Friday, 17 January 2014

Spuntino / Soho


Who are they?

Spuntino are a fairly new themed bar set on the outskirts of what's left of the seedier end of London's Red Light District in Soho. Jostling for space next to a courtyard bar and a yoghurt shop, the frosted glass front and lack of signage above the door gives no indication that this is in fact a restaurant themed around Brooklyn's finest cuisine. On the advice of Mr Heaps, who suggested that Spuntino were “better than Meat Liquor”, I could not pass up the chance to see if they could produce a better burger and took Mr Flynn and Mr Hazeel with.

Thoughts

Small does not accurately cover Spuntino, whose room is composed a C shaped bar with plenty of room for everyone but the actual patrons and a small back room for half a dozen or so chairs. I imagine that it's easy for them to say that they are always full when they have barely more than 30 covers in the entire place and probably accounts for the in-vogue statement on their website of “no bookings or reservations”. Either way, we were able to try out some of the butter fried chicken wings while we waited - two large wings that were hot to the touch served without napkins. What I will say is that these were satisfactory only as an appetiser and nothing more, providing you could get what little chicken you could find amongst the bones and skin. Exchanging a nervous glance or two around the room, we hoped that this wasn't a good example of what was to come.

Despite a short wait around 6pm on a Thursday night when the bar was already full, we were seated on a corner of the bar area and had a chance to look over the menu, together with some chilli popcorn to whet our appetites. Sliders seemed to be the order of the day, with four different ones to chose from at £5 a pop or all four for the princely sum of £18. This secures you a beef & bone marrow slider, a prawn po' boy slider and a pulled pork & apple slider, plus one other that I cannot recall. As I know what I like and like what I know, I went for the beef and pulled pork sliders with some fries, on the understanding that you could always order something else to follow up quickly with.

The pulled pork was certainly very juicy, as if it had been cooked to the point where the juices had started to run - at least the bun was up to the task of dealing with the extra liquid and held fast. Interestingly, the apple had been breaded and slightly fried, lending a crisped apple surprise to every other bite. In fact, I enjoyed this one so much that I ordered another while I tackled my other slider.

Sadly, the beef slider was quite cool by the time I got to eating it, but did deliver an excellent beef and marrow mixed flavour. I only wish that I had had the foresight to send it back to the kitchen to be heated up so that I might enjoy it better, as I noticed that other patrons along the bar were sending back cold plates as well - perhaps not what you expect for £5 a pop. Either way, I consoled myself with the fact that within the five minutes of polishing off the beef slider my second pulled pork promptly arrived, so perhaps this place would be better approached as a bar that you could also order food from rather than as a restaurant.

The accompanying fries were certainly up to par, with a crispiness that really hits the spot before heading into "crunchy". While they did remind me of Honest Burgers, they did have a fatal flaw. I think Mr Flynn summed this up nicely with the statement "it's good to see a restaurant that's not afraid to season their fries", followed up with the protestation "they're too salty!" as he reached for the water. It's the culinary equivalent of measure twice, cut once and fail, though we would have been just as happy to apply our own seasoning rather than endure the equivalent of a tried and tested trick of adding too much salt to force the purchase of another drink.

Perhaps it was the case that they were not as great for burgers as they were for other fare, though Mr Hazeel's test of the Truffle Egg Toast didn't yield anything particularly stellar. The only reason we chose the sliders was because they seemed popular with other diners and looked much more interesting than the bog-standard 5oz beef burger on offer - in particular as 5oz for a burger seems a bit mean to me. Who would pass up a larger burger consisting of pulled pork or beef with bone marrow? Maybe Spuntino are missing a trick here and ought to make full blown editions of their sliders for general consumption here, or maybe the entire idea is to charge loads for very little, in keeping with the rest of their menu.

As our hunger had only been mildly satiated, my friends decided to try a dessert while I watched on in interest. Perhaps the icing on the cake to the whole evening's experience of underwhelming offerings, Mr Flynn queried the "Dutch Baby" entry and the barman explained that it was a baked pancake with home made jam and ice cream. Whilst sounding enticing, what he actually received looked and tasted like a large, slightly salted Yorkshire pudding served in a pan with separate portions of jam and ice cream. When delivering his frank feedback to the barman, he was met with a mere shrug, saying "it is, what it is" - presumably he meant a disappointment at £6-7 a dessert.

Conclusion

With very hit and miss food (read: mostly a miss) at a premium price, Spuntino is a severe case of the Emperor's New Clothes. While they nail the cosy bar aesthetic, they come up drastically short with the bar-style food and fail to offer anything that can be called value for money. In Googling the establishment for their menu - sorely missing from their website - I've seen that Spuntino's restaurants used to be more affordable but judging from this recent visit they have raised prices to cash in on their sudden popularity.

But don't despair: Spuntino Soho has a unique redeeming feature. If you have money left over afterwards, at least you can console yourself at a nearby strip joint for an equally hollow experience. A nice idea but badly executed, if this is the best that Brooklyn can produce, it's a SpuntiNO from us and the last time I take recommendations from Mr Heaps.

Further reading from Time Out also provides a chuckle:
http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/spuntino

Score

4/10

Where can I find them?
A stone's throw from Picadilly Circus (Picadilly tube) towards Soho.