Sunday, May 29, 2011
Rupert Street, Soho: Sinful times at Spuntino
Rupert street is quite the enigma. Once upon a time, it was the heart of the traditional red light district of London. A mere stones throw from Shaftesbury Avenue, you can choose from an array of strip clubs and ladies of the night (many slightly past their prime), harassing and propositioning you as you walk down the street. However, it appears Rupert Street is changing. Rupert Street is the new place to be in Soho.
On the top end of Rupert Street, you now have a bevy of food carts which park up and feed the surrounding Soho workforce. On weekday lunchtimes, you can find Freebird selling their ever popular burritos. I can't say I have managed to sample one myself, but the consistent queues are testament to it's popularity. One cart I can vouch for is Brewed Boy, a one man band serving some of the best coffee you can get in London, straight from the confines of his cart. Serving Square Mile beans and concoctions including a variation on an iced coffee called the "Limey Bastard" (packed with lime), I implore you to walk past and try not grab a quick "cup of joe".
One new addition to the area is Bubbleology, a little bubble tea bar. In case you have no idea what it is, Bubble tea is an import from South East Asia, combining different sweetly flavoured milky teas (or fruit based drinks) with tapioca pearls. With the decor inside mirroring quite closely to what you would find at Chin Chin labs in Camden, with formulas scrawled on the walls, beakers and lab coats, there were no theatrics as all the garb suggests, just good bubble tea. With a wide selection of tea and fruit drinks, you will be spoilt for choice. Personally, I prefer bigger "pearls", but a good and interesting addition nonetheless.
Almost next door, you will come across another interesting new shop in MADD. Standing for Mango ADDiction, it is a mango led dessert bar, selling healthy snacks including a range of salads and sandwiches on the side. I guess the food side is designed to keep it going, but the focus is very much on it's desserts. Having been invited along for a bit of a tasting and feedback session, I enjoyed much of what I tasted. Personally, I would focus on the sticky rice and sago led offerings, with the sago layer being my favourite of the lot. A must for all mango lovers.
Last but not least, Spuntino, the third of Russell Normans four restaurants (his others being Polpo, Polpetto and the newly opened Da Polpo). I must admit, I was incredibly disappointed by the food on my first visit. The truffle egg toast arrived cool, seemingly stale and over done, with the yolk set solid. The aubergine chips were similarly cold and I couldn't help but feel that I was eating food that had been sitting around for a while. However, dining as a lone diner, I soon got chatting to the people sitting next to me, and even though the food was disappointing on this occasion, I had enjoyed the ambience of the place, swilled some lovely drinks and it willed me to return, no mean feat.
And I am glad I did. Every single visit since (I'm up to four now), just gets better and better. It's an ideal place to share a drink, have some food and just chill out. Some people may be put off by the imminent queue (there are no bookings), but the great drinks are more than enough to appease you while you wait. Since that first fateful visit, I think I have managed to eat most of the menu. The sliders are a New York staple, and make a welcome appearance on the menu here. Of the current selection, the lamb is surprisingly my favourite, although I hear a pork and pickled apple one has just made an appearance.
The truffle toast has also been greatly improved since my first visit. As you can see from the pictures, the versions I have received were vastly different. However, on my last visit, I am happy to report that the toast was very nice indeed. The egg yolk was luxuriously runny, the cheese and toast were a fine balance of cheesy savoury punch and crunch from the toast, all finished off with a dash of truffle oil. It feels like the poshest cheese on toast you will ever have, although bear in mind that this is definitely for sharing and quite a task for just one man.
Other not to be missed items include string fries, home pickles, anchovy stuffed olives (so all my friends say, not my cup of tea) and best of all, the mac and cheese. I still have dreams about that dish, where the balance of cheese, seasoning and crunch from the scattering of crumbs over the top is just right and is the best version of this dish that I have ever had. Desserts should not be ignored. With a few quirky twists on the menu, including shavings of pineapple with licorice ice cream and a brownie made with Wild Turkey bourbon, the star is the PB and J sandwich. With a sweet and slightly tart raspberry jam sandwiched between two wedges of peanut butter parfait, it's a witty take on a lunchbox classic, and backs up the humour with taste.
Regeneration is happening all across London, and I guess it was only a matter of time before people start moving in on the seedier side of London. When Yalla Yalla, a Lebanese restaurant, moved in just round the corner to open their first restaurant, I thought they were mad. In that time, the location didn't put off the punters and have grown to open a second location in a more customer friendly area of town (Oxford Circus). I'm going to be spending a lot of evenings in the area, but definitely for all the right reasons.
Bubbleology - 49 Rupert Street, W1D 7PF
MADD - 53 Rupert Street, W1D 7PF
Spuntino - 61 Rupert Street, W1D 7PW