My first visit to Spuntino was ludicrously surreal; it was the day of the peaceful London protests and I turned up at the unassuming front, right in the heart of sleazy Soho late in the afternoon, just around the time things were starting to turn and really kick off. By the time I was inside queueing for a seat at the bar, I had London errupting in anarchy behind me. This only seemed to add to the frisson of exhilaration I felt at finding myself in a place that appears to hark back to a prohibition era; a hidden secret gem, that’s not secret at all but still manages to give off that vibe. This is re-inforced by it’s no reservation policy, indeed no telephone line at all, and just room for 26 covers around a U shaped bar and a larger table in an alcove at the back.
I’ve said before that I don’t really ‘do’ restaurants, far preferring generally to lunch casually in cafe’s or simply to dine at home at my own pace on titbits that I really fancy. But there was something about the comments and reviews that were coming through (thick and fast!)about Spuntino that I just couldn’t ignore. It’s not that I don’t like restaurant dining but it can sometimes feel like a bit of an effort when all I really want to do is graze on comfort food in comfortable, unpretentious surroundings…oh hello Spuntino!! Suddenly I’m feeling that overwhelming desire to try a restaurant that I’ve not felt for a long time, but this is not so much a ‘restaurant’ as a New York diner/bar serving quirky Italian American snacks, and I’m fuelled by promises of truffled egg toast and sliders…
So my first visit was unaccompanied and with riots as my backdrop I sipped my expertly made Negroni and waited for my seat, it wasn’t long before I was perched on a stool, poured a glass of tap water and given a complementary tin mug of paprika popcorn to pick on as I perused the brown paper placemat of a menu. I didn’t want too much, having already decided to take it all in and savour over a few visits, and being on my own I had no intention of ordering everthing I wanted in one go. Easing myself in gently with the ground beef and bone marrow slider with pickles and cheese, I loved the perfect snackable size, soft bun and moist, meaty, unctious burger. I also ordered the pickles which were just right, but became amazing when I hit the hidden fennel at the bottom of the dish. I fancied a chocolate hit to finish my lunch but the Wild Turkey Bourbon Brownie was a dissapointment – the only one mind, encouragingly laced with booze and vine fruits, it lacked that moist gooey chocolateness I’ve come to expect from a good specimen.
On my second visit I managed to convince a friend to accompany me, for bites to eat, drinks and chatter before moving on to more drinks later. We both agree in retrospect that we’d have been happier plotted in Spuntino all evening, I have as a consequence been put in charge of all further meals out. This time it was a Saturday early evening so I grabbed a spot in the queue, no hardship really when you’ve got a drink in hand, while I waited for said friend to arrive. We ordered quickly, both choosing fittingly stodgy items to line our stomachs; her mac and cheese came piping hot in a metal skillet and drew gasps of pleasure with it’s molten cheesy goodness, my truffle toast was orgasmic – I can’t believe I almost didn’t order due to the hype (I can be a contrary so and so) - a huge doorstop of bread with oozing truffly yolk and indecent amounts of melted fontina cheese acting as egg white, the best way to eat this is to tear off the crusts and dip into that yolk and then follow with anything else you have within reach, we also shared some good shoestring fries piled in a curly heap in a tin bowl.
And if that wasn’t all heart attack inducing enough, we couldn’t resist the nutella pizzette. This was just my sort of thing, a light and crispy base smothered in nutella, caramelised hazelnuts and then doused in icing sugar, yum! My friend remarked that it felt like being on holiday and indeed you feel as though you have been transported back in time to a speakeasy bar, it would be all too easy to lose many hours here dreamily supping cocktails and eating small morsells….
I couldn’t resist popping back on the Sunday too, with a free hour to spare I managed to walk in, no queues this time and ordered a couple more things on my to try list. The salt beef slider was full to bursting with flavourful, tender and flaky beef with a healthy dose of mustard that provoked sneezes. The courgette, chilli and mint pizzatte was delicately delicious. I stuck to my negronis, but coffee if you want it is served american diner filter stylie.
So it turns out that Spuntino is pretty much my perfect restaurant; the food is delicious, cute and quirky, served in ideal grazing, nibbling style portions, and the relaxed serving style is spot on, they’ll ask if you’re enjoying your food but not hastle you, and I never felt rushed. But the real appeal of Spuntino lies in the overall experience, it offers a great package; the buzz of the small room is electric, the super cool and tattooed waiting staff are unintimidating and friendly, and the decor is just right; dimly lit with beautiful mosaic tiles on the walls and raw lights dangling from the high ceiling, with blues music playing out in the background.
Of course now I’ve been totally won over, I’m equally keen to try Russell Norman’s two other extremely popular London restaurants Polpo and Polpetto. But for now I’ve still got a few things to try and I’ve got no reason not to return to hang out in this fun, sexy, laid back retsaurant that feels totally of this minute but with none of the pretentiousness that could so easily go with it.
And if you want to recreate the awesome Spunitno Negroni, here’s what goes in it (confirmed by restaurant manager Ajax):
1 measure Beefeater Gin
1 measure Campari
0.5 measure Cinzano
0.5 measure Punt e’ Mes
pour over ice and stir with a twist of orange