Spuntino: Where the early bird beats the hunk

Restaurant review: Spuntino, an intriguing Soho joint that could well be the most blogged London restaurant ever, is a diner that feels like an event, from the comfort-food excess of the menu to the febrile, catching atmosphere.

Spuntino Soho Spuntino is attracting queues out the door and past the Soho sex shops
 
I am, as my blogger chums would say, late to the party on Spuntino (Italian for snack).  It might be the most blogged London restaurant ever.  But there is a side to this intriguing Soho joint – yes, it’s  a definite joint – that have kept  me away. 



It doesn’t take bookings. I understand that in these straitened times, restaurateurs have to maximise footfall and shrink bottom lines and other euphemisms for bums-on-seats-fast, but I’m terrified of the possibility of not getting a seat (cue a chorus: ‘Get. A. Life’). If the place is popular, as every opening from the Russell Norman/Richard Beatty double act inevitably is (Polpo, Polpetto, Da Polpo), we’re talking queues. Shudder.
But then I hear about the secret burger. Pavlovian, maybe, but it’s got everything: mystique; insider scoop; charred meat. I’m there. But I’m there at an alarming 6pm. 


It’s all so chilled, baybee: the unmarked door; horseshoe-shaped zinc counter; flickery dim lighting. I’m fighting off zombie-intense hopefuls for the seat I’m keeping for the pal as good Trebbiano and Traminer are sloshed into little carafes. It’s very macho: the young male dining demographic is a hard one to reach and Spuntino has absolutely nailed it. 


There are sliders – in this case, aka meatballs in a bun, or maybe excellent pulled pork with pickled apple, or spiced mackerel; lollipoped, slightly stodgy croquetas of Spanish ham; softshell crab, a little enthusiastically battered. 


Sure, there are salads, but of the butch slaw or panzanella (Tuscan bread) variety. What’s become the trademark item – white  toast, fried with a layer of cheese on top and a pool of truffle-oiled egg yolk in a central indentation – is like something I’d fry up after a night on the sauce. 


The febrile atmosphere, with its well-chosen swampy soundtrack, is catching. Half an hour after our arrival, the queue snakes out the door.
I love the comfort-food excess of the menu: if it can be fried, put in a bun or slathered in cheese, it will be. It’s genuinely liberating to order what you want, when you want it – one of us with a phwoar! caramelly brown sugar cheesecake, the other deciding that now is a good time to try the tangle of thin, curly, crisp shoestring fries. 


I love the insider smugness of knowing about the burger: it’s not large (though not a slider) but the meat is excellent quality, there’s a soft, brioche-y bun, pleasingly plasticky cheese and maybe a suggestion of bone marrow. 


Of course we’re being manipulated. This is studiedly ‘cool’, from  the jittering horror movie that introduces its sparse website, to  the sex shop-tastic location. The insouciant, tattooed dudes doing the serving don’t own the place as they would in the Brooklyn dives that are the inspiration behind the tastefully scuffed grunge. (Tip: you need to wave hard at them for attention.) 


Somehow it doesn’t matter – Norman and Beatty have created  a diner that feels like an event,  even if you just drop by for  a morning heart-starter and wonderful little pizzetta, topped  with wafer-thin, almost raw courgettes, chilli and a glossy  slick of good olive oil. 


I’m having nightcaps in Rules Bar at 9.30pm and am tucked up by 11pm. There’s only a suggestion of  a hangover in the morning. Who knows, this 6pm dinner thing might just catch on.
A meal for two with wine, water and service costs from £40 to £80.  61 Rupert Street. No telephone. No reservations. www.spuntino.co.uk Tube: Piccadilly Circus

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