Spuntino

Spuntino is one of those great little places that you only know about if you’ve heard about it. There’s no sign or markings on the building except a subtle little menu in the the only part of the window where the glass hasn’t been frosted.

Last week I had a friend from California in town wanting to catch up over lunch. This created the dilemma of having to choose one meal to represent the city’s incredibly diverse food scene. Rather than go for somewhere pulling out all the stops in a formal setting, I decided what better way than to dine in a quirky atmosphere with good, interesting food.

Spuntino, Venetian bácaro restaurant Polpo’s sister, is tucked away in the streets of Soho and does just that. There are no tables, only stools at the bar which are served by the friendly bartender. It’s all very Rock & Roll with exposed brick and industrial fittings, giving a similar feel to Russell Norman’s other places.

Whilst looking over the menu, we were served a mug of popcorn with chili salt to sprinkle over the top. A very different welcome to Spuntino which serves as a great introduction to the menu and venue itself.

It’s recommended to order the cicchetti, or Italian-style tapas, to share. We chose a selection and got chatting about her recent adventures around Europe.

Our dishes eventually arrived and we dug in. All were inventive, delicious and had surprisingly simple flavour.

Eggplant chips with fennel yoghurt Spuntino

Food porn alert:
Truffled egg on toast – yes, this tastes just as good and just as naughty as it looks! Spuntino Beetroot salad with smoked ricotta and walnuts Spuntino Beef & bone marrow slider and a pulled pork & pickled apple slider SpuntinoWe polished off our plates before we said our goodbyes and I had to run back to work.

I highly recommend checking this place out for a quick bite & catch up with a friend. It would also be a great little low key date night before heading out on the town.

Here’s the address, as it’s tricky to find: 61 Rupert Street, Soho, London W1D 7PW
Oh! and promise me you’ll try the truffled egg on toast? It’s seriously worth it.

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Italian Cooking Masterclass at Novikov

Early on Saturday, I made my way to Mayfair.
I couldn’t possibly turn down a media invite for an Italian Cooking Masterclass at the beautiful Novikov. The restaurant is massive and is separated into the dark Asian room serving Chinese & Pan-Asian delicacies and the light and airy Tuscan designed Italian room serving traditional Italian classics.

We met in the Italian Room at a large round table in the centre of the empty restaurant. The table was topped with a stunning bouquet of orange tipped roses and had a delicious spread of fresh croissants, chocolate & hazelnut crostata and a crostata filled with fresh cherry jam – all of which were divine.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovWe munched on baked goods, observed the beautiful kitchen, and got to know one another over coffees & teas.
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThen it was time to get our hands dirty.
Chef Whites and aprons on, we were separated into three groups: antipasti, lamb and sides & desserts.
I was on sides & desserts.
You can call me Chef Alessandra ’cause I was made for those Chef Whites.
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe class was led by head Chef Carmelo who was referred to as Chefona. (big chef in Italian)
All three of the chefs hailed from different parts of Italy and playfully bickered at each other in dialects throughout the day.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe first crew set off to tackle their antipasti.
The first dish out of the oven was a Cavolo nero tart with Pecorino cheese.
This was a beautiful puff pastry topped with pesto, Pecorino, cherry tomatoes, chili and cavolo nero Italian cabbage. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovWouldn’t you love to have such a beautiful basil plant in your kitchen?
And how about these mortar & pestles for the salt & pepper? Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Working with Chef Carmelo, the lamb group began the task of cooking lamb three different ways.
First was butterfly roasted Sardinian lamb. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Then slow cooked lamb shank in chianti red wine.Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovWould you like a napkin?
You’re drooling… Italian Cooking Class at Novikov And last, slow cooked lamb in clay.
For this, Chef Carmelo placed lamb chunks in parchment paper and surrounded the paper in a fold of clay.
And you thought Arts & Crafts and Cooking didn’t mix.
This was then baked in the fire oven and cracked open to reveal perfectly cooked, tender lamb. Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovMy group took on the sides.
First we whipped up some polenta in boiling water. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov Chef Micheli was busy laughing at one of Carmelo’s jokes about Northern Italians as he added a dash of pepper to the boiled polenta. 
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe polenta was then shaped however we wanted in a dish.
I made a sort of polenta tower which was layered with salty chunks of Taleggio and topped with grated parmesan and a glug of olive oil.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe creamy, cheesy mixture was then sent to the oven to bake until all the cheese melted into a gooey, beautiful mixture.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovWhilst our polenta baked, we made a salad of pan-fried aubergines with sautéed shallots, fresh rocket and toasted almonds.

Italian Cooking Class at Novikov Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

I’m sure you’ve always wondered how a giant would season his dinner.
Mystery solved.

Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

To finish off the feast, we made Sicilian ricotta mousse with amaretto and oranges.
Chef Carmelo was excited to tell us that these blood oranges had been imported all the way from Sicily. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

First we segmented the oranges, which were beautiful in colour and resembled stain glass windows. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Then we zest the peel of the orange.
Instead of grating the peel, Chef taught us to slice and remove the white from a strip of peel and then cut it into slivers. This helps the zest maintain its flavour.
A vanilla pod was scraped in and the mixture was combined.
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

In a pot, Chef brought water and sugar to a boil and then added the orange pieces, juice and zest from the blood oranges. These were then fished out and left to cool. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

The mixture continued to simmer whilst we cooked and reduced down to a sweet, tangy marmalade like syrup to top the dessert. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

We then whipped together ricotta, double cream and icing sugar to create a fluffy, creamy base for the dessert.Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

We layered the desserts with the cheese mousse, cooked orange segments and crushed pieces of amaretto cookies and then placed them in the fridge. Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at Novikov

After hours in the kitchen, we gathered round the table to taste our creations.
An Italian feast ensued.
We started with the antipasti.
Marinated radicchio with oranges and honey balsamic vinegar, fregula salad with peas, mint and olives and Cavolo nero tart with pecorino cheese.
Fresh bursts of flavour in every bite!
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Whilst we nibbled away, the Chefs plated up a lamb feast fit for the kings.
Platters and bowls of the three different types of cooked lamb were piled high before being brought to the table.
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovTo accompany our lamb feast, we shared sides of pan fried aubergine salad and baked polenta with Taleggio cheese.
These were absolutely delicious, if I do say so myself. 
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovTo finish our feast, our Sicilian ricotta mousse with amaretto and orange was served in little Italian silver ice cream dishes. This was absolutely delicious, tangy and sweet from the orange, cookies and mousse topped with the incredible reduction. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Now what I tell you next needs to stay between you and me.
After polishing off my dessert, I spotted an enormous, stunning meringue looking cake sitting on a table behind me.
The Sommelier spotted my greedy eyes and came over to tell me that this cake was “The Heartattack.” Apparently it is Arkady Novikov’s favourite dessert and is on the dessert menu of the restaurant.
Jokingly I asked if there were any samples and he disappeared as I continued to laugh to myself. Thinking he was offended by my greed, I sipped my fresh mint tea in silence.
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Moments later, in front the entire table of stuffed foodies having eaten our weight in Italian dishes, this was placed in front of me.
I was mortified and delighted simultaneously as everyone laughed. I took a bite and passed it around the table. My moment of shame was definitely worth it. A bite of sweet, fluffy layers of Chantilly cream and meringue was like biting into a vanilla cloud. I fully understand why this is the Russian restaurateurs favourite dessert.
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

It was an incredible day filled with great food and great people.
I thoroughly enjoyed cooking a feast fit for the Kings and enjoyed even more getting to taste it all.
Lucky for you, the class is now going to be offered on the last Saturday of each month. Grab a friend or family member, treat someone special, or spend the day getting to know yourself and the kitchen in this beautiful Italian room with incredibly talented Chefs leading the way.
Don’t worry if you’re not the next Mario Batali, the Chefs will talk you through each step. Best of all, you’ll be asked to taste test along the way.

If you’d like to spend a Saturday in Chef Whites in this famous Mayfair haunt, book here. Give the lovely staff a call and I’m sure they’ll be happy to book you in.

To see some behind the scenes action, click here for a video of the class.

Buon Appetito!

Prosciutto Caprese Sandwich

I’ve done it.
I’ve taken a beautiful Italian classic and turned it into a delectable, filling sandwich.

Caprese salad has always been one of my favorites. It takes me back to my childhood in Tuscany, ravenously consuming the salad alongside a pizza at lunch after a busy morning of sandcastle building on the beach. Fresh, ripe tomatoes layered between decadent slices of Mozzarella di Bufala and torn pieces of peppery basil. (US: bay-zel, UK: bah-zil) Heaven.

What could possibly make this fresh, simple salad any more amazing?
How about stacking it on pieces of warm, toasted sourdough baguette and covering it in prosciutto? I think yes.
I’m always looking for an interesting new lunch to tantalise my tastebuds mid-day. This would be a great way to spice up the lunches you take into work, but be wary, this may inspire work fridge theft.

Ingredients:
Sourdough baguette (obviously you’re free to use any bread you like, but there’s something about sourdough with the tanginess of the balsamic and sweetness of the basil)
2 Ripe tomatoes (depending on size)
Mozzarella (if you’re eating this right away, use fresh Mozzarella that is packaged in water – if you’re taking this to work, use low-moisture Mozzarella served in a package so that your bread doesn’t become soggy)
A handful of basil leaves
Several strips of Prosciutto Crudo
Olive oil & balsamic vinegar
Sea salt & pepper

Assembly is quite simple and can be done to your taste.
I sliced and toasted my sourdough baguette, then layered slices of fresh tomato and mozzarella on top. I then placed layers of prosciutto crudo over the tomato and cheese like a tasty, meaty blanket. Then, I gave a handful of basil leaves a rough chop and sprinkled them over the top. Glug some olive oil and balsamic over your masterpiece to create an incredible, sloppy mess. A pinch of salt, a dash of pepper, and there it you have it: My Prosciutto Caprese Sandwich.

I hope you enjoy it!
Do you have any exciting lunch ideas I should try?