As it was our second wedding anniversary, Hannah and I decided to break up our long journey with a special evening at Casamia.
If you watch the Great British Menu then you may recognise the name Peter Sanchez-Iglesias. He and his brother Jonray run Casamia with their parents, Paco and Sue, and have successfully transformed the restaurant from a local Italian to a modern, British food experience. Their achievements were rewarded with a Michelin star in 2009 and subsequently, 4 AA Rosettes.
The restaurant is discreetly situated on Westbury-on-Trym high street, hidden behind a set of gates. It took us a moment to locate the restaurant but once we strolled up the path to the entrance, our sense of excitement grew. The location makes you feel that you are entering a secret club and the mystery intensifies as you catch a glimpse of the kitchen through the windows on the way in.
We were pleasantly greeted by Paco Sanchez-Iglesias and shown to our table. We definitely stepped into spring as the small dining room was decorated according to the season with large canvases of bluebell woodland.
The restaurant is open plan and the kitchen is part of the dining room so we were able to see the chefs busily working like a well oiled machine to the smallest of details on their dishes. The beauty of the experience at Casamia comes from watching each dish be carefully and quietly constructed in full view. To add to the experience, the food is brought to the table from the chef who lovingly prepared the dish and this is followed up by an explanation of the ingredients and the background to each course.
The menu (which would end up bringing our taste buds to life) was presented to us at the beginning so that we could keep track of what we were eating.
Seeded Leaven Bread, Jersey Cow Butter:
To start off the first of 10 courses, we were presented with freshly baked bread and creamy butter which was warm and inviting. The sommelier offered us the wine flight, however not being wine lovers (and because we had another 2 hour drive ahead) we opted for cocktails, Hannah chose a cosmopolitan and I chose a Kir Royale and a coke for later which were delicious.
Goats Cheese, Beetroot:
There may be only one in the picture below but I assure you we were given one each. Hannah scoffed hers before I even had the chance to take a picture! The goats cheese was light and foamy, delicately balanced with a sharp beetroot jam base. I love anything with goats cheese and this was the tastiest use of the ingredient to have passed my lips.
Aerated scrambled egg, toast, black pudding, tomato, ketchup and pancetta all placed in a chilled egg and laid on a bed of grass.
This inspired dish, which ended up being Hannah's favourite of the ten, packs an enormous amount of flavour into a small dish. Hannah likened it to the bubblegum in Willy Wonka - an entire English Breakfast in just a couple of bites!
Spelt from Sharpham Park, Parsley, Garlic:
This bright green dish combines flavours I have never experienced before and offsets the fresh taste of spelt with sharp balls of vinegar and cider in the risotto.
One of the prettiest of the ten and with over 30 different raw and cooked ingredients there is no better taste of Spring. We were invited to eat the dish using tweezers which ensures you enjoy each flavour individually. Each little morsel hits you with a different taste and enthuses you with thoughts of the season. For a salad this was a truly amazing dish, if only all salads were this exciting. From such tiny ingredients the flavours blew my mind. Ingredients such as a micro radish and spring onion mixed with old favourites like coriander and baby asparagus, this dish was almost too beautiful to eat... even the flowers and petals were edible!
John Dory, Cider Sauce, Greens:
The fish is cooked perfectly with the addition of sweet apple jelly and crushed walnut topping complimented by a smooth cider cream. The asparagus and samphire provided an extra tasty crunch too.
Lamb, Allium, Mint, Potatoes:
My most memorable dish was the perfectly pink lamb, carefully sous-vide and served with a spicy parsnip crisp, dehydrated mint and flowered slice of onion. It was a perfect plate of food and I would return just to have another portion.
Carrots and Thyme:
This dish is probably the most creative of the menu - described to us as a 'transition' dish between savoury and sweet. Hidden at the bottom of the bowl is a carrot sponge with dehydrated and caramelised carrot on top. The chef then pours thyme ice cream, made with liquid nitrogen, over everything to create a fog which pours out the bowl. A blend of cold and warm which really worked well together. As the ice cream melts the flavours come together and it tastes a lot like a sticky toffee pudding and cream.
Blood Orange, Rosemary:
A refreshing collection of orange, crunchy mandarin, icy blood orange and rosemary cream cleansed my palate towards the end of the meal. The slight taste of rosemary in the cream sits surprisingly well with the tangy naranjas (Edit by Hannah: oranges to you and I).
Finally, a smiling chef excitedly brought us a smoked Madagascan vanilla pod in a glass jar. She explained that this is collectively the kitchen's favourite smell bringing back memories of childhood and the perfect end to the meal. She released the smoke and allowed it to waft over us before placing a rhubarb pudding covered with vanilla cream, scorched nuggets of meringue and juniper caramel wafer in front of us. Another delightfully light dish, not overly sweet, to leave us perfectly full and satisfied.
Casamia provides not only memorable food but a unique and exciting food experience. The Sanchez-Iglesias brothers make food a science, however the technicality of the dishes doesn't overtake the food itself. It is, by far, the best meal I have had the pleasure to enjoy and the family are taking this restaurant places. I have no doubts that more Michelin stars will follow. It felt like we'd had a life changing meal at a place which is yet to be discovered, who knew that food could taste this good from everyday ingredients?!
There are not many places like this one. Definitely worth a visit and the poshest motorway stop we've ever had! No more Little Chef from now on...