Fasten your seatbelts, we’ve gone international. The following blog is broadcast live from London. Follow our journey via the wonders of the internets. Wot-ho old chaps!
Polpo, Mishkin’s & Spuntino
Inspired by the osterie of Venice both continue to serve rustic food and aperitifs that you would expect to find in Italy – simple, good food and drink – plus a great bustling atmosphere that promises to bring a ray of light to dull winter days.
Sitting at the bar at Polpo a few years later, we were reminded of how much we have missed a proper plate of tapas-style food. Melbourne, and Australia in general, thinks it knows how to do rustic Euro fare, but too much effort and too many flourishes often lead to stripped back yet over-complicated food. And really, if the ingredients and flavour combinations are good, the dazzle should come naturally.
Bare walls, small seating area, patrons dining at the bar, no fuss and no modern design. We sipped an Old Fashioned and 250ml carafe of red wine….
…and nibbled on anchovy and chickpea crostini, roast pumpkin, parma ham and ricotta salata and pork belly, radicchio and hazelnut soaking in a tasty gravy.
As hard as it was to walk away from the intimate interior (I had my eyes set on a bit of an all-day drinking session), we stumbled on to the Jewish deli opened (by the same group) at the end of 2011 to rapturous excitement.
Mishkin’s is staffed by a team of youngsters who look more Shoreditch than Covent Garden and definitely seem intent on bringing an injection of edgy cool to this touristy corner of the city.
A short, succinct menu of various meats in various breads, meatballs and all-day brunches and suppers is best enjoyed at the formica counter or in one of the leather-plastic upholstered booths.
Jugs of homemade Will Skidelsky’s lemonade and squeezy ketchup and mustard bottles add to the old-school feel and an array of quirky office lamps offer a spot of interest amid the understated tiled and exposed brick walls. As the website says:
The boundaries in Mishkin’s origins are as ambiguous as the menu’s influences. Mishkin’s is not Kosher (and neither, incidentally, is Katz’s Deli in New York – perhaps the most famous Jewish restaurant in the world) and the dishes are based very loosely on the sort of Jewish comfort food we all love eating. Where possible we have used amazing local producers (the Big Apple Pork Hot Dog is lovingly made in East London) and where appropriate we have lightened recipes, refined traditional stodginess and, most of all, been playful.
Malted milkshakes and cocktails provide refreshment. We shared the hot dog, which came with a great homemade slaw and tottered onwards into the bowels of Soho and Spuntino.
Spuntino is very reminiscent of a lower-east-side New York speakeasy. Again – this is a place that an Aussie entrepreneur would think they could do easily but would end up not really pulling it off to great effect – we would end up getting the ‘Australian Lite’ version. We spotted the joint easily most nights as it has a queue snaking out the door, but as we were lads of leisure we could jump in just before Londoners pack up work for the day.
Inside the unmarked entrance we found a dimly lit zinc-topped bar that is all about cocktails and small sharing plates – think 1920s Italian-American deli offerings and sliders.
The service was spot on, especially from our super-attentive mixologist who came over to our table and give us the rundown of the prohibition-style cocktails that were on offer. We asked him to keep mixing his favourites for us until we told him to stop.
A potent New York Sour and expertly made gin Martini get things flowing, served with a little metal bucket of butter and paprika popcorn. He then followed that up with a cocktail I had never head of but tasted fantastic – Seelbach. Again, I have to ask when are Aussies going to wise up to prices in Oz when every single cocktail in one of London’s best bars never came to over $8.50. Less than a bottle of craft beer in any restaurant and bar Down Under.
We were told to dive into the stuffed fried olives, which were encasing gooey cheese. Perfect cocktail snacks and one that I had never had before but could see working at places like Bar Ampere in Melbourne’s CBD. The barman warned us that the kitchen was only on their second day as they had only been open a few days previous. We thought they could pull it off so continued through the menu.
There are, of course, sliders, those mini-burgers that are de rigueur in New York bars. Our group shared a few consisting of pulled pork and pickled apple, a ground beef and bone marrow and a lamb and pickled cucumber slider. All were on song with my favourite consisting of the tasty marrow.
We had a freaky vegetarian (The Bunting) who insisted on ordering the roast cauliflower, chermoula and smoked almonds. Not being one to get involved in greens when fresh meat is on offer, I can only say that this didn’t get me in the mood and I left it for The Bunting to finish on her own. But I did get the impression that if you were into that sort of thing it was able to make you happy.
The mozzarella, coppa and basil crostini was a decent sized serving with melted cheese offering up a comforting hit.
Spuntino is very of-the-minute, a space where you have to crowd around the bar as we bagged the only table in the joint. A great place to meet friends and eat and drink the night away…. Queues permitting.
41 Beak Street
London, UK W1F 9SB
25 Catherine Street, Covent Garden
London, UK WC2B 5
61 Rupert St
London, UK W1F 0