Location: Cargo 2, Wapping Wharf
A visit to the Cargo complex down at Wapping Wharf never fails to inspire. Old shipping containers are blitzed and filled with exciting eateries and adventurous retail openings, ranging from a local cheesemonger (which has been named best cheese shop in the UK), a local cider shop, to a hipster barbers. This year’s opening of ‘Cargo 2’ welcomed a sparkling range of independent restaurants, with two of its containers becoming the home of trendy Italian diner ‘Spuntino’.
Spuntino, meaning ‘snack’ in Italian, is a London-based venture from Russel Norman and Richard Beatty, the team who gave you Polpo and Polpetto. Spuntino specialises in an Italian and New York fusion of comfort food, mixing the urban style of New York diners with their Italian roots (think lobster mac’n’cheese, burger sliders and truffled egg toast). Indulgent dishes are coupled with prohibition-era cocktails such as New York Sour, The Jerry Thomas Manhattan and Old Fashioned.
Before visiting, expectations were based on the material I could forage: over-edited Instagrams of cocktails, the odd Facebook post, and a glamorous close-up of popcorn served in a vintage mug. This ambiguity, paired with an approving review of its London residence, heightened my curiosity twofold.
Due to its modest size, Spuntino pride themselves on a no booking policy, leaving it to fate for a guarantee of a seat. The place however was surprisingly empty for seven thirty on a Friday night. Our waitress hastily greeted us with a smile and offered us a space at the long wooden table filling the room.
Spuntino bears some resemblance to Meat Liquor (who recently announced news of its closure), however with less obvious and more graceful approaches in its rustic appeal. Ambient lamps hang low from the walls, sultry red lighting deepens the mood and a bright sign bearing its name adorns the glass wall. Behind the counter, a bright red popcorn machine can be spotted working its magic. Spuntino is by all standards trendy, but this is no distraction, nor does it create an uninviting atmosphere.
Starting off with drinks, the house red wine (from its sister restaurant Polpo) went down a treat, served in Italian fashion and set at the price of £7 for a small glass, £20 for a bottle. Hoping to satisfy a meat-eater, three vegetarians and a thirteen-year-old, I had high hopes Spuntino would cater for all. The menu was short and simple, with main offerings of hot dogs, burgers and mac ‘n’ cheese. Though a sparse scale of dishes, Spuntino certainly pays homage to quality over quantity. Since everything looked beyond tasty, we ordered most it: Swiss cheese burger (£5), homemade chips (£3.60), mac’n’cheese (£6), veggie burgers (£5), stuffed fried olives (£3.20), eggplant chips with a fennel sauce (£4.00), and a side of Caesar salad (£5.50) for a dosage of ‘health’.
Fashionably fried snacks tasted far better than anyone had anticipated. The stuffed fried olives were consumed in seconds, and shortly after so were the aubergine chips, deep fried and served with a pot of fennel sauce.
The burgers looked attractive and compact, holding in the fillings and encased in a soft toasted bun. Both the meat and veggie burger proved manageable to eat without a knife and fork, making it a clean and easy eat. Though the Swiss burger, filled with jalapenos, proved an ambitious feat for taste buds, the quality still ranks itself amongst the city’s top burgers (Asado, Oowee, and Burger Theory to name a few). For veggies, the spinach, ricotta and chickpea burger, layered in chilli mayo, tasted miles better than your average bean patty or Portobello mushroom. Whilst failing to beat the veggie beasts of Burger Theory, (perhaps due to its smaller size), it is still a burger worthy of attention from veggies, or perhaps for a carnivore keen to taste a proper meat-free burger.
The mac’n’cheese proved chewy, but not soggy, and fondly topped with a perfectly crispy layer. The smaller size proved suffice for one, the larger, (with the option of lobster), suitable for two – or anyone up for a cheese-filled feast. Though attesting to its indulgence, each dish struck a great balance with its portions– not too much, but just enough.
By this time, the place was packed. Burger sliders and hot dogs were flying around the room, harmonising with the energy of chatter and the high tempo of American jams. The place had turned into how I’d imagined Spuntino – a bustling and intimate space bearing the bawdy flair of a Brooklyn diner.
Though rather ashamed to be too full to sample dessert, with offerings of brown sugar cheesecake and peanut butter sandwiches almost too tempting, there’s no doubt they would’ve tasted just as satisfying as the mains. Next time, the signature truffled egg toast (£6.80) is definitely on the cards: thick white bread, covered in melted cheese enclosed with two runny yolks, all together mixed with truffle oil.
The prices of the dishes ordered were arguably low, however some of the other dishes, such as the hot dogs, were priced rather steep at £7.50. The service was nothing to be complained nor celebrated over. The classic American pop anthems proved suitable, fun and kept at a reasonable noise.
If you’re up for experiencing all what Spuntino can offer, this may be a place students should reserve for visits from parents (sadly one plate isn’t enough to grasp its culinary excellence). Regardless, a visit to Spuntino promises a bustling atmosphere, trendy vibes and most importantly great-tasting food.
Spuntino, Unit 12, Cargo 2, Wapping Wharf, Bristol, BS1 6ZA