Spuntino – Soho
I’m usually the last person among my friends to visit a trendy new opening. Spuntino is no exception. I made it there eventually, allowing me to join in with conversations once again, but until such time I was clinging on to the fringes, peering into the fellowship of London’s movers and shakers.
Russell Norman and Richard Beatty’s Soho Empire is growing at a phenomenal rate. Starting with Polpo on Beak Street, Polpetto soon appeared and followed now by Spuntino on Rupert Street. News has just been announced that da Polpo will open in Covent Garden. That’s four restaurants in twenty-months and all in the hippest regions of the West End.
My lateness to such a grand opening was made up for by three visits in one week. For each outing I took a different companion. First, there was over an hours wait for a stool (not table) on a Friday night. We stood behind people on bar stools (there is nowhere else to wait) and had a beer, slowly working our way down the queue. There are only 26 seats, so you wait, watching those who are seated where you should be, laughing and ordering their plates. Spuntino has no telephone, so no reservations. It’s potluck, a timing thing.
My second visit was early evening on a Tuesday and there were spaces available. My last visit, 6.30pm Thursday, and we’re back to waiting again. This time it’s an acceptable thirty-minutes and we’re seated at the bar and ordering within seconds. By this time I have a pretty good grasp of the menu and know what to go for and what not.
The menu takes the same form as Polpo and Polpetto, with small tapas-style dishes ranging from squid in ink to softshell crab. Plates have crept up in price but most appear to be more substantial here than the other Norman/Beatty posts: aubergine fingers with a fennel yoghurt dip are deep-fried and crunchy and are an exciting find, while ‘egg and soldiers’ sees a boiled egg encased within a golden breadcrumb casing along with buttered bread ‘soldiers’ for dipping. During my first visit the yolk did not break and run wild across my plate (as I’d hoped), but all was corrected thereafter, both second and third visits (the fact I ordered across three visits is compliment enough), the glowing yellow yolk oozed from its casing, mopped greedily by thick bread slices.
Softshell crab is another deep-fried creation, the wispy claws outreached and battered are served alongside a Tabasco aioli, while a creamy dish of ‘mac and cheese’ made from Parmesan, Mozzarella and Fontina had a richness that jolts you in surprise, I sent it down with a chilled Campari. Then another.
The highlight was divided between ‘truffle egg toast’ and ‘peanut butter and jam sandwich’, two contrasting plates and each delicious beyond description. But cue a list of adjectives in an attempt to come close and have you salivating as you read while the Thesaurus burns in my hand and forfeits in exhaustion: a thick inch slice of fluffy white bread is the square upon which dripping and gooey Fontina cheese overspills, the bed for a soft-boiled egg yolk, a glowing centre like a small illuminating sun, and holding safely seven drops of pungent truffle oil. When presented in front of you it is a naughty treat, a decadent spoil. The truffle oil rises and enriches the senses causing a warm sweat.
One must then, if possible, compose oneself for dessert and the ‘PBJ sandwich’, a cosmic creation encompassing all the brilliance of the American peanut butter jelly sandwich with peanut butter ice-cream and zingy berry jam, finished with a generous sprinkle of sugared peanuts. Presented as a sandwich triangle it is so utterly moreish that a second helping was ordered. This is a fun plate. A sweet plate. It’s a perfect representation of Spuntino, a carefully orchestrated yet playful creation.
While there is grittiness to the decor (open brickwork and zinc bar), and X-rated activity outside, Spuntino remains current and rather charming. Ingredients are considered and executed, served to share and reminiscent of the Spanish tapas sharing plates at Polpo and Polpetto. Spuntino menu blends Italian dishes with classic Americanisms to form London’s unique ode to the transatlantic creations.