But with (old) Casamia being out of the centre of Bristol, in Westbury on Trym, the location proved something of a drawback due to weak transport links and the time it would take to travel from the City Centre. It was with great excitement therefore that at the end of last year they announced they would be moving to new premises, the renovated landmark building of Bristol General Hospital in the Redcliff area. The results are spectacular.
But before I talk more about Casamia, I should also mention that the new premises has also allowed a broader expansion on the same site, allowing the team behind Casamia to soon open two additional eateries being Paco Tapas, and Pi Shop, a pizzeria. Both will be open later this year.
But two things remain very familiar. First, the kitchen team and the front of house team from ‘old’ Casamia are all there, so regulars will feel instantly at home. And second, the remarkable standard of cooking that defined Casmia is also unchanged. I had wondered if they might go overboard in defining a new menu for a new Casamia but I am pleased that they chose not to, rather the food remains the usual evolutionary advance on what’s gone before.
There are pictures of the dishes below, but they don’t really do it justice despite the presentation always being a thing of beauty in its own right (just look at that winter root vegetable salad). The food always exceeds expectations, even when you know what's coming. At times, a simple idea is just taken as far as it can go. One of the pre-menu snacks is Cauliflower with 36 month Parmesan, taking cauliflower cheese to a whole new level. And there’s always some clever cooking somewhere in the dish so even the humblest dishes are never quite as simple as they might sound. Nothing can be taken for granted at Casamia and the simple menu descriptions belie the technical brilliance that is behind each and every dish.
Elsewhere, there’s the ‘flavour bomb’, that is, a small unassuming dish with an unassuming name that, when you taste it however, delivers such intense flavours that you can hardly believe it’s possible. You’ll find many examples of this across the menu and a great example (and my dish of the day) is the ‘Crab, seaweed’. Sounds simple enough? But no. Take a classic crab bisque, reduce for intensity, make in to a gel; include also a Dashi jelly from kombu dashi and dress fresh Cornish crab with soy and lime and, finish with a garnish of seaweed and sea lettuce powder. Among other things, it's a mind blowing hit of umami, but it is also so much more. The small bowl it arrives in betrays nothing of what's about to hit you.
And then there’s the way that they cook the fish and the meats to perfection so that they lift Rainbow trout to a new level before ending the hot savouries with Fallow deer rolled in the ash made from the green tops of parsnips, and cooked on the ever popular Green Egg. These dishes might be more recognisable than the earlier wizardry but they are crafted with the same meticulous care and depth of underlying technique. Their skill with meats is something remarkable in itself.
Having eaten at Casamia many times now over the years, and over the seasons, I have seen the food evolve, and each time, each meal, it gets a little bit smarter, a little bit more self assured, but never at the expense of enjoyment. While the team at Casamia certainly produce clever food, that’s always second to producing enjoyable food and when you finish a meal at Casamia, what you feel is satisfaction, for every dish is created and then cooked with love. It really does show.
In Casamia’s new location at The General, the food has now got the restaurant it deserves while the new kitchen is likely to allow the team to grow creatively with fewer limitations than the old. Despite the remarkable standard of where they already are, my view remains unchanged from three years ago: Casamia continues to have a remarkable future ahead of it and the journey is likely to be incredibly exciting, with food that just keeps getting better. And with the new location, it is likely to find a whole new and appreciative audience, totally deserved.
While it was a joy to be back at Casamia, it also came with great sadness too. In November 2015, Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias lost his battle with cancer, aged just 32. I feel lucky in the extreme that I was able to call Jonray a friend these past three years, and like all who knew him, I am devastated by his passing. He was truly a beautiful person and never let the cancer define him, but was driven by contagious passion and love for food, for the restaurant, and for all the people in his life, from family, to friends to customers. And you didn’t need to know Jonray for months or years to understand this, from the moment I met him I loved him, it was impossible not to. Always with a smile, such a lovely smile, and so generous in spirit, he inspired me to be a better person. Jonray, you are massively missed chef.
Donations can be made in Jonray's memory to help end cancer by clicking on the link: https://www.justgiving.com/jonraysanchez/