Casamia, an unassuming family-run restaurant tucked away in a village near Bristol, is a one Michelin starred establishment well and truly on the rise, discovers Debra Waters.
Casamia is not a restaurant that shows off. The décor is of a pared-down trattoria: simple, rustic and intimate; the menu is written in a sparse, toned down manner. The day we visit the two tasting menus have been – apologetically – limited to one. There is no a la carte. A sole tasting menu seems a tad restrictive – until we taste the food.
Casamia was a popular and respected local Italian until two things happened to elevate it to Michelin star status and national renown. Firstly, in 2006 the owners Paco and Sue Sanchez-Iglesias entrusted their self-taught sons to run the kitchen while they went on holiday. If legend is to be believed, Peter and Jonray stripped Casamia in their parents’ absence, transforming it from a colourful 100-seat eatery into an unfussy 40-cover restaurant.
Then, in 2010, after many trying rounds, the brothers’ cooking and their parents’ impeccable skills front-of-house won them the title of Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurant. Unsurprisingly, since the show aired they’ve had "a massive response from the public and the restaurant bookings have gone mad."
It’s the extra touches that makes Casamia Michelin star material. Menus – given to diners in a black envelope – feel like an invite to a banquet; the Laguiole cutlery includes water buffalo horn butter knives; there is a strong, confident wine list; the service is friendly, unintrusive and professional.
The winter lunch menu starts with Star anise twisted bread sticks with a subtle truffle dip, there’s home-made bread and butter, followed by Beetroot, barley, iced yogurt and pickled fennel. This risotto-style dish is a perfectly palatable concoction of sweet, sharp and earthy; the simultaneous sensations of hot and cold reminiscent of food found in children’s fantasy books.
The two mains options – salmon and lamb – are equally impressive. There’s a succulent Gloucester-reared Saddle of lamb with a naughty nugget of crackling that resounds pleasingly through the brain on crunch. Carrots are tender, the parsley purée and shallot crumble minimalist portions with maximum flavour. Salmon comes boldly pink with a caper crust, light-as-air lemon emulsion and gems of roasted cauliflower.
For dessert, each diner is presented with a divinely velvety Tiramisu in a foil takeaway container; a homage to a treat from the brothers’ childhood. It tastes too classy to be dismissed as a gimmick. There’s an optional selection of British and Italian cheeses, including a blue from Totnes and moreish Caerphilly, followed by home-made and Damian Allsop chocolates.
It’s a fine menu independent of the extras we’re then indulged with: a tradtional Apple crumble is elevated from a traditional pud to a dessert that’s intensely fruity and light. It’s presented with showmanship – accompanied by a table setting of apples and spices which release a glorious scent after liquid nitrogen is poured.
But it’s the popcorn soup with Amalfi sorbet that has instilled itself in the psyche as the lasting culinary memory – a lipsmackingly buttery consommé lifted by a concentrated lemon ice that is sweet, piquant and refreshing.
Casamia offers delicate, self-assured cooking, imbued with a lightness of touch and a sense of play. The siblings explain that they like to remain "respectful to the classics while coming up with innovative ways of breathing new life into old dishes." They certainly like to push the boundaries, and clearly have fun with their food, while remaining sensitive to their diners’ need for a meal they can tuck into as well as remember. In keeping with modern mores, produce is reassuringly local – herbs are from highly-regarded Jekka McVicar’s organic farm and even the water is from the Mendips in Somerset.
With a new book out this year, and increasing publicity surrounding these up-and-coming talents, expect to see more of the Sanchez-Iglesias brothers this year.
Two brothers, three questions
How do you harness your creativity?
Rather than reproducing dishes that have been made before, we take a step back and look at every aspect of the dish to establish exactly why something is cooked in a certain way or why specific ingredients are used. We challenge everything! Sometimes people are nervous about creativity and worried that it won’t work – this makes them hold back. You have to follow your instinct and this is at the heart of our cooking.
What do you offer that’s original?
Our cooking is all about ingredient combinations and presentation. We want to suprise and give the diner an experience that is unlike anything they’ve tasted before. Cooking to us is art and experiment; we never do something just because that’s the way it’s always been done.
Who are your heroes?
This is a difficult one. One is definitely our dad – with what he’s achieved himself and the fact that he’s always believed in us and put everything on the line to support us. One has to be Gordon Ramsay – we grew up watching his cooking programmes and reading his books. When we met him through the Ramsay’s Best Restaurant programme he was so inspiring and supportive. He’s like our mentor. The other one has to be Heston Blumenthal. He was the first one to show that there were other ways of doing things and his scientific approach challenged cookery methods in this country. When he opened his pub, it demonstrated that fine dining doesn’t have to be confined to a restaurant environment.
38 High St
Bristol BS9 3DZ
T: 0845 074 5692