Monday 20 June
I must be having a bad run. Normally I wander round from Greek to Wardour unable to decide where to eat. Today, at Tracey’s suggestion we ate at Spuntino in Rupert Street; it’s been so well reviewed. No booking, too en vogue. So we agree to meet in there at 12.30 which we do and obtain bar seats without difficulty. Here is yet another Soho establishment heavily influenced by the incomparable Barrafina, with a zinc topped bar and only one table hidden at the back. .
Reports tell of real American cuisine. Unfortunately, from the outside Spuntino looks like a place where the numbers racket might hole up. Inside, the walls have been stripped back to their original and now chipped white tiles, topped with Roman style mosaic frieze; this theme extends to the panelled ceiling. It’s one way to decorate, and if the food had delivered it would have been fun. It started out fun with a complimentary mug of chilli popcorn freshly popped.
Let’s start with the plates: all enamelled, and all too reminiscent of 1960′s Milletts camping crockery. The dishes are small and the plates were too. I may be losing my sense of humour but many, many years ago I swore never to drink coffee again from and enamelled mug. Never say never, again.
The menu is a strange mixture of dishes you want, others you don’t, more you didn’t know you might want to eat, and some that intrigue. We avoided Farm-house cheddar grits and Mac(aroni) & cheese (not my ampersand) and shared a Slider of Pulled Pork and pickled apple, a small Spuntino Slaw, Fennel, fig and olive pizzetta, and Softshell crab with Tabasco aioli.
A Slider, Ahmed told me from behind the bar, is a small dish not even big enough to share; so a mini-mini burger roll filled with soft and tasty pork. It is about 150% of the size of a cocktail eat at a good party. The slaw I liked but Tracy thought it had too much onion. I loved the vertically sliced al dente asparagus which punctuated the red cabbage so I ate her share. The pizzetta was good, in fact better than good. They know how to make thin, crisp pizza dough and I was surprised how good a fig is on a pizza. They have lots of practice, I imagine at their sister restaurants Polpo and Polpetto, not that this is something to hold against them. I wished they served this as a proper, or at least bigger pizza. At least it flopped over the blue rimmed edges of my (small) metal plate. Finally, the softshell crab was crisp, cut in two, as I wanted, and served with a creamy, not too runny, not too sticky, aioli. Its only problem was shredded fennel as garnish, making me think too much fennel overall.
Because of the American style we ordered Shoestring fries. These were cold, long shavings of potato, with no soft inner potato. Imagine taking a potato and using one of those Japanese cutting tools which produces thin strip ribbons of radish or carrot. They had used one on a potato and then deep fried it. Sorry, cannot recommend them. A dish like this deserves a special term: not Y-U-M.
I drank Meantime Union Ale (half pint) which was tasty and T played safe on a weekday with a diet coke. As we were on an exploratory outing we shared a pudding, incorrectly named Strawberry and coconut mess: two strawberries, a lot of whipped cream some meringue, and no coconut. The camping oval pudding dish did it no favours.
Once again, I may have ordered badly, but I set out to eat across the menu. I sighted my fellow diners tucking into what appeared to be steaming, just out of the oven skillets of Mac & cheese and Spicy sausage stew, but I fear the grass is always greener.
I once knew a Hollywood executive who decided whether to employ people on the basis of a final test. He would ask himself the question: do I want to have lunch with this person? My restaurant test is similarly: do I want to go back? Answer, not really. It has a certain style, but there are so many places with better food in this neighbourhood, and most of them take bookings. More positive next time, Princci or Barrafina?