Editor's note: Casamia has now moved to The General, Lower Guinea Street, Bristol BS1 6SY, with an unchanged phone number.
Casamia is an intriguing place, tucked away down a narrow passageway in an unpromising area just north of Bristol. The dining room is to one side, separated by portals from a pleasant bar area with a skylight giving an illusion of space. Originally a conventional Italian restaurant, the young brothers, who are the chefs, are taking it in a modern direction. A variety of tasting menus were £30 to £45, so prices were certainly not high.
The wine list was mostly Italian and was quite limited with a couple of dozen or so wines, but apparently it was just about to be significantly expanded. Example wines were a Planeta Chardonnay 2007 at £36 for a wine you can buy in the shops for around £17, up to a Rioja Alta 1995 at £60 for a wine that will set you back around £31 retail if you can find it.
To begin with a pair of pieces of puffed polenta appeared, topped with quince jelly, Parmesan, tomato, olives and basil (15/20). A shot of hot and cold gin with lime was also presented, and indeed was hot and cold, but I could not really see what this was trying to achieve, as all that could be tasted was the lime. A little too much time browsing Ferran Adria’s cookbook would seem to be in evidence based on this. I was much more impressed by a mini-loaf, served whole and made from scratch on the premises, the bread warm and having wonderful texture (18/20).
I began with beetroot risotto, which appears to be some form of signature dish here. It was very good, with firm rice having absorbed good stock, and although beetroot is not a classical risotto, it has a distinct flavour that also leeches into the rice and works quite well (15/20). This was better than a deconstructed “Caesar salad”, with mackerel (mackerel?!?), iced Parmesan with a tuile, lemon jelly cubes, balsamic reduction and a few salad leaves. This seemed to me an ill-considered dish, with elements that in themselves were fine but did not naturally meld; in addition the portion size was almost comically small, like one of those 1970s poor misinterpretations of nouvelle cuisine (13/20).
For main course I had roe deer saddle, cooked properly with celeriac puree, mushrooms, apple puree and hazelnuts. This was a much better dish, the deer tasty and the elements of the dish working harmoniously (15/20). Cornish turbot was served with garden peas, pea shoots and pancetta with black salsify and lemon, again a reasonable combination but this time having a major technical flaw. The turbot was cooked sous-vide (i.e. in a water bath, slowly at low temperature) and this is itself was fine: however the fish was literally raw in the middle. I am happy enough with sushi, but slow warming is the last thing you want to do to a piece of protein from a bacteriological perspective. It was sent back, and reappeared, well, slightly less raw; I think they had briefly pan-fried another sous-vide portion. Apart from being mildly unpleasant, this is unsound from a food hygiene viewpoint, and rather disconcerting, especially when the waitress began to explain that this was the style of the kitchen: best not to try bluffing about this to not one, but two, medical microbiologist diners. I won’t score this dish, and hope it was some form of accident, though the consistency that sous-vide brings means that it may not have been.
For dessert, a plate of Italian cheese was pleasant (14/20), while dark chocolate mousse with walnut was served with beetroot ice cream and beetroot powder. The mousse itself was well-made, as was the beetroot ice cream, but I find it odd to see beetroot recurring in a dessert when it has already featured as a starter, never mind whether it was a wise combination (13/20). Apple and turnip risotto with truffle was a strange dish that I found ill-conceived, but was technically OK. Overall I find this a difficult meal to mark; there were flashes of talent, such as with the bread, and also the roe deer. Yet serving fish that is raw in the centre is a worrying technical lapse, while some ingredient combinations were repetitive as well as peculiar. For me this showed some immaturity in the thinking of the chef. However it seems to me that there is some real ability lurking here amongst the, at times, oddball cooking.