Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Spuntino, Soho



The wildly popular Polpo, Russell Norman's first venture, has 60 covers. Polpetto, opened last year and also impossibly busy from day one, has 28. And now there's Spuntino, nestled amongst the peep shows and sex shops in the seediest part of seedy Soho, with seats for just 26. Skip forward a few years and I imagine I'll be posting about "Spunketto", an uber-trendy Italian snack bar in the basement of a Frith Street brothel that seats one person per day. They'll still be queuing down the street.


There's a reason why they're all so popular, of course. If you liked the candle-lit, gently illicit atmosphere of Polpo and Polpetto, you'll find even more to enjoy about Spuntino, which is blessed with an even more impressive space - all glazed bricks and mosaics, original and uncovered purely by chance during the build apparently. The bar, stainless steel surrounded by custom built bar stools and highlighted softly by caged bulbs hanging from the high copper-tiled ceiling, is a gloriously louche space in which to spend an evening, and is stocked with the familiar Polpo(etto) range of Aperol and Campari and Venetian wines.


And then there's the food. More New York-leaning, more experimental perhaps than the more traditionally Italian fare served up at the other restaurants, it contains eye-catching items like "Egg & soldiers", "Farm-house cheddar grits" and "Steak & eggs". First to arrive though was a bowl of eggplant (no, not aubergine) chips (no, not fries), which I think contained fennel seeds in their crispy breadcrumb coating and had a sharp fennel yoghurt to dip into. They were lovely.


House pickles were amongst the best I've had in anywhere. Not too sweet, not too vinegary, rather than all blending into a homogonous pickle flavour they actually all tasted commendably of the original vegetable, particularly the brilliant fennel pickles and the sweet strips of celery.



"Egg and soldiers" was great fun - a whole crispy-coated fried egg, sort of like a meatless Scotch Egg, and some buttered toast to dip into it. At first I thought it was under seasoned, but then realised you were expected to season the opened egg as you would a normal boiled egg at home. It was perfectly timed inside, too - solid white and wholly runny yolk.


Lardo on toast suffered only slightly for not having the greatest pig in the world - you can see why they splash out on Iberico at Le Cafe Anglais - but the toast was nicely charred to provide that important bitter counterpoint to the soft, rich pork. Two generous slices too, for £4.50, and a handful of sharp caperberries.


The food had been hugely enjoyable but not yet thrilling, until the arrival of this guilt-inducing, heaving, filthy masterpiece - the truffled egg toast. Thick crusty bread topped with an oozing layer of melted Fontina cheese, a soft-boiled egg yolk and truffle oil, it drew gasps of amazement from all who tried it. The pungent cheese and heady notes of truffle was a match so addictive it's a wonder you don't see it more often, and the moment when you break through the centre and the yellow yolk softens the bread base is something to be cherished. As good as it was for dinner though, I have a feeling it has the potential to be the greatest brunch in London.


Though nothing could top the truffled egg, we still had room for a duck ham salad, perfectly seasoned and fresh, and a spicy sausage and lentil dish which was hearty and contained generous amounts of sausage. We also tried a portion of those cheesy grits, which was as good an introduction to this dish as I could hope for, although I'm sure people with more experience of Southern US food will give more informed opinion.



The only dish that didn't really do much for me was the soft-shelled crab, which despite being deftly fried in a thick batter and looking the part was let down by the not-very-Tabasco-ey Tabasco aioli. Perhaps I should have asked for the bottle and drowned it all in the stuff like I usually do with my cheese on toast at home.


Desserts were no afterthought. Liquorish ice-cream with pineapple wasn't anywhere near as weird as you might think, and the Carpaccio-style wafer-thin slices of fruit were very cleverly done. Even better though was the "peanut butter & jelly sandwich", actually cherry (I think) jam sandwiched between two thick slices of peanut ice-cream, topped with crunchy sugared peanuts.



So yes, Spuntino is very good indeed. A winning match of unique and tasty comfort food served with a smile in stunning surroundings, it's yet another perfectly conceived and expertly executed concept that is sure to drain my wallet and steal away my evenings in much the same way as Polpo and Polpetto have done. It's also, I'm certain, destined to be just as maddeningly popular, but if the hordes that snake down the stairwell on Dean St or spill out of the door on Beak St are anything to go by, that won't put many people off. Hell, for another slice of that truffled egg toast, I think I'd queue forever.

9/10

Spuntino on Urbanspoon

17 comments:

linguina said...

Yummy! eggs and soldiers have to be mine!

Spuntino it's on my list!

When the next round up?

Pavel said...

This place is going to be rammed for weeks, the food looks amazing it's cheap Mr Norman has hit upon a very good formula here. I wouldn't be surprised if he slowly but surely took over the world.

arbaggs said...

It's amazing! You can actually see the food in your photos. When I went yesterday it was so 'atmospheric' that Russell was on hand to provide a torch for those who hadn't eaten their carrots.
I thought I may have misjudged things when after ordering for two the bartender turned to my friend and asked him what he was having. I mean I could of eaten a lot more, but I didn't need to. I do need to go back for that Egg on Toast though - it was wonderful.

Great review as always.

Andrew

The Grubworm said...

That truffled egg on toast sounds brilliant, worth queueing for, even if the one-cover brothel basement joint has opened by the time you get seated...

And grits, they have grits! Wow, I might go just for that. Very unusual to see them over here.

Krista said...

Guess I know where I'll be having lunch on April 28th after my flight gets in!

Excellent work (as always), Mr. Pople!

jamesramsden said...

I must stop reading about this place. It's masochistic. I can't go until April 18th and I'm looking forward to it like a 6-year-old looks forward to Christmas.

Helen T said...

Have just been to Polpo last weekend and loved it, so now want to visit this one, if only for the truffled egg toast. Love your comment about the one seater venue though!

Campariandsoda said...

I have to say I wasn't that impressed with the truffle egg toast, went last night but the eggplant chips were divine and we got them free of charge! The Mac & Cheese was AMAZING. I really need to try those egg and soldiers next time...I couldn't believe the prices either: especially after Nopi. I hope this place becomes a firm fixture in Soho! (My negronis were great!)

catty said...

100% shot to up the list to the first place I must try and get to when I'm back in London!! Everything looks amazing :)

Kathryn said...

Its possible that the soft-shelled crab didn't work for you because the batter was wrong. Ideally, they should be dusted in seasoned cornmeal then pan-fried. That looks like fish&chip batter.

Kathryn said...

Its possible that you didn't like the soft shelled crabs because the batter was wrong. Ideally, they should be dusted in seasoned cornmeal, the pan fried. The fish&chip batter seems weird to me.

Tom Morton said...

I followed Chris's review and went for lunch there on both Friday and Saturday. 9/10 is about right. It has a great artisan vibe: it feels like something you'd find in Williamsburg or, heading west, the celebrated Gjelina in Venice, CA. The drinks are an uncompromising mix of US and Italian standards. The dishes are inventive twists on American comfort food. The mac + cheese is superlative: probably the ultimate hangover dish. Two pieces of advice: get there before 12.30 if you don't want to wait. And because every dish has a starring role, expect the food to tend to the rich and hearty.

German said...

The truffled egg toast look like a nice twist from the classic porto Franceshinas. Look fantastic!!

http://kitchenvoyage.blogspot.com/

Katy Salter said...

auuugh - that truffled toast, a filthy masterpiece indeed. Great write up, steeling myself to brace the queues.

Conor said...

Hi Chris, I really love the website. I am working on a story about London's best cheap eats. And am asking as many bloggers, food critics, chefs etc... as I can for their top 5/10 cheap eat places in and around London. It would be great if you have time to just drop me a quick email with your picks and I intend on including links and references in the article.

Cheers, Conor

grumblings from a greedy girl said...

So excited to get myself here...that truffled egg isn't going to hit it...

Cupcake Kelly said...

I just went here last night fo the first time. The truffle toast, slider and PB&J were the highlights. The mac n' cheese was a real let down. Hardly any cheese and an awful lot of bread crumbs.

The couple next to us mentioned it to the server (they also didn't like it) and he said that most people don't like it and the restaurant is American-Italian/NY influence and that's how the American's eat it! I don't beleive him!