Monday 28 March 2011

speakeasy @ spuntino

Last week I jumped on the bandwagon and dined at Spuntino in Soho - the new 'small plates' restaurant from Russell Norman and Richard Beatty, the men behind the much lauded Italian cicheti restaurants Polpo and Polpetto. Rather than Venetian cuisine, Spuntino instead focuses on diner style minis with a twist. Not one for the calorie conscious but brilliant fun, reasonably priced and well worth a visit...

Conceived in NY Speakeasy style - just check out their minimal website here -  Spuntino glints behind a plain black unmarked front, nestling between the seedy sex shops and neon lights of Soho. Inside is done up in diner-esque style, with filament bulb lamps, plain tumbler glasses, a popcorn machine, 20s music and tattooed, slightly grimy but lovely staff. Candles, close seating and low lighting give it a great cosy feel. Like it's Italian sisters, you can't book (can't even call mate) and there are likely to be queues at normal dining hours. With this in mind, I arrived there at 5.30pm and walked straight in... Luckily I work just round the corner so this wasn't an issue, but I would suggest getting there well off-peak in order to avoid waiting. If Spuntino is anything like Polpo the queues aren't going to die down for some considerable time... especially as there are only around 30 seats in the place, all located around a 3 sided bar.

truffled egg toast
P & J goodness
Food wise Spuntino well deserves the positive reviews it's been garnering from all corners. We enjoyed the truffled egg toast, a rich and cheesy delight, a small but perfectly formed slider (mini burger) with salt beef and pickles, as well as a zucchini pizzetta and cheese grits. I'd never had grits before and was surprised at how smooth they were - a hearty taste of the Deep South indeed! The squid with chickpeas and inky sauce was slightly lacking in flavour, but a good addition to the menu. They had also to our dismay, run out of the lightly battered egg and soldiers (after seeing pictures online, our main reason for visiting the establishment in the first place!) so we may have to organise a repeat visit for this reason only... The food is pretty heavy and filling, so dessert of a naughty peanut butter and jelly sandwich creation with flaked nuts on top, and a boozy chocolate brownie, absolutely did us over. All small plates range from around £4 to £7 so if sharing, are easily affordable. Wine is a tad overpriced here, and we opted for the more affordable pale ale/vodka + tonic options.

Seeing off a few of these babies, the bright XXX light called us, and staggering out onto the streets of Soho an evening of hilarity ensued, including a thorough investigation of the local sex shops, playing hunt the merkin (no shops seem to stock them - what's with that?!) and the discovery of Cox Cookies & Cake - a real gem of a place if you like your filthy cakes!

Tuesday 8 March 2011

beauty & the batter

Ah Shrove Tuesday. Pancake dizzle. Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Whatever you want to call it, it's a great excuse to flip a few yummy excuses and have a midweek gorge before everyone goes all ashen on the Wednesday and do stupid things like give up chocolate or booze for Lent (yes, I am one of said stupid people attempting to go junk free for forty days and nights… watch this space…)

I just like any excuse for a festive feel so am up for celebrating pretty much all special days, without exception - and ones that embrace anything foodie even more so. I've always associated Pancake Day with my birthday (20 Feb). As a child, I was lucky enough to always have my birthday fall not only during half term school holidays, but dangerously close to greasy Tuesday. This meant I quite often had pancake parties, the bane of my long suffering parents lives. Dealing with ten 'screeching girls' (Dad's words exactly), hellbent on flipping pancakes so they'd stick on the ceiling whilst getting covered in a sticky lemony sugary syrup is not the best way to spend an evening I'm sure. Add to that having to not only make a shedload of batter but supply a constant stream of fresh pancakes to the table when said girls get bored of the tossing (5 mins. It's the same these days lads), and my sincere gratitude goes out to my parentals for those days - better late than never ma & pa!
Every family has their own way of making pancakes and filling preferences. We always started with a savoury round - chicken in tomato sauce (Dad's divine special recipe), cheese and mushrooms, butter and Marmite (hell/heaven depending which way you look at it). This would be followed with a plain pancake. I like to call it the 'palate cleanser'. You could also call it sheer greed. Next, the sweet round - traditional lemon & sugar, tinned mandarin oranges (try it if you haven't before - yummo), Nutella and banana, maple syrup and banana… Usually followed by yet another plain one, you know, to cleanse the palate. To find out more about pancake history and get Hugh and Nigel's top tips have a look at this Guardian article.
I personally find Delia's better batter a failsafe. And leaving it to stand for 30 mins before making seems to help batter matters too...

Today at work I topped my pancake with a medley consisting of blackberries in syrup, cinnamoned apples (slightly too spiced but good nonetheless), lemon and sugar and chocolate and banana. This was largely due to the fact it was £1.50 for unlimited toppings, but also down to my general indecisiveness in all things of niceness.
There are a wide variety of fillings to be tried and tested, as I discovered with mahoosively extensive crepe menus in France. Goats cheese, walnuts and spinach, dark chocolate sauce with pears and cream, etc etc. However, for once, I am not going to blether on about the superiority of the Frogs. No, instead I am going to sing the praises of the English pancake. The shy younger sister of those thick, fluffy, American bad boys. Much lighter, thinner and lacier than even the most delicate of French versions. More soggy and silky too, but beautiful nonetheless.
Looking forward to getting my toss on tonight....  It all brings back happy memories of childhood days, and never fails to remain fun whatever age you are. Flippin' grrrrreat. As long as you don't have to cater for those screeching girls of course…