Having lived in Bristol for little over a month, I can’t tell you how the new Casamia in the former General Hospital compares to the previous site in Westbury. What I can tell you about the new restaurant, however, is that it is bloody brilliant.
Tucked in the basement arches of the hospital building, Casamia’s stone arches engender gentle lighting and soft acoustics. Every decoration, from the seasonal fruit and vegetable centrepiece to the simple sprigs of spring flowers, speak of seasonality – much like the food to follow. With fewer than ten tables to serve, the chefs move calmly around the open kitchen and even have time to serve each dish themselves. A nice touch, I think, and their explanations are quite necessary to fully appreciate the depth of cooking that underpins each dish.
For instance, what is advertised as a humble root vegetable salad turns out to be an exquisitely pretty array of celeriac crisps and poached carrot. Their delicate, earthy flavour forms a base to showcase more dominant flavours from sweet carrot jam, peppery nasturtium and salty whipped goats cheese. Next, the reluctant carnivore within me is coaxed out by hunks of tender, mild venison coated in a charcoal of burnt salad leaves, whose bitterness is offset by the sweet accompanying parsnip – roasted, crisps and puree. Again, simple seasonal ingredients are elevated, but in an entirely understated way.
Not only is this cooking entirely unpretentious, it is also often filled with elements of experimentation and fun. A lemon curd rice pudding heaped with steaming-cold nuggets of iced celeriac acts as an innovative segue from savoury to sweet courses, and is quite unlike anything I have ever tasted. A mandarin dessert – where the fruit appears fresh, freeze dried, as an ice, a sorbet and a cream – is served amidst billowing clouds of mandarin-infused smoke to encourage diners to use their sense of smell as well as their tastebuds. And the final flourish of fun comes with the mignardises: a miniature carrot cupcake with a crispy outer surrounding a warm, fluffy sponge and an dark chocolate ‘lollipop’ studded with fruit and nuts.
We racked our brains to find a fault with Casamia, but this is fresh, fun, flawless cooking. I will be returning as the change of the seasons heralds a new menu.