Those who have been in London in the last few years will be acquainted with Polpo, and those of you unacquainted with it should rectify this asap if you have any love of good simple Italian – the frito misto with a martini makes for a great light meal mid afternoon. Anyway, as soon as one branch of Polpo opens, plans for another are announced and now, not content with having conquered Soho and Covent Garden, Russell Norman and business partner, Richard Beatty, have turned their sights on Brighton and Bristol, each seeing a recent opening of the Venetian restaurant. But Russell Norman and his Polpo Group empire aren’t just Polpo; there are three other ventures (other than the cookbooks). There’s Polpetto, a more mature version of Polpo, and there was (and hopefully will be again) Mishkin’s. Now closed and looking for new premises, this New York style Jewish deli restaurant served some of London’s best Reubens, salt beef sandwiches and monster hotdogs and whitebait, both at their tables and at their great gin bar at the front of the shop (there is a possibility that it may reopen in The City).
The third restaurant is Spuntino, certainly not an unknown spot – its cookbook has been successful and it’s a favourite of the well heeled Sohoite – but, for all its similarities to Polpo, it’s different and less well known. Like all Polpos, it uses the cut up old menus as paper slips and has the menu printed as a tablemat. The menu is divided into sections, from small bites to larger sharing plates, and the décor uses the familiar stripped back bare surfaces that have been the trademark of all Polpos since Norman designed the first one. The difference is that the design and menu is ‘Brooklynesq eatery come speakeasy bar’, where all is served on or in chipped enamelware.
The food, of course, is spot on, both context wise and in the cooking. The parmesan and cauliflower croquettes are moreish, unctuous and to die for. The sides are crisp and clean, helping to cut through the rich heavy sliders of pulled pork, spicy soft shell crab, Reubens and shrimp po’boy, the Swiss cheese burgers and the sharing dishes of lobster mac n cheese or the Bismarck pancake with fried chicken and maple syrup. All in all it’s a well-balanced menu and you’ll have no trouble finding something that you’ll love, especially if you have a hankering or secret soft spot for those classic American comfort foods you see all over social media these days.
As with the mouth watering croquettes, the sliders were impeccable (you can order them individually or choose four for a reduced cost): the Reubens was nice and peppery, the soft shell crab was crisp, tender and spicy, thanks to the Tabasco mayo, and the pulled pork was packed with flavour from its dry rub, which was a pleasant change to the norm these days as most just flavour their pork by slathering on a thick BBQ sauce. The broad bean, quinoa and feta slider wasn’t spectacular; unfortunately it was a little dry and put one in mind of a veggie burger (which of course it was) that you can buy at the supermarket. That may sound harsh, and certainly I don’t mean it as such, but that’s where my mind went. The Spuntino slaw is a must, packed with crisp cabbage, courgette and herbs, all tossed in a zingy dressing, while the key lime pie pot is a perfect way to end a meal.
But while food is a key part of Spuntino, its drinks are too. The whole place is set up as a bar with food or, rather more appropriately, one should say it’s set up as a speakeasy with food. The speakeasy is a clear theme that carries through – it doesn’t even have a phone number. The space behind the bar is for the staff and is at least twice the space of most bars. It takes up over two thirds of the restaurant and is so large that there is only room for 27 seats – or rather bar stools – in the entire place, most of which are around the bar. While you can get most drinks you might want, being a speakeasy, bourbon is their main focus and there’s quite the selection to choose from. Oh, and to make it all the better, there’s a popcorn machine and you get to flavour your popped kernels yourself!
London Lamppost Score – 4/5