Is it possible to be simultaneously sleek and comforting? Cool yet cosy? Spuntino, the popular 'diner' in Soho, is like Kate Moss's greedy twin, devouring carbs and heavy cream then licking her lips with delight. She's on-trend and she unabashedly loves food.
As a former New Yorker I had a strong sense of deja vu as I approached Spuntino. There is no sign out front, just a black facade with a building number. They don't take reservations. Even the website is elusive, seemingly designed by the creators of Lost. The interior wall tiles bring to mind the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. The friendly staff are tattooed and pierced. And the dangling exposed light bulbs, well whoever created those things must sleep on a towering bed of cash. Tis the ubiquitous lighting of all establishments working a vintage look.
But there ain't nothing wrong with all of the above. These qualities combine for an attractive little place that adds a hint of downtown NYC to London. Why, it's even in Soho.
Spuntino calls itself a diner, but that's where NYC comparisons diverge, as a diner there is a very different beast. If you're not open until 4am, chock full of booths, and offering a laminated menu that features pancakes, Greek salads and tuna melts, you're not a diner in my mind. This here is all-bar seating (save one booth at the back!) serving comfort food made with great care and top quality ingredients.
Once infamous for long queues, I was happily surprised to find not a single person waiting outside Spuntino when we arrived on a sunny Saturday afternoon. In a matter of minutes we were sat on bar stools gazing longingly at the brown paper placemat menu. Being a weekend afternoon we naturally ordered a Bloody Mary. I was initially skeptical when this was plonked in front of me, as there was no discernible garnish or flavourings apart from a wedge of lime.
I like my Bloodys bursting with spice, and seeing horseradish, celery salt and other goodies floating in the glass puts me at ease. Yet this cocktail was outstanding, its simple presentation belying all the flavour packed inside by a crafty bartender.
Celebrated items on the Spuntino menu include the truffled egg toast and the macaroni and cheese. I ordered both in a breathtaking display of gluttony. A feast in glistening tones of beige.
Unfortunately I'm now going to make you flush again with another crunchy, cheesy masterpiece. Now I should say upfront that macaroni and cheese is my favourite dish. Since I was little this has always been my number one request for birthday dinners, and I even had it served at my wedding. I mean what is not to love? Obviously it must be made with a LOT of cheese, and the top and corners need to have a bit of crunch. Spuntino is well aware of the qualities an ideal mac and cheese require. They bake their version in a cast iron skillet, and slide the whole piping hot thing down in front of you.
The dish is laden with three types of cheese: fontina (heavily used at Spuntino for its marvelous melting quality, the bartender told me they buy huge quantities of it from an Italian deli nearby), Parmesan and mozzarella. Soft chopped leeks are stirred into the mix which is topped with breadcrumbs.
A necessary accompaniment to all this creamy carb was a crisp salad with a kick of acidic dressing. The slightly bitter greens tossed with toasted hazelnuts recharged my taste buds nicely between dreamy dairy-laden mouthfuls.
The bathrooms were pretty sparkling too... white tiles, vintage looking fixtures, and a sink made entirely of fontina. You'll just have to visit to verify that last bit.