Spuntino: Soho, London
The opening of a new restaurant in London is generally accompanied by a stampede of eager foodies and bloggers racing to get their bums onto its seats before the ink’s even dried on the menus.
Spuntino was no exception when it opened its doors earlier this year, with the hype surrounding Soho’s latest offering intensified by its deliberately mysterious set-up.
It doesn’t take reservations. It can’t – it doesn’t have a phone. The website offers no further information. And unless you know where to look you’re as likely to just stumble across it as you are to find a £50 note in the street. There’s no sign on the door, just the street number; and its grey, inconspicuous façade makes it invisible among its shadowy, x-rated neighbours.
Typically late to the party, Boyfriend and I only got round to seeing what all the fuss was about after it had already become the most talked about restaurant in the capital. We’d been advised (by many) to arrive early to avoid queuing, but my habit for pratting about meant we didn’t rock up to Rupert Street until gone 7pm, by which time there was a queue right up to the door.
Thankfully the atmosphere in this tiny American diner style set-up is what you’re here for, so leaning against the wall listening to Jonny Cash while you wait for a seat is nothing to balk at. Plus they’ll serve you drinks in the queue, which improves your patience no end.
Despite every food snob in London (literally) queuing for a seat, Spuntino is a pretty informal place with a purposefully grimy interior design. It’s closer to a bar than a restaurant and the sought-after stools are fewer than 30 in number. Meanwhile the tattooed and quiff- sporting staff are as welcoming and friendly as they are pretty to look at.
Diners sit almost exclusively around the bar, with just one separate six-seater table taking the overspill, and everyone munches on warm oil-slicked chilli popcorn as they browse the menu fighting the urge to order absolutely everything on it. It’s serious comfort food that could be described as American, but it’s probably more accurate to file it under Really Bloody Bad For You. The dominant theme is fried. Or cheese. Or fried cheese. It’d make a nutritionist faint and sound’s all the more delicious for it.
First up, the pulled pork sliders – exceptionally tasty mini burgers with the occasional smack of crackling. Great to look at, even better to eat. I could have scoffed half a dozen of them. Next up was the soft-shell crab – pretty grim to look at but light, crispy and served with a nice Tabasco aioli. Shame there was so little of it, as Boyfriend’s big gob had inhaled the lot before I got a second mouthful. Shoestring fries were completely addictive, and our artery-clogging finale came with the spicy sausage and cheddar grits.
I was predisposed to dislike this dish as I’d been drooling over the Mac and Cheese ordered by just about everyone else in the restaurant since we arrived. Boyfriend, however, fancied saturated meat fats with his cheese goop, and being the nice gal I am I let him order that instead. A foolish move – it was satisfying enough, but in terms of flavour it was unexciting. It didn’t look half as appealing as the M&C and wasn’t good enough to justify what must have been somewhere close to a full recommended daily allowance of calories.
Completely worthy of making a dent in your RDA, however, was the luscious whiskey, chocolate and pecan cake, which was just the right melt-in-your-mouth-without-being-gooey consistency and bloody tasty to boot.
Spuntino’s not remotely ‘novelty’, as I’d half expected, in fact I’d happily go back tomorrow if that darned having-to-go-to-work-thing wouldn’t get in the way.
Anywhere that lives up to its hype gets extra points from me and at £60 for two including a bottle of red it’s not harsh on the wallet either. The food is fun, naughty and comforting; the atmosphere’s pretty much the same. Great music, friendly staff and excellent decor make this one of the few places genuinely worth queuing for.
Spuntino: 61 Rupert Street, London W1D 7PW