I was already fairly sure that I liked Russell Norman, media styled “King of Soho Dining”. But then I saw him on the BBC series “The Restaurant Man”, dispensing advice to aspiring restaurateurs, and this became a certainty. He was witty and wise, had a very snazzy line in cardigans and (most importantly) was often to be seen writing busily in an elegant little notebook – any man with a proper appreciation for good stationery is a man that I wish to know.
This would still not be enough to induce with me to part with hard earned cash to eat in one of his venues were it not for the fact that they are very good indeed. Russell Norman has a habit of creating restaurants that you really, really want to eat in. They are trendy but not painfully so, stylised but with the substance to back the style up and genuinely appetising sounding menus which of course is the most important aspect of any restaurant. Concept alone will not fill one’s boots.
We had already been to the original Polpo and to Mishkin’s and on Saturday we went to sniff out Spuntino’s – perhaps still on the tail end of our New York kick (it describes itself as a Brooklyn diner). Fabulous stuff. Not being particularly trendy we were more than happy to skip the queue and take one of the seats away from the bar area which meant that, despite the no booking policy, we had very little wait. And waiting, to be honest, would have been no great hardship considering the excellent cocktails that the cheery bar staff were quite happy to hand you while you stood gazing longingly over the shoulders of fellow diners. Let me tell you, the rhubarb sour was a thing of absolute beauty (always assuming that you like rhubarb and sour drinks – which we do).
Food wise – Spuntino’s serves little dishes for sharing (or not) ranging from a selection of sliders (we tried all four) to some fresh looking salad plates (which we did not get around to ordering – D curled his lip at the thought, but I want to go back and check some of them out). The truffled egg toast, which seems to have become something of a signature dish, was so amazingly good that we had to order a second one. Nutty cheese, thick, sweet toast, a pool of golden yolk quivering in the centre, and that unmistakeable whiff of forest floor – it was just fantastically good, and I’d love to have a go at recreating it at home.
I don’t know whether I was still a bit full from the day before, but I found myself struggling earlier on than I would have liked and so a disturbingly large proportion of the menu remained unsampled (I even turned down the prospect of another drink after dinner in favour of heading home for a stomach soothing peppermint tea – unheard of!) But we still found a corner for desserts and I am mightily glad we did. The “peanut butter and jelly sandwich” was amazing – a blissfull combo of peanut butter parfait and raspberry compote, but the star (to my mind at least) was the brown sugar cheesecake. This unassumingly beige dessert was sweet and creamy with a delicate hum of cinnamon spice – a perfect example of the cheesecake genre. Worth the trip alone.
Mr Norman has recently opened a traditional pub which I will be sure to go and seek out next time I make it down South and, if I should happen to find him in there, perhaps doodling in a Moleskine, I will be sure to pull up a seat and explain to him in no uncertain terms why York would be the ideal location for a Northern branch of his empire. In the meantime, Spuntino’s joins Polpo and Mishkin’s in the league of Restaurants I Wish Were Just Down The Road (but it is probably lucky, for the sake of my not inconsiderable waistline that they are not).