24 October 2016
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.