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The General, Lower Guinea Street
“I can still remember and describe every dish from the tasting menu” admits one reader who had a “phenomenal experience” at Michelin-starred Casamia – Peter Sanchez-Iglesias’s hugely impressive harbourside restaurant located on the ground floor of the old Bristol General Hospital building. Inside it’s “simple but stylish”, surprisingly warm and inviting, with enthusiastic staff aiding and abetting the busy chefs as they take diners on an immensely flavoursome gastronomic journey inspired by the seasons. One-word descriptions give few clues to the sheer brilliance of the food, but all is revealed once the “delicately complex” creations start arriving on bespoke crockery: ‘salad’ means a super-fresh mix of dark and light green seasonal leaves with charred broccoli, sweet carrot and savoury juices; ‘beetroot’ is a masterly combination of yoghurt sorbet, pickled fennel and beetroot risotto with soft rice and pistachio for texture; ‘rainbow trout’ brings together a superb confit with a bisque, some delicate roe and wonderful “skin crisps” – an outright winner among a clutch of “world-class” dishes. ‘Turbot’ and ‘duck’ are also subjected to mind-bending transformation, while desserts (if that’s the word) could include ‘passion fruit’ – actually a “staggeringly good” three-part riff (granita, jelly, seeds) topped by a tarragon-flavoured custard and little dabs of meringue. With culinary invention “taken to a new level”, a top-class wine list and explanatory table service often provided by the chatty chefs themselves, Casamia is a genuine one-off and a worthy winner of the SquareMeal Award for the Best UK Restaurant, 2018.
SquareMeal’s Best Restaurants in the UK 2018 is compiled using votes from our annual survey, last conducted in spring 2018. Thousands of readers took part and the results were moderated by SquareMeal’s editor and his nationwide team of professional reviewers. The UK survey does not include any restaurants in London. Click here for the full list of SquareMeal’s Best Restaurants in the UK.
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SquareMeal Award - Best UK Restaurant
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The General, Lower Guinea Street
Sea Mills Station 2km
Clifton Down Station 3km
Henbury Golf Club 992m
H.M. Prison Bristol 2km
Tue-Sat 7-9pm, lunch Sat only 12.30-1.45pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 5
In its own way the cuisine at Casamia is just as scientific as that at The Fat Duck. The important difference is that the emphasis here is experimenting with combinations and concentrations of ingredients to arrive at the most striking balance on the palate and never losing sight of the fact that most diners actually prefer real food. Peter Sanchez and his team hit the bullseye in this worthy aim. Add to this the welcoming dining space with its properly open kitchen, the chefs presenting the dishes at table, the friendly, knowledgeable front of house staff who are willing and empowered to act in accommodating the desires and preferences of the diners, including wine choices from the excellent cellar, and you have a fine dining experience which in any other country would be rated by the tyre maker cum booking agency as highly as does the Good Food Guide. Impressive is the least you can say about the perfectly pitched sequence of dishes and it is very difficult to spotlight our favourites from the plethora of riches put before us, but for us the standouts have to be the Canary Island carabineros (crayfish) with its shell reduction and dulse meringue, the salad dish with its myriad of different elements and textures and flavours, the carnaroli rice, kept in oak for 12 months, with beetroot sauce, its richness countered by soured cream, the baby monkfish layered with a truly memorable truffle sabayon, the duck with pak choi sharp against the meat with its honey-flavoured topping and a supreme duck sauce, and the strawberry delight enhanced by Kampot pepper. Another amazing evening!
It is still a mystery how Casamia has still got just a single Michelin star, which makes it appear to be on the same level as some inferior pubs that we have eaten in and certainly one other restaurant in Bristol when it is clearly in another class. The first thing the diner will remark on is the relaxed nature of the dining experience, with every diner feeling like an old friend and being shown the kitchen in close-up, the chefs serving the dishes and describing them in great detail, and front of house staff not only willing to discuss all aspects of the meal but clearly able to do so since they are intimately involved as part of the team in all areas of the restaurant, which has the desired result of the whole thing running like clockwork. All this contrasts to a major extent with the stiff, uninterested, service by rote at so many other “fine dining” venues. Once again stunning dish followed stunning dish, right from the so-called snacks, an amazing all-in-one truffle and Cornish Gouda mousse in a light brick tartlet with a super aftertaste emanating from the truffle, and a prawn mayo and tartare in a sweet shell of seaweed meringue, to the petits fours, a superlight lemon Turkish delight, and a clever porcini mushroom fudge. The snacks gave way to a succession of delicately complex taste, texture and presentation wonders, some merely brilliant and others simply world-class and all accompanied by an exemplary choice of excellent wine. On the menu one word was allowed to give a clue as to the make-up of each dish. A full description requires a whole dictionary. “Salad” was a super mix of dark and light green winter leaves plus charred broccoli, light sweet carrot and tasty savoury juices. “Beetroot” was a masterly combination of yoghurt sorbet, pickled fennel, sweet beetroot risotto with soft and firm rice and pistachio for extra texture. “Rainbow Trout” from Mere Farm was brilliant confit fish combined with a crab bisque approaching perfection and coupled with delicate roe and loin, and some wonderful skin crisps - a real winner! “Turbot” turned out to be a more than worthy successor to the unsurpassable Casamia version of sole Véronique which we had on our last visit, combining the best fish with a classy champagne sabayon, perfect grapes, perfect leeks matching the sabayon to produce a dish that would earn three stars on its own across the English Channel. We were so far under the spell of the kitchen that we were almost ready to accept that “Duck” could be a simply cooked egg with apple cubelets, onion and a dashi sauce giving this “palate cleanser” an historic hit to the tastebuds, but it was swiftly followed by Creedy Carver duck breast from Devon, salt-brined and as tender and tasty as could be and cleverly supported by chia seed and fennel seed and a deft touch of coriander. The two desserts were “Passion fruit” done three ways, accompanied by tarragon gel and meringue and knocking one back with the way it developed on the palate in such an amazing fashion, and “Rhubarb” just another demonstration of the enjoyable complexity which seems to be the norm at Casamia with delightful rhubarb sorbet and jelly and cubes, bay leaf crisp and cream, juniper shard and cream and rose gel, shard and cream, all adding up to a staggeringly good finish to yet another staggeringly good dining experience here.
It is a mystery, if not a surprise, why Casamia has not been promoted from having just a single Michelin star, which means it remains on the same level as inferior pubs that we have eaten in, restaurants where the star has been inherited at least three times over by the sous chef and offshoots opened by “names” with no real reason for existing apart from easy money for the owner. Perhaps it is because Peter Sanchez is something of a pioneer, dreaming up dishes with unusual combinations of ingredients, designing dish-specific crockery, and melding techniques to formulate an advanced approach that could be seen as a step too far for a chef who should be still finding his feet, and is perhaps not always fully understood by judgemental inspectors with a strict agenda to adhere to. We are struck by the friendly nature of Casamia, where every diner is regarded almost as a member of the extended family, as shown by the willingness of the staff, both kitchen, with the chefs bringing up the various dishes, and front of house, to listen to and discuss things with the punters. Once again stunning dish followed stunning dish, right from the snacks, 3-year aged Parmesan mousse in a light bric tartlet with cheese sprinkles, deep-sea carabineros prawns on a seaweed meringue which gave up a sweet seafood aftertaste, and a smoking sandwich of venison tartare with cavolo nero and horseradish cream, to the petits fours, a superlight and delicious mix of damson and bay leaf Turkish delight, and a clever porcini mushroom fudge, which could almost double as a canapé. Interposed between these delights was a succession of delicately complex taste, texture and visual wonders, some merely brilliant and others simply world-class. The combination of yoghurt sorbet, pickled fennel, sweet beetroot risotto with soft and firm rice and pistachio for extra texture was superb. The duo of brown trout, loin Japanese style with coal dust, wonderful skin crisps, shiitake and a ginger dashi perfectly balanced with the fish, and roast belly in a smoked mousse with trout roe and, this time, kombu dashi, was a winner. I tend to avoid vegetarian dishes where possible, and when faced with something named autumnal salad, my defences are activated; but the scorched radicchio leaf, the concentrated taste of sweet carrot, the goat’s curd and yoghurt, the celeriac jam, the parsley dressing and the swede all made for an outstanding, complex and wonderfully satisfying dish which completely belied its simple appellation and I was fully won over. The Casamia version of sole Véronique relies, quite rightly, on the best fish with an egg emulsion sabayon, perfect grapes, amazing leeks and a roe powder condiment to produce a truly top-class dish. It’s game bird season, so a duo of grouse seemed just the thing, and the confit leg with pasta was quite astounding and beautifully supported by quail’s egg yolk on potato purée and the lovely herby touch of oregano; not to be outdone, the melt-in-the-mouth breast with a grouse jus worked really well with cold rose petal variations and an intense hit of ras el hanout on the crisp skin. Dehydrated butternut squash matched with natural caramel, from which a pleasant clove aroma emanated, and brown butter formed an historic pairing with the “orange” Ruländer (aka Pinot Gris) from Austria, just one of a series of well-considered bottles in the wine flight, and this set the scene for an intense passion fruit mousse with light tarragon meringue, and the final dish “Collection of apples” comprising multiple elements of different types of apple with varying but never clashing levels of acidity and sweetness washed down with a complement of Herefordshire apple liqueur. For us this one of the best meals of the year and, with regard to where Casamia should figure in relation to its peers, we think that The Sunday Times Top 100 list, which represents the view of the food-loving general public instead of the usual anonymous inspectors in guides such as Michelin or AA, is where one should look.
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