Tom Parker Bowles & Olly Smith: Eating out
Tom embraces the blessed simplicity of the dishes on offer at this West Country restaurant
Anchovy fillets ‘swimming in a golden oregano-infused oil’
Let’s start with the sausage, a meaty masterpiece, the sort of sausage about which odes are written and paeans sung. Homemade in the kitchen of Bristol’s Marmo, the divine sweetness of the pig is tempered by a grumble of chilli, each mouthful imbued with tight-textured Mangalitza magic. There’s a blob of quince purée with that sly sharpness, and radicchio, coolly bitter, and thick slices of crisp potato cake. It’s only January, and there’s already a contender for my dish of the year.
But there’s more to love at Marmo, much more. Anchovy fillets, swimming in a golden pool of oregano-infused oil. I lay them atop crusty bread, spread thick with cold butter. A ball of burrata, pure and clean, spilling its runny core across the plate. Gnocco, ethereally light dough pillows, fresh from the hot fat, wrapped around silken salame rosa. Fried pig’s head is formed into a compressed finger of flesh, the exterior caramelised and crunchy, the inside lasciviously soft. It sits beneath slivers of fennel, and segments of juicy mandarin. Texture, balance and depth. Mussels, gloriously plump, swim in a cider-rich sauce, speckled with dulse and wild leek, where Somerset orchard meets West Country beach.
Chef and co-proprietor (with his wife, Lily) Cosmo Sterck trained at London’s St John and Brawn, and it shows. There’s a purity to his cooking, a blessed simplicity, a respect for ingredients that verges on devotion. Chalkstream trout, still translucent within, is garlanded by pickled cucumber and shavings of fresh horseradish. Gently strident, the whole dish is immaculately conceived. For pudding, a great scoop of chocolate mousse and an extra layer of whipped cream atop to stop the whole thing floating away. St Helena cheese, lushly seductive, comes in a pool of local honey.
The high-ceilinged room was once an insurance office, then a photography gallery, then Bar Buvette. The kitchen is open, the walls lightly panelled and covered with posters of wine. And while the wine list veers towards the natural (something I’ve yet to embrace), there’s beauty within. Especially an astonishingly floral white from Samos in Greece.
Better still is the price. For lunch, three courses here cost an astonishing £19, which is quite stupendous value for cooking this assured. Dinner is booked for weeks in advance, but lunch is rather less busy. January may be bleak but Marmo makes it better.
£19 for a three-course lunch. Marmo, 31 Baldwin Street, Bristol; marmo.restaurant
DRINKS: Olly’s light reds
To ease you gently back into the rhythm of sipping splendidly, light reds are fabulous. Almost at the point where rosé turns to the dark side, these wines from less famous grapes such as Cinsault and Perricone are fruity and elegant – the daintiest perfect to chill for half an hour. Cooling emphasises fruit so, as long as the red is light enough, it makes an ideal lunchtime sip or evening refresher. The only one here that I wouldn’t put in the fridge for too long is Clos de La Bonnette which squeaks into the ‘light’ category for its sheer scrumptiousness.
WINE OF THE WEEK Domaine Dubost La Ballofiere Morgon 2019 (13%), £12.99, Majestic. Silky and fresh as black cherry sorbet, this is exquisite with a brambly boost of fruity charm.
Finest South African Cinsault 2020 (13.5%), £7.50, Tesco. A steal with the fragrance of roses and cola – vibrant, light and lovely. Pair with salami.
Loved and Found Perricone 2020 (13.5%), £7.99, Waitrose. Scented, tangy and light, this unique Perricone is bright and
Viento de Invierno Mencia 2020 (13.5%), £8.25, Co-Op. Try this with a tuna steak for a silky fine red with tantalising tea-like depth.
Syrah Vieilles Vignes Clos de la Bonnette 2019 (13.5%), £29.50, leaand sandeman.co.uk. Stunning. Deep damson-like delight with the smoky sheen of a distant bonfire.