Spuntino is the third venture from Russell Norman (previously operations director of Caprice), sister to Polpo and Polpetto. In this case the cuisine is American rather than Italian, but still with the “small plates” idea. Russell described the menu to me as “hangover food”, which seems pretty apt. Tucked away amongst the massage parlours at the seedy end of Rupert Street in Soho, the premises are deliberately reminiscent of the walk-in diner that you see a lot in New York. There are just 26 seats, mostly grouped around a central bar, and you sit on a bar stool as you glance at the paper menu, which doubles as a table mat. The décor is minimalist; this used to be a rather grimy Indian restaurant, and they discovered some tiled walls under two layers of hardboard, so that is now what you have; suffice it to say that would not come here for the comfortable surroundings, though some thought has clearly been put into the distressed chic look. Blues and jazz plays in the background to entertain you, which may come in handy as there are no reservations (nor even a phone number for the restaurant), and by noon on this Tuesday lunch time there was already a queue of people waiting for a table to free up.
About a dozen wines were offered, starting at £16.50 and including choices such as Dolcetto d’Alba Priavino 2009 at £44 compared to a retail price of £13 and Drouhin Pinot Noir 2008 at £66 for a wine that you can pick up for £20 in the shops. Complimentary popcorn was handed out as you wait for the food, in this case a very spicy chilli version. I tried three dishes, which in retrospect was over-ordering, as the food is here is distinctly hearty (I can’t see them welcoming compulsory printing of calories on the menu here). Truffled egg toast (£5.50) was a slab of very thick toasted bread hollowed out and filled with a soft boiled egg yolk, scented with truffle oil (which is in no way related to natural truffles, but is olive oil flavoured with a compound with the catchy name 2,4-Dithiapentane) and covered with a layer of melted cheese: all very enjoyable in a cardiac-arrest sort of way (13/20).
Spiced mackerel “slider” i.e. a miniature burger (£4.50) was the least convincing dish, tasting of mackerel and having a certain amount of spicy kick, but the flavours seemed a little unbalanced to me (12/20). My favourite dish was the macaroni cheese (£8), served in a large iron skillet. This is the very definition of comfort food, the pasta having good texture, with leeks to add a bit of texture to the filling, a mix of Gruyere, Parmesan and Mozzarella bringing richness, topped off with a layer of Fontina cheese on top – lovely (15/20). By this time I was too full for dessert. Spuntino is a place that it would be hard to dislike, serving comfort food in an informal setting, and doing it very well indeed. The bill for one person for three plates and tap water came to £20.