Where better to take your best friend for a catch-up than the recently opened (and already critically acclaimed) restaurant Casa in Bristol city centre? Sliding with ease into the big shoes left to fill by the eatery before it, Michelin-starred Casamia, it offers a gastronomic tour of Italy, whipping up small plates in a relaxed setting.
Found in the harbour, just underneath The General, Casa provides views across the water. While this would have been delightful on a warm summer's day, this was a bleak February evening, so we were relieved to be walking into a warm space to cosy up in. It felt like the sort of restaurant that you know is going to feed you well, but won’t make you feel out of place for wearing trainers - a trait that always feels very Bristol. The staff were effortlessly cool, yet warm and approachable, flitting between tables of business types, young couples and families with plates of incredible-smelling food.
House cocktails quaffed and a gorgeous bottle of Sardinian red on the table, we were ready to demolish the menu. My dinner companion sticks to a plant-based diet, so we opted to mainly order from the 'vegetables' section, with a few extra meaty morsels thrown in as a treat for me. Dishes come as and when they’re ready, so we were delighted to be quickly tucking into blue belly prawn crudo (£4 each) and caponata (£8), a chilled, sweet Sicilian dish made with aubergine. On top of that, we enjoyed fresh, warm focaccia (£6.60) dipped in olive oil, which I also piled the rich lardo di Colonnata (£12) onto.
We split the potato ravioli with mushroom ragu (£19), a rich portion of well-seasoned comfort food. The pasta kept its bite while the sauce had plenty of umami which I'm sure would have any meat eater reconsidering their dietary habits. The vegetable dishes were a tour du force of thoughtful flavours that remind you it doesn’t require much effort to make great grub without meat, with the exception of the butter braised cabbage (£11), decorated with jewels of marbled pancetta. The spinach and pesto (£8.50) was a highlight of the meal, despite being possibly the most simple dish we had. Barely wilted spinach tossed in green pesto and pinenuts bought a welcome brightness against the incredibly cheesy leek gratinato (£8.50), and so too did the chicory and anchovy salad (£8.50). Perhaps our one regret was not leaving enough bread for constant mopping... but then that wouldn’t have left much room for dessert.
To finish, we asked for a recommendation and settled on the cannoli (£6) and tiramisu (£9.50) to share. We were assured these choices were lighter in reality than they sounded, and we shouldn't have doubted them; the cannoli made with semolina was intensely crisp and held itself well against the ricotta and mascarpone cheese filling, while still being slightly sweet and as light as air. The tiramisu also tasted incredibly grown up; it had a strong boozy kick, with a little of the sogginess I have come to expect from sponge-based desserts, and the strong coffee finish was better than any espresso.
The great thing about Casa was the Michelin-quality food without the pretentiousness I've experienced at other Italian restaurants. It had soft lighting, the music added to the atmosphere and no one expects you to subtly Google menu items under the table. As for the food, it was made with love, butter had not been spared, and the generosity of the dishes was impressive.
💰 The damage: Around £145 for two people, plus service charge.
📍 The location: The General, Lower Guinea Street, Bristol, BS1 6FU.
👌 Perfect for: Date nights and celebrating.
⭐ Need to know: It has outdoor seating for summer evenings dining next to the water.