Russell Norman knows how to roll out a successful establishment. His easy-please small plates have had (primarily) young and hungry Londoners salivating and swooning for the last two years as he has opened, in quick succession, Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino, and now da Polpo.
The informality of his brand (I think I'm safe in saying he has a little empire on the go) is key: osterias and bacaros featuring bare brick walls, sparse decor, no reservations, friendly and relaxed staff - if your tattoo is impressive enough you're in, apparently - serving at a prominent bar, and food for sharing.
Lunch at Spuntino ticked off three of his four joints.
The anonymous entrance is slap bang in the middle of porn central, Soho, and it fits right in. A good kind of seedy, its intimate subterranean vibe and bare walls exude NY cool. More a bar with food than a diner, the menu veers from Italian-style cicchetti, crostini, and pizzette to petite versions of American diner classics: mac & cheese, cheddar grits, sliders, chopped salad, and steak and eggs. Basically, anything that pairs well with a stiff drink.
Truffled egg toast £6. Click here to read Helen Graves in raptures over this now-near-mythical creation. I could smell it before I could see it. 'What's that horrid smell?', were my exact words, I believe. But like great cheese, you can't let one sense fool you, especially when it comes to truffles. This is a masterpiece, a brick of artery-tickling greatness: soft bread holding a molten egg yolk, smothered in truffle-infused melted cheese.
Eggplant chips with fennel yogurt £3.50. Good idea, but I couldn't taste the aubergine (the crunchy coating was too dense), or the fennel. Perfectly edible, and moreish, just not impressive.
Fennel, radicchio, hazelnut and truffle salad £5.50. This was very lovely: crunchy leaves smothered in a mustardy smooth dressing, spiked with a dash of truffle oil.
Baked figs, prosciutto, gorgonzola and walnuts £7. For me, the only let down. It was just a bit boring: heavy, and too sweet and sickly.
Zucchini pizzetta £6.50. A favourite from Polpo: I love these pizzettas. A thin, crispy base, with a perfectly judged topping decorated with chilli and mint. A refreshing pizza, and an obvious oximoron, in one.
We also found room for two of the four "sliders" (£4.50-£5 each), mini burgers in soft mini buns. The best burger meat I've eaten in London, though I have yet to try Meatwagon, Byron, or Bar Boulud. Let me put you in the safe hands of Burgerac to take you through these mini meaty delights in salivating detail. They vanished the moment they were served, hence no pic.
Shoestring fries £3.50. Addictive. Light as air, they practically evaporated on the tongue after that satisfying first crunch.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich £6.50. This was a sight to behold: two layers of peanut butter ice cream (more butter than ice, I'm guessing, as it was set but not freezing cold - hello heart attack...), sandwiched with raspberry jam. Sinful, and well worth a short stay in hell.
Lunch bill for 3: £69 incl. service at 12.5% and two glasses of Trebbiano at £7 each.
Spuntino offers good value, great food, and a hip place to prop yourself up at the end of a long night. I'm pretty sure I'm the last person in the capital to have made it there, and you're all probably seasoned regulars, but just in case... go!
Norman's opening a Jewish deli in Covent Garden soon. God help us, he'll be running for Mayor next.