(Apologies in advance…this is going to be a LONG post!)
Having transformed into a Michelin starred restaurant from a little local pizzeria, Westbury Village’s Casamia has found yet greater fame recently thanks to the restaurant’s victory in the Ramsay’s Best Restaurant series in November. My friend Laura and I were lucky enough to book a table in December with surprisingly little effort, thanks to Laura’s trial and error method of date selection via the restaurant’s online booking system.
A snowy evening in Westbury found us arriving for a pre-meal drink and a chance to peruse the menus before being seated. Casamia take the (some might say slightly risky) approach of not offering an a la carte menu, but opting to offer diners the choice of two tasting menus of either five or eight courses. Vegetarians and those with food allergies can substitute certain dishes – which change on a seasonal basis – for others that suit their dietary requirements.
Before we ate, we were treated to homemade star anise grissini, macadamia nuts and marinated olives to enjoy with our drinks, and were then shown to our table after ordering the eight-course menu (and, in Laura’s case, the wine flight to accompany the meal).
After having been served a miniature loaf of home-baked bread for the two of us to share, the feast commenced…
Scrambled duck egg, cured pig, cardamom leaf
The beauty of the Casamia menu is that, while it gives an indication of the ingredients to expect in each dish, presentation and preparation remain unknown until the food is served. Our first dish proved this point perfectly. Each duck egg shell was topped with an incredibly fine cardamom foam that disappeared in the mouth without the need to swallow, and hid warm and perfectly runny scrambled duck egg, the flavours of which were infused with tiny flecks of cardamom leaf and the rich saltiness of the back fat from a pig (sounds appealing, I know) which had been cured with thyme, salt and pepper for four months. We quickly realised that presentation was going to be a key part of the meal, not just the flavours, as demonstrated by the following course…
Raw venison, piave vecchio, chestnut honey
Bringing together a venison tartare, finely grated Piave Vecchio cheese, a whole, runny quail’s egg yolk, cress, capers, cornichons and chestnut honey, there were a LOT of flavours in this dish. However…it worked. The rich gaminess of the meat combined perfectly with the salty cheese, sweet honey and vinegary capers and cornichons…and the egg yolk highlighted the dish’s homage to the traditional tartare dish.
Beetroot, barley, iced yoghurt, pickled fennel
Definitely one of my favourite courses of the evening, thanks to the variety of textures and the interesting combination of hot and cold. Soft, fat grains of barley in a beetroot sauce were served with crunchy pistachios and a smooth iced yoghurt…and it was the combination flavours as well as the textures that made the dish. The earthy beetroot and the slightly sour yoghurt worked together beautifully – I wasn’t completely convinced by the addition of the pickled fennel, however.
Salmon, Italian garnish, cauliflower
The salmon in this dish appeared at the table and proved to be very lightly cooked, so much so that the fish was still translucent and obviously very fresh. The chefs’ obvious love of all things vinegary made a reappearance in the form of more capers, and slivers of candied lemon peel and a lemon emulsion that brought out the flavours of the fish.
Roast best end of lamb, parsley, carrots
Perfectly pink lamb, chunks of kidney, carrot puree and shallot crumbs were presented at the table, and an incredibly rich green parsley jus added from a jug at the last minute. We were amazed by the colours in this dish when it was served (although they don’t come out well in my photo – I was trying to avoid the flash!) I think the highlight for me was the sliver of lamb crackling served leaning against the lamb – rich, meaty and crisp yet melted in the mouth.
Selection of local cheese (+£10)
No photo this time. We’ve all seen cheese before 🙂 Laura and I decided to share a supplementary cheese course, which is charged at an additional £10 per portion. A nice touch from the waiting staff: each of the four cheeses was brought to our table in large slabs before we made the decision to order. Keens Cheddar, a Caerphilly, Beenleigh Blue and Tunworth provided us with a nice variety of different types of cheese, served with a quince jelly and biscuits. We both have massive cheese obsessions so there’s no way we were going to avoid this one…and we’re glad we didn’t…
Pine nut soup, Amalfi lemon sorbet
Surprisingly, another one of my highlights of the evening. The bowls that were brought to our table featured crushed caramelised pine nuts and a quenelle of Amalfi lemon sorbet…and as with the jus with the lamb course, the soup (at room temperature, and reminiscent of melted ice cream) was poured at the table from a jug. With an incredibly nutty smell, my first impression after trying the soup and caramelised pine nuts on their own was that the dish was overly sweet. However, combined with the tart lemon sorbet, the edge was taken off of the sweetness and the flavours were amazing.
Cox apple, toffee, winter spices, raisin ice cream
Demonstrating the flair that the brothers showed in Ramsay’s series, our second dessert arrived alongside a bowl of apples and winter spices, to which liquid nitrogen was added to flood the table with the smell of apples and cloves to accompany the dish. With a toffee-coated raisin ice cream was served what was essentially a deconstructed apple crumble: an incredibly smooth apple puree, small chunks of compressed apple and a small pile of toasted crumble topping and slivers of nuts. Combined with the smell flooding from the centrepiece, this course really was reminiscent of homemade wintry apple crumble…
Onto the final course…
Traditional tiramisu, the smell of Renato’s Numero Uno
It may possibly be seen as over-sentimental by some, but we thought this was a nice touch to the end of the meal. Again, we had a centrepiece offering an accompanying aroma for our meal – this time a bowl of roasted coffee beans – and at the same time that this was brought out, a slip of paper was placed on each of our plates explaining the brothers’ love of the dessert. As it turns out, it is one of their earliest memories of “good Italian cooking”, with their father bringing it home for them in takeaway cartons from Renato’s Numero Uno when they were young as a Sunday treat.
Serving the tiramisu in individual takeaway containers was a lovely touch and showed that – despite the acclaim that a Michelin star brings – the brothers do still try and stay true to their roots. This was a proper, traditional tiramisu – no alcohol, simply a fairly thin cream covering a light sponge, and topped with a thick layer of cocoa powder. I would have taken a photo of what was inside the container but I was too busy enjoying it, unfortunately… 🙂
Then followed espressos, chocolates, and the most imaginatively-served chocolate biscuits I’ve ever had (I’m not going to spoil the surprise…). The perfect end to the perfect evening. The food was imaginative but mostly styled on existing, well-known dishes and flavours, the wine flight that Laura opted for was perfectly matched with the food, and the service was outstanding – to the extent that whenever one of us left our seat, our napkin (which we’d flung onto the table) was refolded in preparation for our return.
Price-wise, I can’t believe that a restaurant of this quality is so reasonable. At only £68 for the 8-course option and £45 for the 5-course option, it won’t break the bank. The atmosphere is ridiculously relaxed and informal for such a restaurant, with the staff welcoming and diners not being made to feel uncomfortable or out of their depth.
Many thanks to Jonray, Peter and everyone else for a fantastic evening – we’ll certainly be back when the menus next change!
Address: 38 High Street, Westbury Village, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol BS9 3DZ
Telephone: 0845 074 5692
Find Casamia on the Bristol Bites Directory…