Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Spuntino, Soho

It will probably come as no surprise - it's certainly never been any great secret - that I have something of a history of addiction. For most of my adolescent and adult life, until only a few years ago, I have at any given point been addicted to something; be it pills, powders, liquor, eating, not eating or sex, I have been there, done that and bought every t-shirt.

Over the last few years though, things have been under control; I won't bore you with the exact whys and wherefores of what I went through but I eventually reached a place where occasional excess is about as bad as it gets. So thanks a great big fat bloody bunch then, Spuntino, for inventing stuffed deep-fried olives, a snack so fiercely moreish that I was hooked from the first bite on my first visit two days after opening and returned twice in the space of a week to gorge on these hot, bitter, salty anchovy-farced pellets of pleasure, laced for all I know with a sprinkling of crack in the crispy crumb encasing them.

The peddler of these narcotic nuggets is of course Russell Norman, the man who brought us Polpo, Polpetto and most recently the Campari Bar, and whose tiny new diner in Soho already has fellow restaurant junkies queuing out the door for their fix. Although unmistakably from the Polpo stable - same reclaimed decor, same gorgeous tattooed staff, lights too low, music too loud, all creating a buzz like no other - the menu is much more Noo Yoiky, Italo-American than the neo-Venetian offering at its sibling sites. Larger snacks - spuntini - replace bite-size cicheti, and diner favourites like mac 'n' cheese, sliders and shoestring fries join a range of Italian-inspired salads and 'Plates' served in actual main course rather than sharing sizes. Polpettino this ain't.

Having never been to the Big Apple - I know, I know, it's on my To Go list - I didn't consider myself qualified to comment on Spuntino's New York credentials, so on my first visit I took along a real live American, Burberry high-up Anthony Garcia-Rios, who straight away pronounced that it was 'totally New York'. The 
loud, louche, sexy atmosphere, the queuing along a wall, cocktail in hand, for a seat ('no telephone, no reservations' barks the ultra-minimal website) and the scrubbed tiles and filament bulbs of the interior are, I'm reliably informed, a little slice of NYC in LDN.

As for the food, we foolishly ordered everything that sounded amazing, which was about half the menu (the rest sounds merely great). This resulted in a sorry surfeit of food and, I must admit, in an initial writing-off of the menu on my part as being too heavy and carb-laden when in fact all that was at fault was our ordering. 

In addition to those evil, enslaving olives we tried lardo and caperberry crostini, a ground beef and bone marrow slider and egg and soldiers before moving on to a selection of larger dishes. The crostini were lovely, the sharp tang of caperberries incising nicely through the unctuousness of cured fat; I've had silkier, sultrier variants elsewhere but that didn't stop me from ordering another round, and some more of those devilishly delicious drupes, on a solo visit two days later.

The slider was a very nice, rich little burger, which is not to damn with faint praise, I'm just not a burger enthusiast. More exciting was the egg and soldiers, a simple soft-boiled egg with the added bonus of a clever faux shell made of crackling, crunchy crumb - tart's comfort food.

Of the larger plates, the absolute stand-out - and a dish I knew I straight away I would order again, and did on visit three - was a courgette, mint and chilli pizzetta which there's no point over-describing; it was just a perfect eight inches of pure pleasure (sorry, sorry, I was sure I was over the sex addiction). Truffled egg toast was fun, a ham-less, gooey croque Madame which, 
mark my words, will  soon be every spendy Soho-dwelling queen's hangover remedy of choice. The only marginally so-what dish of the lot (and what a lot it was) was soft-shell crab with Tabasco aioli, the batter lacking crunch, the aioli punch.

On my next visit with company - this time publishing suprema, exquisitely elegant blogger and fellow good food addict Helen Brocklebank I tried, in addition to a terrific lamb and pickled cucumber slider and a good duck ham, pecorino and mint salad, a couple of Spuntino's deliciously different desserts. Pineapple with liquorice ice cream was a clever combination of sweetness and smoke, and for liquorice-disliking me one of those "I wouldn't normally eat this  but I'll take another spoonful if I must" moments. The by-a-country-mile winner though, and my favourite dish of all three visits bar those frickin' olives, was the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the 'bread' in fact thick, salty-sweet peanut butter ice cream encasing fruit-packed raspberry jam, all sprinkled with crushed peanut brittle. It was a super-sweet riot of tastes, textures and temperatures, and I loved it.

There's plenty to choose from drinks-wise; a few wines, a few (artisan) beers, a whole lotta bourbons and a list of classic cocktails, not to mention the extensive list which exists in manager and mixer-in-chief Ajax's head (his naked vodka Martini is among the best anywhere, and a long trail of tearful barmen will tell you how hard I am to please). Service is laid back but sassy ("You didn't ask me how I wanted the steak!" a boor bellowed; "It comes medium rare" the waiter snapped back), the aforementioned atmosphere amazing, the queue an hour long at peak times  - which will be all the time for at least a few weeks but is bound to peter off.

Prices are very fair; Anthony and I paid (OK, Anthony paid) more than strictly necessary, just over £50 a head, but that was for a
lot of food and booze; Helen and I ordered more modestly, drank less but still left replete for under £30 each including 12.5% service.

What can I say? I'm addicted. There's just nothing not to love about the place and there are far more destructive things to be hooked on, but this may yet be the one that breaks me. So if one night you see me slumped begging in the seedy alleyway opposite, take pity and bring me out an order of deep fried olives won't you?

Spuntino, 61 Rupert Street, London W1D 7PW No telephone, no reservations, nothing on the website but it's http://www.spuntino.co.uk if you insist.

All photographs very kindly supplied by, and copyright of, Spuntino. So hands off.

Spuntino on Urbanspoon


  1. Great review, Hugh. I loved the mac 'n' cheese and the sliders but hoping to go back and not over-order so I can try some of the desserts - something I rarely accomplish!

  2. Godangit. More than any other review I've read so far, yours makes me want to get there IMMEDIATELY. Yesterday, even. Sadly, I shall have to wait. Working in Watford SUCKS. SUCKS.

  3. Second and third'ed. One of the best reviews I've seen so far (and there have been one or two, the bloggers fair packed in to the exclusion of all else). Haven't been yet, but it took me a year before I got to Polpo so I'm in no rush!


  4. Emyr - I can see why it's hard to resist, everything sounds so good! Mac 'n' cheese next on my list of things to try.

    Kavey - Yes that does suck. But your lovely comment does not - thank you :-)

    Rich - You sir are much too kind. When you *do* eventually make it, you're in for a treat!

  5. I have to agree with the crab dish.. on my visit this saturday, i would say it was TOO much crunch, with a strong oil taste and not enough meat! Service out of the kitchen was on the very slow side, and it was pretty much empty when we arrived. funky place though


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