Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Casamia Restaurant (Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurant 2010), 38 High Street, Westbury Village, Bristol, BS9 3DZ
The husband and I got to bring our little selves and not so little appetites to a one Michelin-starred restaurant recently. All thanks to our fab friends who got together and bought us a wonderful meal there as part of our wedding present. Never having been into one of these places before, I expected to be treated like a star, and they didn't disappoint. More on that later.
First things first.
Where is the restaurant?
"It says here on the Sat Nav that it's on this road."
"You sure? I can't see many shops here that are open ..."
"But it says here that it's meant to be here. 38 High Street, it says. And if 36 is here, 38 should be ... ohhhhhh it's here!"
A couple of Austin Power-styled parking manouvers later, we were in our spot, and fifteen minutes early for our 7pm booking. Never ones to let a mere 15 minutes stop us from our food, we bravely walked in towards the sunny walkway which reminded me of hot, orange summers in Sicily (I watch a lot of TV).
(Because I don't get to go to many Michelin-starred restaurants much, and because we paid shed loads for this, I'm going to go into an inane amount of detail here. Who knows, I may never get to eat at another Michelin-starred restaurant again, so this story will have to be brought up many times over, so I need details.)
For example, here are the hand towels in the ladies room.
But before I continue, some background. We first knew of this restaurant from Gordon Ramsay's Best Restaurant programme shown towards the end of 2010.
Since then, and when we knew we were coming here, I've been reading up on this place, and from further chats with restaurant staff, this is what I know:
1. Before this current version of Casa Mia, the restaurant used to serve up pizza/pasta, and was run by Peter and Jonray's parents, Paco and Susan.
2. Peter and Jonray took over the restaurant in 2006, and from then, made it what is is today with their parents helping out as front of house.
3. The menu is seasonal, with some favourites remaining on the menu in one form or another (for example, the beetroot barley which first made its debut in 2006, and has since been modified through the years)
Note to self: Next time I'm served up food by a celebrity chef, do remember to take a picture with said chef.
So we walked in at around 6.50pm, trying to look authoritative (one has to look authoritative in an expensive restaurant, no?). Smiley lady greeted us, and ushered us to a relatively large table for 2 diners. With my rubbish photography skills (if Auto mode was removed, I'd be without photos) I requested instead for a table by the window, with better light, and they obliged.
The only other people there at that time (remind me never to book dinner for 7pm again) were 2 other couples; one timid-looking couple whispering over their glasses while the other didn't show much expression. It was kinda quiet in there at the time, but what was to be expected with only 3 tables of diners? The waiting staff though were as friendly as can be, and they did all they could to make us feel at ease.
Which began with a large tray of nibbles brought to our table by no less than 3 waiters / chefs in training (?). One to hold the tray, one to place the plates on our table, and another to watch over approvingly with a smile. The One Who Placed The Plates On Our Table actually went into great detail explaining what all the items were, but alas, I left my notebook at home and so, am now completely guessing what they were based on what they tasted like.
Bread - drizzled with oil and served warm (is the best guess I can make but I hope I'm not too far wrong)
Wonderful stuff. I was trying to stay off the carbs, but heck. Each delicate bite was accompanied by a slight ooze of flavoured oil. Slightly worrying to the waistline, but pleasing to the palate. Like they say, one minute on the hips and all that. Soft and warm, I could have had lots more of this.
Nuts - warm macadamia and almond (I'm almost sure something else was added to the nuts, though I'm not sure what)
They should sell these in bottles, they should. I mean, I like macadamia anyway, but don't reckon I've ever had them warm, with a sort of sweet, spicy aftertaste. Couldn't taste anything too different about the almond but they were pleasant too.
Olives and garlic - you don't know what you're missing if you've never tried this garlic. Boy oh boy were they good.
I don't know how they marinated this, or cooked/didn't cook the garlic, but they were crunchy like apples, and also sweetly-spiced. None of the garlic aftertaste at all. Social-breath is over-rated anyway.
Cream cheese (?) spread/dip and breadsticks
Just from what it looks like, I would've thought it was butter in a little pot, with a leaf on top. Taste-wise, however, it kinda was along the lines of cream cheese, but yet light enough to be sort of like mousse. Regardless, the husband didn't question it too much, and devoured the lot with the help of 2 breadsticks and 1 piece of warm bread.
And that was the free stuff.
Moving on to the actual meal. We'd kinda loosened up a little by then, and the other diners sounded like they were more relaxed too. It helped that more diners had started arriving by that point.
When we were there, the restaurant had 2 menus to choose from (refer to website for latest menus), each one available with a wine flight option which we didn't take, preferring instead to choose a bottle from the wine menu (wine flights are wasted on us).
After a quick Spot The Difference between the 2 menus, we decided to go for the £45 option.
Beetroot, barley, iced yogurt pickled fennel (2006)
This was a very good first dish indeed. The appearance of it, being brilliant deep red, and served in an enormous white dish, provided a nice surprise to the start of the meal, setting the tone for the other dishes to come. Usually, when I see a dish, I kinda know what it'll taste like. This one was different.
The first tentative mouthful was surprisingly warm (I'd expected it to be cold, don't know why) and delightfully fruity. Yet nutty. And chewy. In a very good way (I like chewy food). The beetroot provided not only the brilliant red colouring, but the slightly tangy, vibrant, fruity, nutty flavouring to the dish, while the barley (couldn't have chosen a better pairing) was cooked to perfection.
Bite after bite, I was left wondering what was in the dish. Could taste a subtle hint of cheese maybe, but couldn't say for sure. The little white blob which looks like an egg on top of the barley was actually iced yoghurt, and proved a fantastic contrast to the warm base.
Who knew pickled fennel could taste so good?
Salmon, Italian garnish cauliflower
I've had salmon raw, salmon grilled, salmon baked, smoked salmon, salmon fried and salmon cooked in a variety of methods. But not like this. This salmon was poached in oil (40 degrees, if I remember correctly) resulting in a texture I'd not had before. How would I describe it (because the point of this is to let you virtually eat what I ate)?
Somewhere in between smoked and raw, if I had to measure it that way. It looked raw, but it didn't taste raw like sashimi would. Maintaining its creamy flavour well, this method of cooking actually made the salmon softer than soft, and all we had to use to get this to our mouths was the spoon provided. Kinda like scooping into a jelly, but with much better, more delicious results. The 2 white blobs were (I think) a dairy-based sauce of some sort, with the texture akin to mayo (critics all around the world looking at me with disdain, I know, but I am only providing my very basic and vague point of view here). Capers atop the fish were nice, dry and crispy to the bite. Good contrasts, all in all.
Iberico pork, mushroom apple sauce, celery root
Chef Peter brought this out to the table, and I should've thrown all utensils down and taken a picture with him, but no, I had to keep eating. He was perfectly nice, very friendly and charming, and totally unpretentious considering the fact that the guy's a celebrity and been on telly (and a lot more talented than many other 'celebs' on telly). First the plate of pork was set down on the table. 4 little rounds of pork set out like dominoes on the plate, so pretty and delicate. Chef Peter then drizzled the sauce over it, and exited the room in triumph.
Made that last bit up. He did exit the room, otherwise I wouldn't have started eating, and it was in triumph (to me anyway) but I'm not sure if he would have described it with such fanfare.
While the pork would have been probably excellent in any other restaurant, here, after all the lovely surprises with each course, this one felt almost quite plain. Kinda like, oh I know what this is. So while it was tasty, made even more so by the meaty sauce drizzled over it, the meat was slightly tough, and not as impressive as the dishes before it.
Selection of local cheeses £10 supplement
Nope, wasn't gonna pay more for that, so we comforted ourselves with the thought of our Tesco Value cheese range in the fridge, and moved onwards and upwards to the next course.
Cherry sorbet, aged balsamic (25 years, to be precise)
Looks like a little mouse on a plate. In fact, was not a mouse, but a lovely, immensely smooth and intensely flavourful sorbet. These guys are magicians. Balsamic went surprisingly well with the already tangy sorbet, which was a nice surprise. The only thing we didn't like so much were the slightly bitter, crunchy bits at the bottom. Tasted kinda like very bitter chocolate sprinkles, so while it provided a nice contrast to textures, I didn't like the taste of it much.
Traditional tiramisu, the smell of Renato‘s Numero Uno
What a story to tell hey. It's not very often I get a little story card with my meal unless it's the takeaway and then they only chuck in the menu to soak up the excess grease, but this one is a story worth telling.
Read the story card, go on, and then you'll find out why tiramisu is served in a takeaway carton at this restaurant. Different and nice. Plus, the lovely smell of the coffee beans in a jar perked me up a little as I was already getting quite full and contented.
The smell of freshly roasted coffee must remind the chefs of Renato's restaurant called Numero Uno, so the idea behind this little extra was to allow the diners to feel like how the chefs would have felt as little kids as they sat there enjoying their tiramisu in a takeaway box.
I'm so full, I can't possibly finish this.
Oh wait, I have.
As I waited for my husband to finish his wine (superb Italian white, name of which escapes me), I sat back and pondered my experience at this restaurant. Despite many other reviewers saying they didn't feel full after a 5-course meal here, I actually managed to feel sufficiently full. Wouldn't exactly say I was fed for the week, but then again, I don't think that was the point of this meal.
My tastebuds were surprised, though not tested to their limits, and I enjoyed combinations of flavours which I didn't think were possible prior to dining here. The ambience was lovely, and as I stepped out of the sunny brown walkway/alley, it took me a second or two to realise that I was actually somewhere in Bristol, and not on holiday far away in sunny Italy.
Much has been said about the restaurant, and the brothers, since the programme was broadcast. As far as my experience goes, I'd say I thoroughly enjoyed my special meal here.
Not only were we made to feel like we were the only diners here (service at the drop of a hat), we also received top notch food, a great dining experience, and even got to meet a celebrity chef who seems to have remained unfazed by fame and still makes the effort of coming out to each table at least once to serve up the diners' meals.
Well done Casamia!