I went to the Spuntino for a quick lunch bite last week. I promised myself that I wouldn’t read any reviews before I visited and I don’t know how I did it but i managed not too.
My worries about dining alone were shattered as I walked in and saw four other lone diners dotted along the bar. It is probably because of the bar that dining alone seems fine – you have the waiting staff to keep you company. Spuntino only has 25 covers but feels larger due to high ceilings.
The beautiful rustic tiles were apparently uncovered when the place was being designed. What a lucky, lucky man Russell is. They are a perfect fit in his new and very (pardon the word) cool establishment.
I glanced at the menu and the spicy sausage, lentil and radiccio dish caught my eye. After the waiter took my order, he retreated to the popcorn machine where he scooped up a cup full, placed it in a cocktail shaker and drizzled with chilli oil infused with rosemary and salt. He slammed the cup back on top and shook it ferociously. He placed the cup in front of me and I was happy as a kid in a sweetie shop. Had I read reviews I might have known this was coming but it was a brilliant surprise. You get the salt first, then rosemary and the chilli kick comes in at the end. Utterly delicious.
The spicy sausage and lentil dish came on a small enamel plate. This alone wouldn’t have been enough but the peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the dessert menu was calling me for afters. I didn’t really get any spice from the dish but perhaps this was because I had only just finished the spicy popcorn but it was a great, steamy hot almost creamy delight with a nice crunch from the al dente lentils. It turned out to be the perfect size.
Halfway through my lunch, another lone diner walked through the door and sat a couple of seats down from me. One of the first things he said when he walked in was ‘It smells like rich sugary based nice things’ – he was right. The lone diner told the waiting staff how he had been following Spuntino on Twitter since it opened and had been looking for the restaurant for a couple of weeks… but didn’t find it due to the lack of signage outside. The lack of signage being deliberate – you have to be super confident to do this and judging by the success of Polpo and Polpetto, Russell clearly is. Lone diner engaged in conversation with one waiter throughout his visit and to me this summed up the restaurant – sociable, relaxed and friendly.
Spuntino is set in down town New York in the prohibition era and as soon as you step through the door, you feel like you’ve just stepped into a scene from Boardwalk Empire. Russell has made a lot of effort and there has been a lot of thought go into every single last little detail – particularly the lightbulbs that hang over you as you eat, the glowing red exit sign on the door, the gum ball machines on the way to the loo and even the old fuse box that sits on the wall above the only table at the back.
As I only had two dishes for lunch, I went back a few days later with three friends. We were lucky enough to snag the back table and set about ordering a range of dishes. We each ordered a slider and some dishes to share – mac & cheese, spicy sausage, lentil and radicchio (it was that good last time), courgette pizzetta, soft shell crab, plus sides of string fries, greens and cheesy grits. All of the dishes were delights but the mac & cheese outshone the rest. Cheesy, creamy, crispy on the top and a large portion, it was just what the doctor ordered.
This time I also ordered a cocktail – the name escapes me now but it was a sweet and subtle mixture of gin, raspberry and lemon. I loved the glass that it was served in.
The cheesy grits were also a delight. Before Spuntino arrived, I had never heard of this dish before but I am told that it is a staple of the American diet. I am also told that this dish is is basically cheesy hominy, which is the dried kernel of corn, after the hull and germ have been removed. A simple yet utterly satisfying dish.
I went for the peanut butter & jelly sandwich again for dessert. The burnt sugar cheesecake was also ordered along with the Nutella pizzetta. The cheese cake was delicious but the pizzetta was disappointing – not nearly enough Nutella was smothered on the top!
The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is not what you’d expect (not that I’d actually expect a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in it’s original state). It comes in the form of peanut butter ice cream with raspberry compote. The ‘sandwich’ is then sprinkled with peanuts and caramelised sugar. How can I recreate this at home?! Bloody amazing. The peanut butter in the ice cream is quite subtle but the sprinkling of peanuts really lifts the peanutty flavour. It was a great portion size for one greedy girl and I scraped the plate as much as possible. I went as far as the spoon would let me before having to pick up the plate and lick it, which I obviously did not do!
The same waiter that was chatting to lone diner on my last visit was serving us for our evening meal and his knowledge is fantastic. It really adds to the experience when the waiting staff can answer any questions and really go into detail with the answers!
I’d recommend Spuntino for a romantic meal for two or a small group of friends wanting something a bit different.
61 Rupert Street
(no telephone, of course)