457 Miller Street Cammeray, NSW 2062
Like most places in Sydney these days, Ms Miller won't take a booking for two on a Saturday night. But our pathetically optimistic reservation attempt is treated kindly – we are promised no would-be diners will be turned away. It is astounding how inhospitable some supposed purveyors of hospitality can be, but Ms Miller, a wine and tapas bar that opened in Cammeray last month, goes out of its way to be gracious to prospective patrons.
The temperature outside is in the single digits when we arrive, and we're quickly ushered into a bustling, warmly lit room to what looks to be the last available table.
Ms Miller is named for Miller Street, Cammeray's main drag, but diners sit under the heavy-lidded gaze of a young woman – a local artist's interpretation of the restaurant's namesake. It's owned by two north shore natives, brothers James and Will Christopher, who have been running The Laneway cafe next door for the past five years; their sister Lucy manages front-of-house. The brothers' plan was to bring something of a Surry Hills wine and tapas bar to an area dominated by Italian, Thai and Chinese joints.
The room is dimly lit, with exposed original-brick walls and tables covered in brown paper. Stacked Moritz beer cans form a table, while a narrow filing cabinet serves as a waiters' station. A white-tiled bar stops the place tipping into the vintage-store realm.
With few soft surfaces and a full house it's loud, but conversation is comfortable enough. The room opens onto more tables in a laneway, shrouded in plastic to keep in the heat tonight. Chalkboard specials in looping script come with helpful translations of unfamiliar menu terms.
The wine list is succinct, Spanish offerings only, all available by the half-bottle. Boutique beers are by the bottle, Estrella is on tap, and there's a short cocktail list. Over glasses of garnacha we scan the menu, which is, of course, designed to share. The casual cheery hospitality that greeted us continues throughout the evening. The restaurant is absolutely packed, yet none of the staff appear stressed, stopping to joke or indulge some diners' neuroses (such as ordering dessert anhour before it's wanted lest the kitchen runs out).
We begin with a bowl of button mushrooms, sauteed with garlic in sherry vinegar and speckled with crisp fried flakes of parsley. Fresh sardines are grilled and served with a vibrant salsa verde and blackened lemon.
A bocadillo – baguette sandwich – is sliced into three well-built pieces stuffed with a slab of hot, tender and gelatinous pork belly and a sweet beetroot relish, aioli and rocket, skewered with a pickled green chilli.
Fried squid with paprika aioli is good, the flesh delicately cooked, but is let down by the too-soft crumbs, lacking that desirable fried-seafood crunch. The most substantial dish on offer is slow-roasted lamb shoulder in rich pan juices with chimichurri and wedges of roasted kipfler.
Morcilla, Spain's black pudding, is served elegantly in four crisp rounds topped with a thin, chewy slice of dehydrated and slightly caramelised apple, and sharp capsicum puree. The least rustic dish of the night, it works beautifully.
We forgo the ever-popular churros for baked dulce de leche cheesecake: creamy, sharp and rich, and worthy of being ordered, without shame, an hour in advance.
Tapas with a sense of fun.
Morcilla, garlic mushrooms, slow-roasted lamb shoulder.