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Spuntino Review

Julie Falconer heads to Spuntino in Soho to check out the newest restaurant in the Polpo empire

Published on August 4th 2011.


Spuntino Review

WHEN a restaurant concept works in London, it really works. Russell Norman created Polpo in 2009, and he hit onto something big. Well, he really hit onto something small. The small plates of Venetian food, wine served in tumblers, and the diminutive space with New York-style atmosphere, were so popular with Londoners that Norman decided to expand.

Enter Polpetto, Polpo’s little sibling. Polpetto took the Polpo concept and ran with it, emulating it’s next-of-kin’s mouth-watering cuisine and brick-wall-and-funky-music Manhattan style.

I left Spuntino after 10pm, happy to have been able to see what the buzz was all about, but not entirely sold on the concept. 

So in love were Londoners with the first two renditions that Norman created yet a third restaurant in Soho. Located just a few streets away from middle-child Polpetto, the new eatery, called Spuntino, lies smack in the heart of the neighborhood at 61 Rupert Street. 

Unlike its neighbors, who sport flashy neon signs and bright exteriors, Spuntino wants to be subtle. With just a plain brown façade and a mere trace of a sign, it is easy to walk past it. But once inside Spuntino, it is easy to see how many other people have found their way into the restaurant as well.

I went to Spuntino for dinner on a Saturday night. From the restaurant’s minimalist website, I knew that there was a strict ‘no telephone, no reservations’ policy, so I made sure to arrive at 7pm to avoid the rush. Unfortunately, so did everyone else. The restaurant was so packed when I arrived that I wondered at first if I would ever get a table. But into the queue I went, and I hoped it would be worth the wait. 

Img_7233Calamari with chickpeas and squid ink

Looking around the room, Spuntino was essentially just a large bar and a small alcove with a single high, shared table. Most people dined at the bar, while the staff buzzed behind it filling drink orders. The décor was similar to the restaurant group’s other locations. Bare walls and low lighting carried the day, and the music was classic American. Out the front window could be seen a large neon sign advertising an XXX-rated venue. It was so perfectly fitting for the ambiance that I almost suspected that the restaurant put it there for show.

Soon I discovered that, like its siblings, Spuntino had a culture of waiting for a table. This meant that it didn’t feel nearly as tedious as most restaurant waits. The queue formed along a thin ledge of a counter along one wall, and as space at the bar and the table came available, servers moved people into empty seats.

Img_7229Softshell crab with Tabasco aioli

While I waited, I perused the drinks list, which offered selections of beer, wine, sparkling wine, spirits and soft drinks. I ordered a small carafe of 2009 Nero d’Avola Baglio del Sole (£18), a Sicilian wine that was drinkable, but not entirely impressive. It came with the restaurant group’s signature tumblers, which were cute, if a bit gimmicky. 

The wait ended up being only twenty minutes, and I serendipitously got a spot at the table when it was my turn to be seated. As with Polpo and Polpetto, Spuntino’s menu was written on the placemats. The menu was laid out in the restaurant trio’s classic small plate format with a partial drinks list lining each side.

The selections fell under the headers of Spuntini, Sliders, Salads, Plates, Sides and Desserts. All of them were dishes that offered New York-Italian style cuisine like beef sliders (£4.50 - £5), mac and cheese (£8), and farm-house cheddar grits (£3.50). Peppered into the mix were international inserts like egg and soldiers (£3.50) and croque monsieurs (£3).

The waitress came by to take the order, but I needed a few more minutes. Big mistake. She didn’t come again for what felt like an eternity, and by the time I ordered, I was extremely hungry. The food came relatively quickly though, and soon I was sitting in front of a veritable feast. First came the ground beef and bone marrow slider (£4.50), along with the lamb and pickled cucumber slider (£5). Both were excellent parcels of hamburger-y goodness, oozing with all the right flavors.

Next up was the calamari with chickpeas and squid ink (£7). It too was very good, what with the large white rings of calamari being the right consistency and the accompaniments not overpowering it.

Img_7231Mac and cheese

The calamari was followed by the softshell crab with Tabasco aioli (£9.50). It was decent, but I didn’t feel like the ratio of meat to shell was adequate, and it tasted very fried. After the crab came the best dish of the evening: the mac and cheese (£8). It was creamy, cheesy and just right. The pasta was cooked to perfection, and the crunchy top was exactly as it should be.

After dinner the waitress returned to take dessert orders. Having failed to learn from my previous ordering process, I again asked her for a minute. She again took her sweet time returning to the table. In fact, she took so long that between finishing dinner and receiving dessert, an hour and fifteen minutes had elapsed.

Img_7234Nutella pizetta

When it did arrive, dessert was mixed in terms of quality. The nuttella pizzetta (£5.50) was bland and boring, and served on a too-chewy crust. The Wild Turkey bourbon brownie (£6), on the other hand, was very good. Moist and flavorful, it was a great way to end the meal.

I left Spuntino after 10pm, happy to have been able to see what the buzz was all about, but not entirely sold on the concept. Hopefully, over time it will smooth the wrinkles in the service and improve some of the menu items. In the meantime, there are two other restaurants in the family to choose from.

 

Spuntino
61 Rupert Street
London, W1D &PW

 

Rating:         14/20

Breakdown:   7/10 food
                    2/5 service
                    5/5 ambience

 

Follow @aladyinlondon on Twitter!

To read more of her writing, visit her London travel blog and Europe travel website.

 

 

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away.

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