Sunday, 26 August 2012

No telephone, no reservations

It's always the same.  You read a review of a fantastic new restaurant, resolve to go and try it for yourself, forget about it for a couple of weeks, finally try to make a reservation and back comes the reply: 'Sorry, no tables until [insert ridiculously far away date here].'  So you go eat somewhere else and two years later the hot new place changes hands and pops up in the review columns once more with a new name.  And then the whole frustrating cycle starts all over again.  These places are the scourge of spontaneity and have a knack of making one feel horribly disorganised and uncool, just because you can't be bothered to wait four months to be able say you've eaten at [insert hot restaurant of the moment here].

But London has another option for the disorganised diner in search of cool; the 'no reservation' restaurant.  Inspired by a trend in New York, these restaurants have no bookings lists on clipboards, no online reservation systems, some even proudly declare 'no telephone' on their advertising.  (Where are we, 1850?  Are these places just too cheap to pay the line rental?)  Rock up to any of these places, from Pix and Polpo, in Soho to the Albion Cafe in Shoreditch, and you will likely be forced to demonstrate your devotion to their menu by waiting awhile for a free table.  But that's ok, these restaurants will be delighted to serve you plenty of drinks while you wait.  (We all know the bar is where the average restaurant makes its profit.)  As a business plan, it's genius.  And I know I'm being taken for a bit of a ride in these places; I am paying for the gimmick, paying, essentially, to queue.  But I find myself falling for these places.  I'm falling for their usually pretty tiny but delicious portions of food that make you think you can finish (and pay for!) more dishes than you can.  I'm falling for their (mostly) charming staff, with their slightly pretentious facial hair and pork pie hats.  I fell long ago for the distressed woodwork, the exposed bricks and the chipped tin plates.  And in particular, I have fallen for the peanut butter and jelly 'sandwich' at Spuntino.  For that desert of wonder I would queue forever.   
From the outside you wouldn't even know that Spuntino is there on Rupert Street in Soho.  No telephone, no sign.  The whole existence of this place is so stealthy it's like the owners don't even want to feed you or take your money.  Once you've found you way in however the welcome is usually warm, and the drinks appear pretty swiftly.  The carefully weathered decor suggests the coolest of New York venues, Manhattan's LES.  Depending on what time you arrive your wait for a table can be mere minutes or rather longer - go earlier or much later to avoid a lengthy queue.  (The whole place can only seat about 20 odd people at once, it is pretty intimate!)  But as soon as you're seated around the central bar, a large metal mug of freshly popped popcorn will land in front of you, and you can begin the task of deciding what to eat.

The dishes - in reference to the eaterie's name, the Italian for 'snack' - are small, designed for tasting and sharing (and over-ordering!).  They are however big on flavour; oxtail rigatoni, mackerel with saffron, truffled egg on toast, alongside classic comfort-food favourites like macaroni cheese and tasty little burgers, sorry, 'sliders'.  Staff seem pretty relaxed about you sitting tight for an evening and ordering more and more, tapas-style, although the waiting diners' hungry eyes may guilt-trip you into feeling like you should probably eat up and relinquish your seats.  Just make sure you leave space for pudding...the PB&J shouldn't be passed over for anyone, however hungry they look.
Spuntino on Urbanspoon


  1. How do you manage to be such a fountain of knowledge? Maybe you should think of writing a guide for busy mums like me who never know that such addresses exist! Thanks for the tip!

    1. Maybe we should have our next catch-up drinks there, Muriel?!

  2. It must be such a plus to living in London, being able to try out places like this. Where I live it's all sitting in the bar in the Harvester for half an hour looking dejectedly at an empty restaurant before choosing from the early bird menu ;)

    1. We are super-spoilt for choice here in London, Catherine. The downside being that deciding what to do can take a while. None of that stress in the Harvester!

  3. That's a great idea! You can actually get a table when you want to eat, not 3 weeks from now. Should try this restaurant. Thanks for the review!

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