There are some dishes on restaurant menus that will always be a little risky to order. Risotto, for instance, not often arrives in the moreish, loose and silky form that we hope for when we order it. Similarly, gnocchi dishes rarely hit the spot in the way that I imagine them to when reading the descriptions, the little potatoey pillows having a tendency to be a touch too dry and stodgy.
The gnocchi at Marmo, though, is bang on the money. Super delicate and plentiful in supply, the small dumplings that fill the plate are ideal for scooping up the juicy venison ragu with, while having a smooth, light texture that sees them almost collapse on your tongue. Nope, not a whiff of chewiness. This is the perfect comfort food to counter the effects of the grey, drizzly day outside (not to mention the brain fog inside, instilled by one too many glasses of red the night before).
Behind the recently opened Marmo and its knock-out gnochhi are Lily and Cosmo Sterck. The pair studied in Bristol before heading off to London, chef Cosmo jumping straight into the kitchen upon being permanently released from lectures. He worked at the likes of St. John (where he met Sam Leech, co-founder of Birch and now local cider maker, farmer and veg supplier to Marmo), as well as respected restaurants in Paris. Lily, meanwhile, became a lawyer before ditching offices for restaurant floors to hone her front of house knowledge.
And Marmo was the end to which they worked. It opened in August in the former Bar Buvette, and the famously foggy windows have been steaming up again with the heat of a full dining room ever since.
Wine is a big focus here – there’s a page of regularly rotating by-the-glass varieties and an extensive list of bottles, all of which are available to take away, too. (Some tables are kept unreserved for walk-ins and drinkers, if you’re just in the market for a casual vino.) We get lunch underway with a dangerously drinkable orange wine.
The food here leans towards Italian in style but is infused with British and other European touches, too. The menu is concise, driven by what’s being harvested at the time, and for lunch carries set prices – £10 for one course, £14 for two or £17 for three. Pretty chipper value right there, especially considering the quality of what’s being cooked up.
First, mussels arrive heaped in a bowl, slices of leek lolling over the shells and the plump, peachy meat, which is beautifully soft and delicate. The cider liquor is light but delicious – we soak it up with sourdough slathered in sunny-coloured butter.
From the main courses, the pumpkin ravioli is a similarly happy hue, the stuffed pasta rectangles piled up generously, coated with a blanket of parmesan and finished with flecks of black pepper. Walnut halves and sage leaves – deservedly classic bedfellows of the autumnal pumpkin – are tucked amongst the parcels. There are a thousand things pumpkin is better for than wasting as a Halloween lantern – and this is top of the list.
There’s always some form of pork on the menu here; the team takes delivery of half a beast each week, butchering it themselves and working their way through the cuts. As such, the pork belly dish has turned into pork collar by the time we order. The meat, juicy and tender, is sliced to show off its pastel- pink insides. Earthy flavours of chickpea mash and wilted chard are punctuated by plump, sweet raisins, while tiny golden pine nuts are peppered over the top, lending their moreish flavour along with crunch.
The dining room – with its European flea-market finds hanging on the panelled walls, shelves lined with wine bottles and tiny open kitchen – is full this lunchtime. The atmosphere remains buzzy for the whole service, people doing their best to reinstate the leisurely working lunch and eke out their last drops of wine or mouthfuls of pasta.
I felt a wave of relief when I realised – on my first visit here in August – that Bar Buvette’s successor is yet another killer hangout, with crave-worthy food and one of the most handsome wine lists in town. And, a couple of months later, it seems the local newbie is only getting better – not to mention more popular still. It feels good to be back on this side of those condensation-coated windows again.
Marmo, 31 Baldwin Street, Bristol BS1 1RG; 0117 316 4987