SPUNTINO: ‘ERE LOVE, FANCY A QUICK SLIDER?
Of all the London restaurants I’ve visited, I find the interiors of Russell Norman’s mini-chain the most interesting. He seems to have a knack for sniffing out rooms that once done up just feel and look so right – something that takes a good eye for detail and no little effort I imagine.
The Soho locations of his joints are pretty unique as well: a little 18th century bacaro on Beak St; a bijoux boîte above The French and now, a discarded G-string’s throw away from the old Raymond Revuebar, comes Spuntino, a small-plate operation styled after the sort of places you might find in say Greenwich Village or Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
In common with sister restaurants Polpo and Polpetto the keyword at Spuntino is conviviality - from the friendly staff behind the large bar, the old-school Country music and R&B on the PA, to the eclectic neo-diner food, the sense of fun and informality is palpable. You can sit where you want, stay as long as you want (there’s no bookings) and order anything you want, any which way.
Start off with free popcorn served in enamel coffee mugs (also doubling up as receptacles for the strong filter coffee which will tail end your meal) or some spiced nuts – although these could do with kicking up a notch or two - but even better with terrific fat green olives which have been stuffed with a sort of Ital trifecta of Parmesan, Anchovy, Sage then deep-fried. As addictive (and enjoyable) I suspect as slapping Giles Coren repeatedly about the chops.
House Pickles had a pleasing crunch but weren’t over assertive or acidic: a good foil to the richer items elsewhere on the menu. Transparent slices of Lardo were draped over grilled bread and served with caperberries.
Comped bowls of crisp aubergine frites with a fennel-spiced dip showed that at Spuntino even vegetarians get to join in the fun the same as us normal folk.
Soft-shell crab which didn't impress at Polpetto (soggy batter) was aced here. It came in a light, greaseless, tempura-like carapace with another perky dip this time a Tabasco aioli.
Sliders - a sort of fun-sized burger - come in three varieties. I liked my Beef and Bone Marrow variety which came medium rare although the texture of the meat seemed a tad over-processed. A good meaty mouthful though.
The more carbaliscious dishes didn’t quite rock my world (but obviously they did enough for me to scoff them all). Truffled Egg Toast suggested some variation on a eggy-bread theme but the gloriously messy topping gave way to a thick wodge of bread which even with my greedy-guts appetite I found hard-going.
Zucchini, Mint and Chilli pizzetta was pretty as a picture but tasted dry and the slightly chewy dough didn’t impress as much as similar ones I’d eaten at Polpo and Polpetto. The impact of a big bowl of shoestring fries was diminished by them being a bit limp.
To finish, a PB&J sandwich while intriguing would have just been de trop (with age comes much wisdom, grasshopper) but I didn’t feel like I was missing out with a combo of waffer-thin slices of pineapple with a Liquorice Ice Cream of great taste and texture.
Service from the hip young gunslingers behind the counter was cheerfully efficient - nice to see people who appear to actually enjoy their work - and despite the booze list majoring in Bourbon, they actually popped out to find me some Grappa to finish off my meal. A very nice touch.
Honestly, in the currently moribund London dining scene somewhere like Spuntino is a breath of fresh air. It’s not perfect (where is?) but the brio with which the whole operation is executed won me over. Go there, eat too much, drink too much, have fun and leave the nice staff a big tip.