encouraged to try each element separately, this cleverly brought out the flavour of each morsel including a tiny courgette with flower, nasturtium leaves and flowers amongst others.
Fish next. A delicate piece of wild salmon, poached in olive oil with cucumber, dill and sea herbs. The fish was very light pink for wild salmon which surprised me a bit, I’ll take their word for it though. It had been poached precisely in oil to just cooked and had an amazing soft texture somewhere between sashimi and cooked. The cucumber and dill sauce was well done, along with the sea herbs. Given this was the second to last savoury course I would have liked a significantly larger piece, but it was a solid if slightly ordinary dish.
Meat next, and I was ready for it. The protein was duck, cooked deliciously pink as you would hope (sous-vide?) and served with carrot puree, rainbow carrots (orange and purple at least) and a carrot puree. The meat was very tender although maybe a slighter crisper skin would have provided more texture. The carrot puree was perfectly smooth, but sweet and I think felt unbalanced with the sweet glazed duck. The carrots were cooked very well and the fennel was a solid addition. But again, I would have preferred a slice more of the duck since we were about to enter dessert territory. Excellent execution but one more element of texture or flavour wouldn’t be overkill here.
Next was possibly the favourite overall between our group, and I forgot to get a bloody picture. Nevertheless it was a pea, lemon and ricotta transition course, or as I hilariously called it, “The Intercourse”. Designed to take us between savoury and sweet with elements of both, it achieved this amazingly well. A small bowl topped with savoury pea shoots then went through layers of ricotta and lemon to take you from thoughts of salad through to cheesecake. Amazing, innovative and clever paired with downright delicious.
Now we were fully into dessert, peaches and cream. Peach granita topped light whipped cream which was atop stewed white Italian peaches. Or their nod tinned peaches as one of the brothers called it when he served us. The contrast of cold ice, soft light cream and beautiful peaches was delightful. Maybe an extra element would have elevated it though, I recall the marigold served with peaches at Dabbous worked fantastically for example.
Apple Pie. The signature dish of the restaurant although a steep addition at £12. We ordered 3 for the table. A crisp perfect thin pastry shell with an Apple-reminiscent logo stencilled in cinnamon. This was placed over apple puree, apple pieces and ice cream contained within, and a thin custard surrounded. As the brothers said, you always need custard AND ice-cream. Then bowls of clove and cinnamon were combined with liquid nitrogen to produce a heady homely aroma and great theatre. The pie was great and very reminiscent of the flavours of home-cooking but with skilful execution. Again very light though.
Chocolate, toast and lavender. 75% dark chocolate whipped into a light airy mousse. A surprise salted caramel centre was a welcome find, and the toast added crunch and texture. Strangely though it didn’t have the richness I was expecting, I think the process of whipping it left it somewhat lacking in depth. Our final course of strawberries and tarragon was beautifully presented in a large glass, combining strawberry jelly, fresh strawberries and cream. This was elevated with tiny crunchy tarragon meringues which were amazing. Over a nice mint tea and decent espresso we enjoyed some petit-fours of white chocolate lollipop (and popping candy, natch) and punchy bitter sweet grapefruit Turkish Delight, particularly good as I love grapefruit.
Wow, what a lunch. The execution of every dish was completely amazing, even more-so when you consider both brothers are around 30 years old. I loved it and would heartily recommend it as a destination restaurant, some of the dishes were mind blowing. It came in at £150 a head all-in, not cheap but for this standard well worth it and we didn’t scrimp on anything (bar the champagne). I didn’t make enough note of the wine but there were plenty of glasses throughout the meal, all paired well and were of a good standard. My few potential improvements? I realise it’s a summer menu but still think more bitter, earthy notes are needed to provide balance, and surprisingly given the number of courses I think there needs to be a bit more portion wise. Swapping a dessert for another meat course would help, and quite a few of the party agreed with this point.
But, despite any of that, this is an absolute top quality establishment and I certainly aim to go back and try some of the other seasons. The combination of incredible execution, clever dishes and a welcoming atmosphere makes this a superlative restaurant.