Saville Row is a very quiet little pedestrian street on the northern side of Bath, past Bartlett Street as you walk up towards the Assembly Rooms on your left. Tucked away, far from the madding crowd, is Jill and Laurent Couvreur’s restaurant, Casanis, named after a brand of Pastis from Marseille.
Four years ago this month the couple set about renovating the terraced Georgian house that was to become their home as well as their business. To this day it is one of Bath’s most lauded restaurants, the foodie cognoscenti’s little black book French restaurant of choice. Just a few days ago it won the “Best Restaurant” category at the Bath Good Food Awards.
From the moment of entering you know you have arrived somewhere very peaceful and well run. Verdi gris woodwork, wooden floors, parchment coloured walls, twinkly chandeliers and silk curtains, the style is very restrained, fresh, simple country chic. There are always flowers at the bar, starched linen on your table, lavender sprigs by your napkin and gentle French music playing in the background. Casanis has honed a Provencal infused identity that it upholds with consistent attention to detail.
“We went back to Provence in the holidays,” Jill told me, “and we went right back to Laurent’s roots. We always come back here with so much inspiration. The olives, the lavender, the vegetables, the light: all these things really inspire us.”
At the start of his career, Laurent originally worked with Jacques Chibois, the Michelin starred Cannes chef, for whom terroir, big gutsy flavours and seasonality informed the construction of every dish. Laurent then worked at Chez Jaqueline in New York and, when the couple came to live in Bath with their son, he worked locally at the Beaujolais restaurant, a stalwart institution in a town where eateries come and go like butterflies in a wildflower meadow.
Despite calling itself a neighbourhood Bistro, Casanis is a restaurant that offers food on the cusp of fine dining. A beguilingly simple goat cheese and potato gateau with beetroot carpaccio reveals a soft, herby underbelly, with a delicately seasoned pretty salad on top and mandolin thin sweet beetroot at its base. Even a humble mushroom omelette is elevated to a sensory delight with woody ceps, caramelised butter, perfect fires and a salad so delicious you will want a bigger portion of it all by itself. The raspberry sorbet is a vibrant cerise colour, and its tangy notes and clean, clear sweetness will round off your lunch with a pleasing freshness. All of that for £18.75 on the fixed price Menu!
“We have always tried to offer really good value, especially at lunch time,” Jill told me, “because you have to encourage customers to come out and eat in a recession, and that is the best way of building a loyal customer base. Evenings are, of course, our busiest times. We have always been a neighbourhood restaurant, and some of the locals come here time and time again. On a Saturday we will generally do 70 covers, maybe more if there is a big show on at the Theatre Royal. We also have a party room upstairs, where up to 30 people can come and host a private corporate party or special event.”
Running a restaurant business as a married couple, living above the shop and dealing with the vagaries of one of the toughest industries should have taken its toll on Jill, but she is resistant: “You’ve got to stay focussed, stay consistent and keep going.” She also confesses that whenever she cooks for Laurent, instead of finding fault or complaining, he is so very grateful.
The Christmas Menus are already out and in this light and genteel room will be served lunches and dinners of canapés, Feuillete de champignons, Terrine de gibier, Pave de loup de mer and Crème brulee a la lavande. You can hear the tinkling of champagne glasses and see the shadows of flickering candles on Georgian sash windows as apron covered waitresses carry white porcelain platters up and down the wooden stairs. There are intimate corners, fireside tables, communal sections and a feeling of open-plan celebrations.
On the bar downstairs is a huge glass vat of Laurent’s grandmother’s orange and rose wine. It is served, usually, as a post-prandial, or with the Tarte Tatin, Tarte au Citron or Les Glaces. Or you could order yourself a fine slither of Fourme d’Amber Morin, Comte, Brie de Meaux, Reblochon or Valencay cheese. In this tranquil, little oasis you are in slow food heartland, and there are many reasons to linger and relax. The noisy, heaving city is sprawled out beyond these cool walls, but for a couple of hours, chilled pastis in hand, your home is in a shady spot in the south of France.
4 Saville Row
Bath BA1 2QP
Telephone: 01225 780055
Follow the team on Twitter: @CasanisBistro