Marmo, 31 Baldwin St, Bristol BS1 1RG
Marmo: The world might be going to heck, but what a handbasket we’re in, thanks to Cosmo and Lilly
As a man composed of the most fragile genetics, heat and indeed the sun are my only natural predators. I happily while away the day indoors with fans strategically placed and curtains drawn to essentially fashion what many might consider a crypt or indeed, tomb. Evading the unreasonable heat of a British summer is an art to which I have this piece of sage advice: eating oranges in the shower is one thing but I can absolutely attest to chilled nectarines in a cold shower, lights off. Although my vampiric qualities only extend to draining others of patience, leaving my resting place on summer nights is always a chance to feed.
With the pavement and tarmac still humming with the residual energy of the day, the baked air laced with petrol and chopped grass; suddenly the smell of fags doesn’t cloy so much in the throat somehow. The streets are just the right side of teeming, with those of us who paced ourselves in this unseasonal spasm of heat as to not end up in a deep state of heat exhaustion, slumped up against a bin.
There’s something so enticing about sitting out on a street late into the evening with a dewey carafe, several plates of land air and sea- all glistening with the sort of olive oil that blooms in the mouth and nuzzles your neck on the way down. Lighters stacked flush atop cigarette packets as plumes of oily blue and white smoke twist up into the ether, traced only by candle and streetlight. I’d wistfully made peace with never experiencing anything like this on my own turf but Lo, there was Bar Buvette which has now become Marmo.
Taken on relatively recently and despite drawing on Italian influences more than French, it’s retained the same atmosphere- a microcosm of continental nightlife that Buvette fostered so genuinely.
Last time at Bar Buvette, I got cocky. Cocky in such a way that I misread the menu and, being not even halfway through my dessert noticed there was a ‘pork, peas, lemon and potato’ dish. As if I was going to waddle out of there without finding out all about this? The plate lands with a thud and I could hear the chubby rasp of Miss Trunchbull in my peripheries. I was in way over my head.
Foodtigue starts to seep its way in, just in time for this unctuously striated piece of belly. Encased in the sort of deeply burnished crust that a knife scrapes when drawn across but submits instantly to its edge, it’s an absolute specimen. Simply adorned with garden peas and new potatoes waxy and honeysuckle-sweet all bathing in buttered pan juices, coursing with fresh lemon. However, this is a strain of gluttony that causes you to breathe like a pug because you decided to devote more space to food in your body than oxygen.
The incredible heat that accumulates in these high ceilings is truly astonishing although Marmo has fans placed where’s possible, the problem is really me. The ever-accomodating staff put us outside so I can pant with my drinking bowl. The gnocco fritto comes into range and despite the pissed-up clamour of the feckless dreggs on a Saturday night, they render me deaf. They’re incredible. Try to disagree with this:
Lard-fried unleavened bread, inflated into crispy pillows that have enough of a shell to withstand colossal drapings of coppa, but yield a beautifully gentle and toothsome innard. For a fleeting moment, Antonia and I are taken to a side street of Italy. It’s the most upmarket open-faced ham toastie condensed into the best finger-food that I’ve ever seen and realistically, could ever hope to. It causes the face to collapse with the repletion of the stomach and the soul. Sitting out on the street as another Uber hauls off the daytime casualties and a blacked-out Audi takes a wrong turn and audibly threatens google maps whilst insisting he’ll “be there in ‘two minutes-two minutes, yeah?” which sounds like it’s the 97th times he’s said that. This might not be Venice or Opio but this ‘nightlife’ is authentically British, what I’m helping to ignore it with, most definitely is not.
Now we’re on to hunks of honeyed citrus peach reclining amongst the squeaky snap of green beans that have been dressed in a creamy hazelnut dressing with the almost obligatory tears of basil. Understated in its vibrancy, it’s cooling and juicy with a sweet nutty creaminess literally holding it all together. I save a piece of peach to slot into the second plate of gnocco fritto that I’d been planning to get this entire time. I am the master of my domain.
Once again tonnato has found its way to the menu though instead of gracing the mellow acidic quench of beef tomato, it pools itself over ripples of roast pork saddle cold cuts. A clutch of snapping radishes offer that chilled blast of pepper that you’d otherwise be reaching for and all I want to do is order their famous bread and butter separately and fashion a sarnie out of sight on my lap to scuttle home with later as the animal I am. Sure, some might say it’s a tuna mayo-cum-Caesar dressing but that providing you’re DTF with the core ingredients, it’s a blessing on animal and mineral alike.
My reason for insisting on al fresco dining is duplicitous- there’s no way I’m going to be able to eat any cavatelli with sausage ragu and mint if my head is roughly the same shade and temperature of a scalded bollock. My little brain rendered twisted by something as simple as fresh mint- it disqualifies the dish from the heavyweight category and instead, is sent gazelle’ing into featherweight. All the homely satiation without anything sticking to the ribs, it’s almost enough to dupe me into biting off more than I can chew but Antonia stays my hand, positing that dessert is probably something that I’d also want two of. There’s not going to be another Porkgate because nobody needs to see that, ever.
We all need an Antonia.
Unlike her assertion that I’d finish uni with a grade that wouldn’t shroud my family name in yet further shame, I did definitely want two of these. Westcombe ricotta and loganberry bacio di Pantelleria a gorgeously ornate Mailliard puck that sandwiches a whipped ricotta that holds like clotted cream but has the manners to let others speak. It’s enveloped from the top down by loganberry jam- heavy on the fruit and more like a rough coulis in texture.
We circle it indecisively, posturing as if in a knife fight until I come in from above with the back of a spoon and it explodes into streaks of crimson, pink and pearly white. The warmth of the deep-fried pastry fat expands in the mouth keeps you coming back from the puckering of loganberries, soothed with this pure white ricotta. The native British equivalent being the cheese and jam sandwich, of course which we all know is a cornerstone of our rich culinary tapestry.
As the regulatory goalposts currently move daily for many industries, the service industry has arguably received the shittiest end of what is ultimately a stick comprised entirely of shit. I’ve got a real affection for Marmo as it’s taken initiative with such duty of care. It offers something that not many places could boast nor conjure and I don’t just mean all the remote viewing and astral projection it smacks you with. It offers a sense a transparent promise of wanting to feed you in a way that’s loving; like nonna would.