Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Paradise, Soho

Though it's sad to a certain degree when any restaurant closes - you have to feel for the staff and management of even the most mediocre high street chain even if you weren't a fan - it's fair to say some losses hit way harder than others. Back in 2019, even before Covid ravaged our shores, Spuntino, the New York-Italian cocktail bar and comfort food joint, closed its doors and overnight I lost a friendly regular pre- and post- dinner spot, somewhere guaranteed to make me happy and where I have loads of great memories. Their truffled egg toast, egg & anchovy soldiers and negronis will live long in legend. RIP.

But! What have we here? In the revamped Spuntino site - think more cosy booths and a much smaller central bar - is Paradise, still achingly hip and staffed by capable friendly people (and still doing great cocktails) but the cuisine on offer is now, in their words, "contemporary Sri-Lankan". "Contemporary", inevitably, translates as "smaller portions and higher prices" but look, this is Soho, not Tooting High Street, and with food this vibrant and exciting it still seems like value to me.

Three half-langoustine for example, for £8, is pretty much what you'd pay at Kiln, who have done for "contemporary" Thai what Paradise are doing for Sri Lankan. Here they came served in a remarkably punchy Ceylonese dressing and a lovely smooth, sweet mango dip. The papaya and palm heart salad on the side was crunchy and fresh, and a welcome balm from the fire of the langoustine dressing.

Everything arrived in one go, normally not much of a problem but I do wish they'd brought out these mangalitza skewers a bit earlier as they were rather cold. That aside, they tasted great, containing a perfect balance of flesh and fat, and soaked in a deep, rich tamarind sauce. Oh, and sorry about the photos. It was very dark in there and my camera is still rubbish.

Normally I wouldn't bother mentioning a side of boiled rice but there was something extra about this muthu samba stuff, incredibly light and soft, the grains being smally and fluffy and round. 'Muthu' apparently translates to 'pearl', which makes sense.

Aubergine and jaggery moju was a generous pile of sticky-spiced veg with a mild chilli kick - milder than the langoustine at least - and with a interesting variety of ingredients and textures. I particularly liked the chew on the large green chilli, which had been blackened over coals I think.

Not pictured is a bowl of huge devilled prawns, their sauce a happy marriage of chilli, tomato, spices and who knows what else, the kind of thing it probably takes a long time and a lot of experience to perfect. Interestingly, we were instructed to try eating these whole, as in shell-on and with heads, but we soon decided that wasn't going to work. Deep-fried shrimps perhaps you can gulp down whole, but not the thick, chewy carapaces of giant prawns. So instead we tore the shells off with our bare hands and had to go to the bathroom to wash ourselves clean before carrying on with the meal.

Finally, egg hopper with an asparagus and tomato sambol. Bringing a much-needed dairy cleanness to a meal that had been otherwise quite spice-heavy and dense, this had a perfectly timed gooey yolk and the sambol was nice and fresh.

So, RIP Spuntino, long live Paradise I say. It is faintly terrifying how easily London restaurants - even the very good ones - can fail, and though I'm sure I don't know the whole backstory on the Troubled Polpo Group (as it is seemingly compulsarily referred to in the press) I do know I still miss Spuntino like I miss anywhere that's been such an integral part of the London food scene for so long. But I also know that I love Paradise, and even if it doesn't become a new regular haunt I'll know that the legacy of Spuntino - cool, exciting, unique - lives on in its new South Asian cousin.


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