You’re not one of those people who obsesses over ‘inbox zero’ are you? Reading and categorising every email that you receive? Of course not. If you were you probably wouldn’t have time to read this. Anyway, there are much more pressing matters; like trying to reach ‘restaurant zero’. I’ve been doing my best, and when I saw the next venue on my list I practically skipped up Whiteladies Road – past throngs of bemused students and commuters – and into Muiño.
With the shutters fully open on this humid evening, the sounds and smells of the restaurant spill out onto Cotham Hill giving the place a casual French bistro vibe. Inside, the tables scattered among the small dining space (we counted 28 covers) are already filling with a trendy young crowd with much cooler trainers than me.
The show this evening is run by Alex (an immaculate pair of retro Pumas, by the way), who flitted between punters, perching at the corner of tables and nonchalantly circling recommended dishes on the menu with a pen. Does he circle the sardines every time, or do I look like I need a bit of oily fish in my diet, I wonder when he comes over to us? Is my hair dull and lacklustre? I’ll worry about that later; right now it’s time to get stuck into the food.
There are 12 sharing plates up for grabs ranging from Syrian lentils and rolled lamb breast to charred shell-on prawns, sage and fennel meatballs in marinara sauce and a selection of nibbles. Before 7pm you can bag five dishes for £28 and discounts on bottles of wine.
Now, I know this is a contentious issue of late, but I’m an advocate of the sharing plates. Partly because I like to try a bit of everything, but mostly because I like to spread the risk in case I don’t like something. You do it too, let’s not kid ourselves. (I’m also one of those people who peers casually at the menu when ordering to appear spontaneous when I’ve actually already decided what I want days before by studying the PDF of it online.)
Still, there’s always room to throw in a couple of last-minute extras on the night. The baba ganoush (£4.50) is a garlicky, smoky aubergine mix with a generous swirl of olive oil. It quickly disappears with a few scoops from the accompanying toasted sourdough as I browse the wine list and settle on a lightly carbonated Vinho Verde (£24 a bottle). The citrusy, fresh young white arrives in the same state as our surroundings: chilled.
Plates arrive thick and fast. The fritter’s outer golden crust holds a mix of creamy melted feta and strands of courgette (£8), and the Syrian lentils (£4.50) have a little firmness to the bite and a pleasing level of spice that was soothed with a swirl of yoghurt (and another glug of wine).
Formerly of Bell’s Diner, head chef Huw Warwick joined the Muiño team in February and has since been injecting the menu with his own style of cooking. The slow-roasted lamb is an illustrative example of his flair and becomes a highlight of the evening. Deboned lamb belly is tightly rolled and stuffed with a caponata (£12), the sweet and earthy flavours of the black olives and aubergine creating a delicious party, lubricated by a healthy drizzle of olive oil. The dish is braised long enough for the fat to melt into the meat, dragging the caponata flavour with it, while the exterior crisps up. The resultant dish resembled something of a meaty cinnamon swirl.
The recommended sardines arrive charred and crisp. On goes a big squeeze of lime to this salty treat before I pick the flesh carefully from the bones and welcome a replenishment of wine.
Meatballs are last to arrive (£7.50). Made with pork, these are lighter than their beefed-up cousins (probably the first time I’ve referred to a literal ball of meat, as ‘light’). These hearty spheres had a nice oregano herbiness and a few crunches of fennel seed. The heat of the dish had all got too much for the slithers of accompanying hard cheese, which had surrendered any resistance to liquify over the top of the dish. What a melt.
Much lighter on the scale: dessert. Having shared everything up until now, I wasn’t about to miss out on either of our chosen dishes. Especially watching the satisfying wobble of the vanilla panna cotta with poached strawberries and cinnamon crumble (£7) across the table. The crema Catalana (£6), (a Spanish-style Crème brûlée made with milk rather than cream) is closer to liquid custard and topped with a thin caramelised lid with hints of burnt orange.
Muiño leaves me torn. It’s ticked off the hit list so I should be setting my sights on to the next restaurant, but I’ve got a feeling that I’ll be heading back soon.
32 Cotham Hill, Bristol BS6 6LA; 0117 907 7112