GFG archives

Through the archives: Casamia – where it all began
Published 08 June 2022

Credit: Casamia

Paco and Susan Sanchez-Iglesias took an enormous leap of faith when they decided to transform their traditional Italian neighbourhood restaurant into something altogether more cutting-edge.

Their unflagging support of their sons Peter and the late, much missed Jonray paid off – at the restaurant’s very first appearance in the guide in 2008, Peter and Jonray were awarded ‘Best up-and-coming Chef(s)’ and were named Chef(s) of the Year in 2015.

The announcement by Peter Sanchez-Iglesias that, after 25 years, Casamia is to close on August 20 - to be replaced by ‘something new, and a little more accessible, later this year’ – had us delving into the archives to remind us where it all began.

The Good Food Guide 2008

A genuinely exciting newcomer on the scene since Peter and Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias recently returned home to cook at their parents' previously sleepy Italian restaurant. The interior of white linen, wrought iron and scenes of Venice may still be comfortably traditional but the menu reveals daring variations on classics and wholly contemporary Italian dishes. From a lengthy menu the starters might include a ‘deconstructed Caesar salad’ or a pear and walnut salad with Parmesan Reggiano dribbled with white truffle oil. Mains also show innovation with roast breast of chicken served with confit of its wings, Amaretto flavours and carrots in different textures. From here, move on to pasta and risotto dishes such as ten-hour ragù of venison with tubular pasta followed by desserts of hazelnut dark chocolate truffle cake or strawberry soup with balsamic caramel ice cream. This is cooking constructed with real passion and beautifully presented. Produce is sourced from the surrounding area and Milan market, with herbs and exotic fruit grown in the courtyard. Meanwhile, parents Paco and Susan run front-of-house with all the friendly familiarity of a local restaurant. The wine list is mostly Italian, starting at £13.50 for a bottle of house red, with a full range of sherry and grappas planned.

The Good Food Guide 2009

…These passionate, hard-working young chefs create innovative and contemporary Italian cuisine based on adventurous re-workings of classic dishes. From the concise, seasonal menu, starters might include a velvety ravioli of Jersey Royals with wild mushrooms and white truffle oil or rare-roasted local wood pigeon breast served with assorted textures and essences of coffee, caramelised almonds and Amaretto. Mains also display inventiveness and unusual flavour combinations, with a thick piece of meltingly tender slow-cooked Gloucester Old Spot suckling pig served with sautéed Jerusalem artichokes, a purée of the same vegetable spiked with ras el hanout and small cubes of chocolate jelly. This could be followed by a pannacotta flavoured with pine nuts and served with a tart Bramley apple purée and zesty lemon sorbet. Paco and Susan run front-of-house as if welcoming people into their own home, although the restaurant now attracts as many travelling gastronomes as it does regulars. The Italian-heavy wine list kicks off at £13.50 for a bottle of house red and there are some real finds under £20. At £15 for two courses lunch is exceptional value for the cooking and skill involved.

The Good Food Guide 2010

The unassuming entrance gives nothing away. First impressions are of a low-key neighbourhood restaurant, the neat décor suggesting something a little more traditional than the reality – a glance at the menu should put the uninitiated in the picture. Peter and Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias go about their business with deadly serious intent, their creative and complex ideas mostly executed with considerable intricacy and consummate flair. Their menu descriptions remain in the listing style and the deconstruction of classic dishes is a recurring theme: Caesar salad as a starter and tiramisu at dessert stage have both worked well. However, one reporter felt that a proper pesto might have been better than the deconstructed version (basil jelly, piles of parmesan and pine nuts) that accompanied roast organic lamb. But, in general, what appears on the plate has purpose and vigour – as salmon poached in olive oil, with peas, pancetta, rock hyssop and wild mushroom proved for one visitor. Desserts are equally palate-broadening (and ‘really good’), with plenty of textural complexity and delicate nuances – as in, say, dark chocolate tart with walnuts and beetroot ice cream. The set lunch has been described as ‘extremely good value for the quality involved’. The wine list is mostly Italian, with a good selection by the glass from £4.

The Good Food Guide 2011

Only the large storage vessels of liquid nitrogen next to the pots of herbs in the pretty courtyard garden hint at what’s to come at this unassuming neighbourhood restaurant. With its terracotta tiles and fresco-style paintings, Casamia still has reminders of its traditional Italian trattoria past – but for the past four years, brothers Peter and Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias have well and truly put this place on the culinary map, thanks to their innovative cooking style and ultra-modern techniques. Their epigrammatic tasting menus give little away and the creative dishes are full of surprises. A starter of hot and earthy beetroot risotto arrives with a scoop of iced yoghurt and is topped with razor-thin slices of pickled fennel and finely chopped pistachios to create a dish of genuine textural complexity. A confit leg and breast of roast quail is cooked sous-vide before being placed on a small ‘nest’ of crisp, dried angel-hair pasta with celery leaves and a drizzle of quail jus. For dessert, succulent English strawberries are flavoured with tarragon and meadowsweet and presented in a billowing cloud of ice-cold liquid nitrogen with a ‘summer’s day aroma’. The predominantly Italian wine list is modern in tone, with a good range by the glass from £4.

The Good Food Guide 2013

The unassuming entrance might suggest a traditional neighbourhood restaurant, but there is nothing conventional about Casamia. Since taking over their parents’ trattoria, Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias have put this suburban venue well and truly on the culinary map. Cutting-edge cooking techniques and a desire to push the gastronomic boundaries make a meal here a unique dining experience. The new Seasons.Casamia concept sees the restaurant change its appearance four times a year, complete with seasonal smells and sounds. From the spring menu, John Dory poached in olive oil is paired with sea beet, a light cider velouté, chopped hazelnuts and mustard flowers. A rump of lamb cooked sous vide is served with a traditional mint sauce and a ‘cannelloni’ of leek leaves filled with sautéed leeks and chives. A curtain-closing dessert of ‘Easter egg’ is a gossamer-thin dark chocolate dome, smashed open to reveal white chocolate mousse and a frozen mango sorbet ‘yolk’. This left-field approach might not be to everybody’s liking and there have been complaints that the limited choice of three tasting menus is ‘too exclusive’ and there ‘should be an additional carte’. All this aside, the cooking skills, ingredients and service at inspection were hard to fault. Wines from £18.

The Good Food Guide 2015

As the score shows, Casamia is not an eccentric restaurant run by two charming brothers in an out-of-the-way Bristol suburb, but one of the most enjoyable places to eat in the UK. It’s also a serious restaurant, using the finest ingredients in a menu of range and subtlety. There’s no doubting that Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias have grown in stature to rank with the best. Everyone who has eaten here in the last year has reported blisteringly successful meals. A cool, relaxed and unstuffy dining room is run with candid friendliness; this is a place where junior chefs amble out of the open kitchen to explain each dish in the (one per season) ten-course tasting menu. Try this amalgam from spring: a porcelain ‘breakfast egg’ topped with a sliver of crisp bacon and filled with delicious egg custard from which you scoop black pudding, mushroom, ketchup, a tiny tomato; a bright, flower-strewn micro salad; lemon sole with a slick of creamy cider sauce, apple jelly contributing acidity, broccoli and deep-fried kale adding crisp texture; lamb, its predictable partner, mint, offered as a restrained purée with a supporting cast of dried-crisp leeks, a single, perfect potato and lick of rich gravy. Among the three desserts, it’s the crossover dish that’s the triumphant standout – a carrot sponge topped with dried carrot and a thyme-milk and nitrogen-poached ice cream. On the wine front, there’s quality drinking all the way from France to the southern hemisphere, with prices from £28.

The Good Food Guide 2016

Don’t be deceived by the name or the suburban Bristol location: this is a cutting-edge restaurant, understated and relaxed, one of the unsung heroes of the British restaurant scene. Indeed, a first meal here can feel like stumbling across a well-kept secret, though with booking advised even early in the week, Casamia obviously has a considerable number of fans. Peter and Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias’s cooking has pursued an interesting trajectory in recent years. They are chefs who have journeyed out to the wilder shores, picked up some ideas and then headed back to safe harbour again, combining modern juxtapositions with classical technique. What they deliver is a (one per season) tasting menu that gives a totally up-to-date perspective on the best ingredients. Not rich, not fussy, just simple ingredients perfectly cooked. There’s some theatre, which is all good fun, with the junior chefs nipping out from the open-to-view kitchen to deliver and explain dishes. Consider these highlights from the winter menu: a superb winter salad with carrot and goats’ curd (‘a masterpiece’), a top-flight risotto of mushroom and spelt, brown trout with variations of cabbage, a ‘sensational’ fallow deer with parsnip, and a ‘fabulous’ transitional dish of celery rice pudding, a mix of ‘hot-cold, sweet-savoury’. The likeable modern wine list (from £26) explores an interesting range of varietals from around the globe and there’s a good selection by the glass.

The Good Food Guide 2017

In 2008, Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias zipped into the Guide, picking up our ‘best up and coming chef(s)’ award at the same time. ‘Chef(s) of the year’ followed in 2015, as we noted their emergence as serious reputation makers. Then, in late 2015, Jonray died at the age of 32. His death could easily have brought the curtain down, but it is a tribute to his younger brother Peter that he has carried on without him, continuing with a planned move from Westbury-on-Trym to the centre of Bristol, where Casamia has bagged itself a prime spot, occupying the ground floor of a former hospital overlooking the Floating Harbour. Fittingly discreet from the outside, warm, understated and spacious within, the centrepiece is a prominent open kitchen where Peter follows the seasonal rhythm of the old Casamia – four quarterly-changing menus that are tweaked as the produce changes. His 14-course tasting menu has a wonderfully light touch and meticulous craftsmanship, as these highlights from the spring menu reveal: a gorgeously fresh scallop tartare given texture by ‘scrumps’ (crumbs of crisp batter); an intensely flavoured mackerel risotto beneath a tangle of crisp vermicelli straw; the magnificently simple combination of monkfish with springtime creams and a lip-smacking, creamy marinière-style cider sauce; and ‘hit of the evening’, exquisite lamb finished on the BBQ to give a hint of smokiness, offset by a mini lamb croquette riding high on an intense nasturtium jelly, so bright that it tingles. Equally notable is a crisp, voluptuous little sandwich of Quicke’s Cheddar, a lovely composition of fresh, freeze-dried and granita blood orange layered with rosemary custard, and in a grand finale, who would have thought the flavour of gin would go so well with rhubarb? Service is excellent, dismantling the formalities and making the whole experience more personal. The wine list is compiled with an eye for quality drinking, with bottles from £27.