Restaurant review: Spuntino, Soho, London

What I learned in Spuntino: All macaroni cheese should come with lobster. And that it never looks appealing when photographed.

What I learned in Spuntino: All macaroni cheese should come with lobster. And that it never looks appealing when photographed.

Spuntino is a small square place on Rupert St in Soho. I suppose it is a restaurant but it channels a grungy cocktail bar vibe far more effectively. Around 30 people can perch along three sides of the square bar, with room for another handful at a couple of tables to the side. Amazingly for London, on Monday night we were still able to be seated sans reservation, without the thrill of waiting on the street in a queue underneath characteristic London May drizzle.

Despite the name (spuntino is Italian for ‘snack’) the menu is unashamedly American with fried chicken, po’ boys, burgers, hot dogs and peanut butter & jelly occupying prime positions. But it is fun American, whimsical American. The ‘Bismarck pancake, fried chicken & maple syrup’ was a soft, fluffy pancake served in a small cast iron skillet with melt-in-mouth salty fried chicken offset beautifully by the maple syrup. The kohlrabi, pecorino, hazelnut & apple salad is an immensely fun combination. Mac & cheese comes both with and without lobster. You should have the version with lobster. I suspect the only reason the non-lobster version is offered is so that you feel as though you are ‘upgrading’ to lobster. Nevertheless, have the lobster. As mentioned, all mac & cheese should contain lobster.

Like American diner experiences, the food is good value. Even exceptional value given Spuntino’s location. Unlike American diner experiences the food is appropriately sized. A ‘classic hamburger’ costs £5.90. You can easily pay £9.50 for a fairly nondescript burger in a fairly nondescript pub in a fairly nondescript part of London. One burger might not fill you up, but the slider sharer board offering: beef & bone marrow; pulled pork & pickled apple: spinach, ricotta, chickpea & wild garlic; and fried shrimp & mayo (all four for £18) is enough for two and offers a wealth of flavours your standard pub won’t deliver.

The wine list is exclusively, incongruously Italian. Even the Sauvignon Blanc is Italian! Spuntino is owned by the same people as Polpo – a small, but growing, chain of Venetian restaurants mostly in London – which explains why the house prosecco, white and red are all Polpo branded. The list is very short: two sparkling, four white, four red and a pink. (Continuing the American cocktail bar/diner theme, there seem to be more bourbons than wines on the list.) However, I generally approve of short wine lists. Part of the experience of a restaurant is the curatorship of the menu. The same should be true of a wine list. But, with only a handful of wines to choose from, it does require that curatorship to be top notch.

this is the first place I’ve been to in a long while where I don’t feel ripped off as a wine drinker

The wines at Spuntino are appropriately selected, I feel. They are ‘safe’ for Italian wines, but points are awarded for the self-imposed constraint of Italian wines only. All wines (except one sparkling) are available by the glass, bottle and 250mL & 500mL carafe. Big bonus points for this too. The list spans the gamut of light styles (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc, Corvina) through to weightier examples (e.g. Gavi di Gavi, Nero d’Avola, Montepulciano). At the high end, I feel the wines are a bit overpriced for what they are: £7 for a glass of Gavi or Dolcetto is capitalising a bit on the perceived novelty of style. But why not go budget and try the house wines? At £3.50 for a glass, this is the first place I’ve been to in a long while where I don’t feel ripped off as a wine drinker compared to a beer drinker (cf. £4.50 for a 33cL bottle of Camden Hell’s Lager). The house red is a refreshing, fruity Corvina from the Veneto. Light in colour, light on tannins; big on aromatics though lacking complexity on the finish. Simple yet evocative, £3.50 is a fair price for a decent-though-not-amazing wine and certainly offers a lot more interest compared to the aforementioned lager. But the white! A Garganega (also a Venetian variety, that you may have come across in the Soave appellation) which doesn’t pull any punches. Full and fruity with an acidity that carries the flavour through the finish. I’d go so far to say this is the best house white I have tried in a very long while. So good it almost makes up for the wine being served in tumblers.

Spuntino in a nutshell: splurge on the lobster, save on the wine. I’ll definitely be back.