Sunday, 31 July 2011



Some days I just cry out to do something that feels a little spontaneous. I’ve been going through a soul-sapping house move, and it seems as though every evening has been filled with endless boring domestic tasks, so much so that I sometimes can’t remember what it feels like to have a night off and do something fun just for the HELL of it… I decided that the perfect antidote to this was to have a meal out in Soho somewhere fun where you could feel responsibility slipping off your shoulders. (yeah I know it’s not exactly skydiving on acid, but we do what we can!) So I picked Spuntino – a rather groovy newish place that raises two fingers to sensible planning, because it doesn’t take reservations and doesn’t have a phone number. Hah – feeling daringly spontaneous already!

It’s situated on the rather seedy Rupert Street , and the only clue to its name is a small chalk scribble on the front of the building. Inside it’s very much like a New York bar – tiled walls, zinc counter, low wattage bulbs hanging down from the ceiling, trendy good looking bar staff with beards/flatcaps/Scandinavian cheekbones. There is the happy roar of chatter and loud music, the atmosphere is laid back. You have to queue up, but as long as you’re happy to have a chinwag and a drink to kill the time for 30 mins or so, you’ll be fine. Mind you, we did arrive at 7pm, and by the time we left a couple of hours later, the queue was snaking out of the door…

The food is basically what you could call American ‘tapas’-style comfort food – by which I mean it comes in small plated portions, which is great if there’s two of you because you can try lots of different things on the menu. I don’t recommend trying to come here in a larger group, because you will all be sitting in a row at the counter and it’s hard to chat.

It’s entirely possible to consume a week’s worth of calories in one sitting at Spuntino, because the food is not for the faint of heart – it’s cholesterol-laden goodness mainly of the deep-fried-molten-cheese variety, with the requisite burgers and cheesecakes, but all done with a novel twist. I’d imagine many a happy American ex-pat coming here for a taste of New York and not being disappointed.

Here is what we ate…

Clockwise, from top: pulled pork slider with pickled apple (tender meat, tart apples and a soft bun - yum), eggplant chips with fennel yoghurt dip (very interesting flavours, fresh tangy dip), deep fried olives (these were stuffed with meat and tasted wonderfully of pizza crackers!), soft shell crab with Tabasco mayo (slightly over-crunchy crab, but tasty nonetheless):




Truffled egg toast – ooh la la, this was SEXY. The poshest cheese on toast tasting of truffles, with a runny egg in the centre. Filth!




Mac ‘n cheese – lordy, this was AMAZING. It was like a rich, creamy hug in a bowl, with a lovely crispy topping. It nearly finished us off – I could feel my arteries hardening with every delicious scoop. I nearly couldn’t finish it, but gave myself a talking to:




To not save room for dessert would have been a sin, even though I could feel that the savoury items I had consumed contained enough fuel to keep the UK alight on the National Grid for a week. So soldiering on, we ordered this pair of beauties…

Peanut butter jelly sandwich: woah, this is a very clever dessert. The slices of ‘bread’ are actually two slabs of peanut butter-flavoured ice cream, sandwiched by a tangy raspberry filling and sprinkled with crunchy sugary peanut brittle. Sensational – and I’m not usually that fond of peanuts:




Brown sugar cheesecake with drunken cherries: simply a lovely cheesecake with the mellow flavour of brown sugar, complemented perfectly by the booze-soaked cherries:




After this gastronomic blow-out I fell into the heaviest sleep imaginable (a lard coma) and felt full for a whole 24 hours afterwards! If you are going to Spuntino for a heavy sesh, take a defibrilator…


61 Rupert Street
London W1D 7PW

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Gazpacho soup, two ways

Oof – this hot weather in London has been lovely. And I have craved cold soups like nobody’s business, because the thought of heating up the oven or stove has been too much in the muggy heat. I have always been a bit obsessed with the Spanish cold soup, gazpacho, and thought I’d include two recipes below – one using the traditional tomato as its base, and the other made with roasted beetroot.

Beetroot Gazpacho Soup


This is quite a different style of gazpacho which tastes earthy and sweet from the beetroot, and is delicious garnished with a dollop of minty yoghurt. A great use of beetroot, which I often struggle to use up…

Serves 6 as a generous starter

You will need:

10 medium beetroots
Half a medium red onion
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 green chilli
1 large handful flatleaf parsley
1 large cucumber, peeled
10 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
5 tablespoons thick plain Greek yoghurt (such as Total)

Peel the beetroots, chop into small chunks and spread out into one thin layer in an oven dish. Toss them in oil and a bit of salt, then tightly cover the dish with aluminium foil and roast in an oven for 1 to 1.5 hours at 200C, or until tender and you can pierce easily with a knife. Set aside the beetroot to cool down completely.

Take a large mixing bowl, chop all the remaining vegetables up into chunks, roughly chop the flatleaf parsley and chuck everything into the bowl. Add the vinegar and oil, then pulverise to a puree with a hand/stick blender – add some water if you need to loosen up the texture. The resulting mixture should be quite thick. Season to taste and chill in the fridge overnight, then just before eating, remove from the fridge, season to taste again (add a bit more vinegar if you like) and put into bowls. Finely chop the mint, mix into the Greek yoghurt, and add a dollop of the herby mixture on top of the soup. Really nice served with some grilled halloumi cheese and toasted rustic bread slathered in olive oil – the sweetness of the beetroot and the saltiness of the cheese is amazing.

Tomato Gazpacho Soup

A great starter to kick off a barbecue or any meal eaten outdoors. Dedicated to Ali and Pippa – you can stop hassling me for the recipe now! ;o)

(Sorry, no photo for this – we ate it too quickly…)

Serves 6 as a generous starter

You will need:

6 large ripe red tomatoes
1 medium green pepper
1 medium red pepper
1 large cucumber, peeled
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Half a medium red onion
2 green chillies (I like the soup to have a bit of a kick)
A couple of slices from a stale white sourdough loaf
Extra virgin olive oil, about 10 tablespoons
600ml water
Red wine vinegar, about 6 tablespoons, or sherry vinegar if you’re feeling posh
Salt and pepper to taste

Take a large mixing bowl. Chop all the vegetables up into dice. Chuck them into the bowl, add the oil, and add 3 tablespoons of the vinegar, then add half the water. Take a hand blender (stick blender) and plunge it into the veg – whiz everything up into a thick soup, which you want to remain a little rough in texture – it’s nice as a rustic soup. Keep adding water as you go, depending on how watery some of the veg are, you might not need all 600ml. Taste – add the remaining 3 tablespoons of vinegar if you want it to be a bit zingier. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill overnight in the fridge – this allows all the flavours to develop. The next day, just before serving, remove it from the fridge and taste it – if it needs a bit more vinegar or seasoning, add it in now. Serve chilled and enjoy – just don’t breathe on anyone immediately afterwards unless they have been eating the same soup too, it’s pretty ‘phwoar’ garlicky!