61 Rupert St, London W1D 7PW
Late one night restaurateur Russell Norman felt a bit peckish, crept down to his fridge and ate half a kilo of dolcelatte, the soft Italian blue-veined cheese, before going to his bed and as a consequence had a vivid and disturbing dream. He morphed into Robert de Niro’s ‘Johnny Boy’ character in Martin Scorsese’s film classic Mean Streets and was running in and out of little bars and restaurants in New York’s Little Italy district desperately trying to find the perfect Mac’n Cheese. (For those of us more familiar with the mean avenues of Penge or Surbiton this translates as macaroni cheese). As each attempt to find the perfect protein and pasta combo fails, he becomes increasingly violent, trashing the surrounding neighbourhood and creating a trail of carbohydrate fuelled destruction until the suave Russell’s super-ego could take it no more. Waking up in a cold sweat he knew that having established the Venetian Bacaro offer in London through his Polpo mini-chain, that his next mission must be to create the perfect faux Italo-American hip Lower East Side diner…
Spuntino is in Rupert St. , Soho, a street with enough sleaze factor to pass muster and close enough to restaurants Bocca di Lupo and Mele e Pere and the Camisa deli to allow the Hedonist a fleeting fantasy about the area regenerating its own Italian quarter. The joint is hard to find with the name (which translates as snack) being scratched into the rusted piece of metal that doubles as the restaurant’s sign.
The interior is artfully distressed with a handful of bar seats and even fewer tables. As with all of Norman’s establishments (as well as the Polpo chain he also owns Mishkins– a Jewish deli style eatery-in Covent Garden) the serving staff are tattooed and have that ‘between bands’ look. The food offer is similarly on trend being divided into snacks, sliders (mini burgers), salads, sides and plates.
Signature dishes include the aforementioned Mac’n Cheese (£9), an unctuous Truffled Egg on Toast (£6), Egg & Soldiers (£4) and the Ground Beef and Bone Marrow Slider (£5).
Despite the surface cool of Norman’s places there is a profound and delicious sense of playfulness about them. They are his toys, his playthings, inauthentic and somehow all the better for it. The food is fun and tasty and not to be taken too seriously. Spuntino takes no bookings and doesn’t even seem to have a phone so turn up on the off chance. If you have a hard to impress teenager (anyone up to the age of 25) so much the better, order a couple of Negronis at the bar while you wait your turn and enjoy the conceit. You never know, Bobby de Niro might just drop in for his Mac’n Cheese.