Spuntino – with a side order of hype

When restaurants are this achingly trendy it’s difficult not to turn up expecting too much, or too little.  People rave about Spuntino, but then again people rave about the film Crash, or the burgers at GBK. 

I’ll admit I have baggage, from a night at Polpo, Spuntino’s sister restaurant, where the staff were arsey and the food distinctly average.

I came expecting to be irritated by the self-consciousness of Spuntino’s hipster styling.

I’d been to Torrisi in New York, the most painfully fashionable small-plates Italian restaurant in the universe only last month.  I’d queued like a desperate BAPE fan on the first day of the sale.  While the food at Torrisi was generally excellent, the whole ‘fun / drama’ of waiting in the street for an hour to see if you can get a table is a bit, well, boring.  So I guess maybe I have two sets of baggage.

While I do think Spuntino wears its fashionability a tad awkwardly, like a lime green jump-suit, overall I was pleasantly surprised.  Not amazed or bowled over; but we had mostly really good food, and a very good time.

It’s cute.  It’s shticky.  They give you free spicy popcorn, they have rough brown packing paper menus, featuring a a variety of Italian, American, French and British dishes.  I can’t think of another menu in town that has pizzetta, grits, Croque Monsieur and egg & soldiers all on the same menu.  It’s a little confused about its identity, but then again aren’t we all.  The barmen look like they’ve been dragged away from a Fleet Foxes gig for the night.  One of them wears a vest so low that if he were your daughter you’d send him back to his bedroom and tell him to put some clothes on.

Like Polpo, it’s all about small plates.  When did small plates get so big?  I don’t mean big as in filling, I mean big as in ubiquitous.   And why is no-one pointing out the Emperor’s New Clothes element of the London restaurant scene?  Small plates = big business because you have to order lots.  You spend more for less.  I’m sure Stringer Bell would be running a Cicchetti bar if he was here with us now.

Anyway, on to the food.  You’re greeted with the aforementioned small mug of popcorn.  Compare and contrast to Gilbert Scott who charge a cover just for average bread.  Then we had farmhouse cheddar grits – probably the only duff call of the order.  It was neither cheesy nor gritty, but more like a bland and pointless encounter with an unidentified carb (and yes, I do know it’s actually corn.)

Then eggplant* chips, fennel yoghurt.  Eggplant is what they call aubergines in Billyburg, grandma.  Do keep up.

Then my favourite, a fennel, fig and olive pizzetta.  This was delicious – light, salty, fresh tasting, good dough.  I tucked in before I remembered to take a photo (I am so entirely over taking photos in restaurants.)

And then a fresh slaw, made up of julienned asparagus, red onion, red cabbage, fennel and pickled celeriac in a light lemon dressing.  Fresh, delicious, crunchy – very good.

And a ricotta, pea and radish crostini, which was pleasant enough, although I’d had a killer broad bean puree bruschetta earlier at lunch here one of my favourite gastropubs which was tastier.

The puddings were really good.   One brown sugar cheesecake with grappa prunes, one chocolate, pecan and whisky cake, two happy eaters.

We came on the hottest Sunday night of the year.  Glasto Sunday.  The cool kids have left town, so we didn’t have to queue, like you apparently do every other night.  Would I come back and queue for this restaurant?  No.  Would I come back?  Sure, why not.  It’s good.  Would I think about anything I ate here after the event, would I crave it the way I crave the spicy sausage pasta round the corner at Bocca di Lupo.  No.  But if you come out of the clip joint next door after a depressing paid-for sex act  and you have a desperate craving for truffled egg on toast, then this is definitely your best bet.

Verdict?  Generally a force for good, excellent desserts and pizzetta, but must try-hard a little less hard.

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