Casamia is dead. By the time you read this, the restaurant has four, maybe five weeks left before the doors are closed for good. One expects it will be quite the clean-up operation; there can’t be many businesses that will want to inherit the black painted walls of the dining room, the graffiti within the kitchen, or the maze which leads in through one door and out through another. The reasons behind its closure is allegedly a costing issue; the simple process that a restaurant with twenty or so covers at £180 per head has to be full all of the time in order to turn a profit, or even maintain its running costs. Yet Casamia is a divisive restaurant, a world away from the white washed walls and clinical cooking which won Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias a Michelin star in 2009. It is Zak Hitchman’s space now in all but the name above the door; his cooking style, familiar from his previous tenure at Ynyshir, slightly more ceremonial and slightly more approachable. As he stands in front of us pre-dinner it is clear he is chef, DJ, and orchestrator. His manner is polite and quiet. The food, it transpires, is anything but.
A gong is chimed. The music starts. Shoop by Salt & Pepper, ironic given the seasoning is mostly soy and smoke. Behind me a silent movie plays against the wall. Twenty or so courses over three and a half hours. Tomato dashi with smoked olive oil, light and in no way representative of the incoming dishes, then trout with caviar and wasabi, smokey and dare I say it, sexy. Raw scallop, the first real bit of genius, with the mysterious, difficult to point out notes of shiso leaf, before a course of burrata with carrots, heavy cream, and katsuobushi; the dried tuna flakes. It’s weird in that it tastes of tuna mayo and I can’t decide whether I’m enamoured by it, or slightly worried by its inception. Pork jowl, smoked for eight hours so that the fat wobbles and teeters, has a little rhubarb chutney. It goes down in one. Barely requires chewing. I don’t even bother with the cutlery.
A piece of popcorn chicken might be my favourite bite thus far. Fuck, looking back at the increasingly blurry pictures, it could be one of about nine. I think it’s tsukune meatball in style, but I could be wrong, coated and fried and licked in something umami before finished with something citrus dusted on top. It’s unfuckingbelieveable. As is the lobster, first claw in a hot and soured sauce that tastes like the katsu from Wagamama’s on acid, then the tail in a wild garlic butter sauce. We are told to hold off waiting the tandoori chicken until the other parts arrive. It is worth the wait, though the scent of garam masala makes the mouth salivate like a dog around other dog dick. Crispy pilau rice and wild garlic naan, almost too good to mop up the tandoori sauce, itself robust and pungent. Everything has that unmistakable lick of fire that runs throughout Zaks menu. The triple cut chip in a nest of batter scraps with black garlic which comes afterwards feels superfluous in comparison. It just lacks the purpose of the best moments.
Three more meat dishes to come. A mutton kofta, high in the animal fat and earthy with spices, sat on a pillowy flatbread brushed with more fat; a challenge to eat in one, yet I do and it so worth it. Oh man, that was great. Followed by a ramen good enough to have come from Roppongi, so piggy in flavour I’m not sure it needs the rib of meat but who I am to complain. It’s a slurper hot though leave this to cool and the gelatine from the bones and it will set to jelly. Then more mutton, pink and beautifully tender, brushed in a sticky sauce straight out of his former workplace. That’s no dig; Ynyshir is the best restaurant in the UK, I’ve been to it a lot, but what impressed me most about the meal here is you can see that spot in Wales in the DNA of the food, without ever it plagiarising. This is Zak’s food. Zero question about that.
Cheddar cheese mousse on a waffle with pineapple – a kind of rarebit and Hawaiian bastardisation of sorts – is a curious cheese course, then lamb fat donut which should be iconic by now, meaty and sweet and outrageous. Gooseberry follows, not particularly refined but great at resetting the palate, before a blueberry pie with smoked ice cream, two star cooking all day long. There are grains in a brooding chocolate sauce that taste like Coco Pops, a honey burnt cheesecake all floral notes and smoke, before the lights go down and the kitchen becomes a canvas for a subtle attack on hay-headed wurzel PM BoJo and the stay at home messaging he so dutiful ignored. I can see why some people don’t like it, but me, I fucking love it.
There’s another dessert involving meringue that I think is baked Alaska, and some coffee to the sound of the gong again, and a whisky I almost certainly don’t need given the excessive bottles of wine drunk, and the grower champagne, and the gin and tonics. The resulting bill is high but none of this matters; the last remaining lunch slot is likely gone and it’s highly unlikely you’ll be there before the doors close for good, hence why I can’t score this outstanding restaurant in my usual way. And that makes me a little sad, not for the incredible team, a few of whom are moving to Pacos next door, but for the industry in general. Places like this simply don’t exist enough. I hope Zak stays in Bristol, doing his thing over fire, playing music too loud, and allowing art to play an immersive part in the eating experience. I hope that the shutting of these doors doesn’t deter him as a chef. The man is an outstanding talent. There is enough serenity in food elsewhere to please the white table cloth brigade, let the future superstars of cooking paint it black to their own unrelenting tune.