Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Spuntino: a taste of London

There are times that I envy Londoners. I envy their shops, their shows, their museum exhibitions, their nightlife and most particularly their food.
In the past decade or so, London has become one of the foodie hot spots of the world. With its strong immigrant traditions and its growing respect for home-grown British food; the city now has so many tempting places to eat. From fish and chip shops, pie shops and noodle bars to tapas bars, sushi bars and Michelin-starred wonders; there’s something for every appetite in this city.

This is why I have a growing list of places I’d like to eat in London typed into my phone. So, whenever I find myself in the city, all I have to do is consult my list in order to choose where I’d like to have my lunch or dinner.

On a recent trip to London, I paid a visit to Spuntino. London-based bloggers had been talking about this place for months so I had to check it out for myself.

It’s in Soho and has such an unassuming exterior that if you didn’t know its exact address, you’d be very likely to just walk right past it. But don’t do this!

You may not spot it straightaway but the restaurant's name 'Spuntino' is scrawled on the bottom left-hand corner of the panel above the door. That's how low-key/wannabe cool this place actually is!

Spuntino has a no-bookings policy so you may have to wait for a while for a seat. Fortunately for us, it was a quiet time of day so we had plenty of seats to choose from.

The décor of the interior is interesting, with a Dustbowl-America-meets-hipster-London sort of feel. Most of the seating is at the bar, which is made to feel like an American diner, with some tables for more private dining at the back of the room. There are distressed tiles on the walls, low-hanging lights and staff with elaborate haircuts and tattoos.  

But I’m sure you mostly want to hear about the food. They’ve done away with the concept of starters and mains at Spuntino. Instead, it’s all about finger food, little plates of food that are designed to be mixed and matched – and shared, if at all possible.

With dishes ranging in price from £3 to £10 and most hovering around the £5 mark, it’s possible to taste quite a lot of the menu at just one sitting.

Which is exactly what we did but choosing what we wanted to eat wasn’t so easy. The menu here is a mixture of classic Americana, British comfort food and modern British cuisine. This means that you'll find yourself wavering between macaroni and cheese, egg and soldiers and a fennel, radicchio, hazelnut and truffle salad. What should you choose when everything sounds so tasty?

We were given a cup of chilli popcorn while we deliberated over our order. Served in an enamel cup (everything here is served in enamel dishes in keeping with the Depression-era theme), it was a nice touch but the popcorn was a little oily for my taste. That’s not to say that I didn’t eat it all though!

One thing was for sure. We had to try the dish that the restaurant has become famous for: its truffled egg toast. I’d heard so much about this thick slice of white bread, topped with melted cheese and truffle oil with a runny egg yolk in the middle that I had to have it.  

But, oh dear, I was every so slightly disappointed. The bread was a little stale, which made chewing it hard work and I found the whole dish a little too oily. Having already had oily popcorn, I began to worry that the entire meal was going to disappoint.

Thankfully, it didn’t. The pulled pork and pickled apple slider (a bite-sized burger) was a hit; its spiced meat contrasting nicely with the the fruit.  

The beetroot and anchovy salad served with a soft-boiled egg was the highlight of the entire meal. The earthy sweetness of the beetroot, the saltiness of the anchovy and the runny eggs made for a great combination and one I'll definitely have to try at home.

The softshell crab served with Tabasco aioli was another success. The crab had a deep smoky taste and a satisfying crunch that worked well with the spicy mayonnaise and the crisp fennel salad it was served with.

We also had purple sprouting broccoli served with romesco sauce. The kitchen fell down here again as a lot of the broccoli was barely cooked. In fact, it was nearly raw but the nutty romesco sauce made for a great accompaniment. I’d have eaten it on its own.

Finally, for dessert, we shared a brown sugar cheesecake served with drunken plums. I loved this. The deep complex sweetness of the brown sugar worked perfectly with the rich creaminess of cheesecake. The only thing that would have improved the dish would have been more booze in the plums. They would have benefited from a longer soaking in the brandy they tasted so faintly of.

My verdict on Spuntino? There were some misses but it was mostly a hit. It's definitely worth a visit if you want to soak up the atmosphere of a cool part of London and taste food that is trying to be different and is mostly great.
It's reasonably priced too. We had six dishes to share, two bottles of sparkling water and coffee for £43.

Spuntino. 61 Rupert Street, London, W1D 7PW.

Mon - Sat: 11am to midnight
Sunday: noon to 11pm

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