The news that casamia, Bristol’s Michelin-starred restaurant, was moving from its suburban home in Westbury-on-Trym for the last 16 years to a new development on Bristol’s waterfront was bittersweet. It officially opened in January of this year, two months after the sad passing of Jonray – one half of the Sanchez-Iglesias brother duo who had transformed their parents’ neighbourhood trattoria to one of the UK’s most celebrated restaurants.
Unassuming and yet pioneering, adventurous and yet accessible. It was one of the first in a new wave of British fine-dining restaurants where it was okay to talk above a hushed whisper, where you could dress up or dress down, and either way you’d be welcomed with open arms by the maître d’ and brothers’ father, Paco.
The new restaurant, though, feels like a natural evolution for casamia. It’s housed in the ground floor of a former hospital, with 200 luxury apartments being converted behind it, along with more restaurants and bars, including the same family’s much-anticipated Paco Tapas bar and Pi Shop pizzeria (due to open in the summer). It feels relaxed high end – tables are clothless, menus are presented in leather envelopes, and exposed brickwork is matched by calming shades of grey. Even the loos are slick.
“It’s Jonray’s legacy,” Paco tells me as he takes me to my table overlooking the water. Jonray had much to do with the new look and menu – the logo that sits above the grand entrance was even designed by him. But now it’s younger brother Peter (pictured) behind the pass, along with his team of young Bristolian chefs.
We opt for the 16-course tasting menu, for spring (the menu changes quarterly with the seasons), which at £68 (another £60 if you order a matched wine flight) is still one of the best-value tasting menus in the country. First up, was a mouthful of Ragstone cheese and beetroot tartlets in the crispest, flakiest pastry, brought out by one of the chefs. Sweet, sharp, buttery: a good start.
Each course is served by the kitchen team, including Peter, rather than the waiting staff who stick to keeping you topped up with great wine, clearing and answering any questions you might have. It’s the chefs who cooked your meal that describe each dish’s construction with massive smiles on their faces. They’re visibly excited for you to try each plate of food, and with good reason. ‘Asparagus on a journey’, we’re told, is inspired by Peter’s travels – Spain, Mexico and Thailand all in one spear, grown in the nearby Wye Valley.
We later see Josh, one of the young development chefs, meticulously peeling each stalk for the next service – the three new kitchen areas are all open plan so you can see and hear the team at work.
The last of the three starter ‘snacks’ was served on a pristine scallop shell – a tartare of the sweetest fresh scallop, bound in a homemade tartare sauce, with crisp batter ‘scraps’ and a scallop roe powder.
The ‘breakfast egg’ was probably most impressive starter. A bespoke ceramic egg made by local artist Jen at Village Pottery in Clifton (who also created all of the other crockery at the restaurant) housed a slow-cooked yolk, tiny button mushrooms, confit tomatoes, and an egg mousse, along with fried croutons and crisp shards of Parma ham.
Another of langoustine dressed in bisque, topped with shitake mushroom gel, was followed by a mackerel risotto, intensified in flavour by fish-bone stock and a mighty hit of Parmesan, and topped with deep-fried noodles and a sea vegetable powder. An umami tsunami (my favourite dish of the lunch). And proof that the sommelier here is as forward thinking as the chef – out came a glass of sake to match. Spring salad came as various crisps, gels and leaves – all working to balance against the creamy, slightly sour sheep’s curd it came with.
A fish course of monkfish tail – supremely tender – came bathed in a cider cream sauce and topped with a iron-rich spring green crisp, while the following lamb was the ultimate nod to spring. Blushing pink, with a smoky char thanks to the indoor Big Green Egg in the high-tech kitchen, the lamb was joined by peppery nasturtium leaves, and in a separate bowl a Jersey Royal cooked in buttermilk, and, in another, slow-cooked shredded lamb rolled into a crispy bon bon with a rosy quince gel.
A cheese course turned out to be slices of Somerset Quicke’s cheddar sandwiched between homemade crackers with mango chutney, and was followed by five different sweets. Super sweet ‘carrot and thyme’ came with the addition of dramatic dry ice, while ‘blood orange’ was masterful – a gel, fresh segments, granita, the lightest rosemary mousse, and freeze-dried segments to boot. Another of rhubarb was as pretty and elegant as you could expect; white chocolate shards were decorated with edible flowers, and a final bite of pine nut sponges with lemon curd and meringue were the perfect end to a perfect meal.
Peter understands how to perfectly balance flavours and textures, and his mentoring of his young staff is seriously admirable. This is one of the most exciting and fulfilling dining experiences I have had in years. I can’t praise this place enough. The West Country should be seriously proud.
casamia, The General, Lower Guinea Street, Bristol BS1 6SY
First published April 2016
Words by Laura Rowe
Photographs by John Blackwell
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