In this frenetic city, it’s a balm to slow the hell down: to allow harried brains the time to drop down a gear so that dinner can be savoured. Originating in Torino, aperitivo, the Italian custom of a drink and bite to prime the stomach for the nightly meal has roved around the globe. Unfortunately, while key aperitivo liquor Aperol is ubiquitous, the ritual’s spirit has been somewhat diluted — downing spritzes does not an aperitivo make. There must be a drink: nothing sweet, rather bitter or dry such as a Campari spritz or negroni, vermouth, straight up prosecco. And there ought to be stuzzichini, finger foods, e.g. nuts, olives, cheese, salumi, crostini, tiny arancini, or any other appetite-rouser. As well as securing an extra window for catching up with dear dining partners, the pre-prandial pitstop offers a chance to trial a new spot, and, let’s be honest, it allows the greedier or more hangover-inclined to double-dine. By the end of the passeggiata to a choice restaurant, both stomach and mind will be ready.Read More
14 Perfect Aperitivi to Kick Off a London Dinner
Superb spritzes, first-rate nibbles, and sometimes expansive views
On a nondescript corner of Brixton sits a faithful homage to Tuscany’s Maremma province. As the sun sets behind wrap-around glass, perch at the quartz-topped bar to sip and nibble through the enticing aperitivo menu, which features multiple spritzes made with Maremma’s Picabon spumante as well as herb-laced riffs on hard classics — an oregano martini. Olives, focaccia, green anchovy and artichoke crostini, and regional salumi form the spuntini on offer as ballast.
Then on to… Nanban, Fish, Wings and Tings, Smoke & Salt.
Renowned for doing fiendish things to vegetables, Ottolenghi’s airy Fitzrovian space also has a serious drinks game. Come aperitivo hour, pop in for a Britz Spritz, boosted by Surrey’s Greyfriars Brut, or a cider-centric Sassy Suze. As for snacks, pick at padron peppers with almond cream and togarashi, or pickles and ferments with Valdeon cheese, before splitting an appetite-spiking lobster crumpet.
Then on to… Kyseri, Bao Fitzrovia, Clipstone.
Hush the Hackney traffic and the terrace of this first-rate, canal-side take on a Venetian baccaro has low-key transportive powers. In addition to standard spritzes such as Campari and Cynar, there’s a negroni sbagliato and Cocchi americano to take the edge off the working day. Being Venetian, drinks are accompanied by a rotating selection of cicchetti: think taleggio and summer truffle crostino, nduja crochetto and baccalà mantecato with polenta.
Then on to… Bright, Mao Chow, Campania
It’s astonishing anywhere as serene as Lino’s locale exists in this construction-crazed city. Nab a terrace table, order the house’s barrel-aged negroni, or a Red Riding Hood: hibiscus kombucha, pisco, maraschino and bitters, and Porthilly oysters with divine lime kosho and shallot vinegar, before refilling glasses and tucking into sauerkraut and cheddar croquettes, and — from the starter menu — unmissable heirloom tomatoes with ricotta and sourdough croutons. If merely popping by, £10 will secure a sour bush (gin) cocktail and those moreish cheddar bites.
Then on to… St. John, Luca, Bloomberg (Brigadiers, Kym’s, Koya)
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5. 40 Maltby St
London SE1 3PA, UK
At Gergovie Wines’ unassuming bar and bistro, the focus is on a stellar selection of low intervention, chemical-free bottles that “let the land and the grape speak.” Whether fizz or rosé, skin contact or white, it’s a given that this London treasure will have the ideal thing to smooth the day-to-night transition. Look to the chalkboard to find a matching appetite-booster, like cheddar straws, chicken and ham terrine, aubergine fritters with chickpeas, or smoked cod’s roe and crudités.
Then on to… Flor, Santo Remedio, 40 Maltby Street
6. The Drop Wine Bar
London N1C 4DH, UK
Cosy up to a wine barrel outside this smart bar from Harts Group (Barrafina, Parrillan, Quo Vadis and El Pastor), where a different wine region is highlighted via monthly specials, and there’s a mouthwatering list of vermouth and sherries to supplement the canny house list. Once full of marcona almonds, truffle crisps and Jersey oysters, move onto seasonal cheeses such as Guernsey’s Maida Vale or the fruity Old Winchester, well-seasoned fennel salami or pancetta con giovanni, or simply commit to the cheese and meat board.
Then on to… Coal Office, Kaki, Standard Hotel
7. Weino BIB
A real neighbourhood hub and labour of love, Kirsty Tinkler’s bar and deli invites guests to gossip, flirt, or put the world to rights over a carafe of natural or biodynamic wine, poured from a keg, box or bottle e.g. Valentina Passalacqua’s sensational orange puglia. Adaptable antipasti boards boast the best of the deli’s painstakingly-sourced produce, while the likes of bresaola, sherry, horseradish, apple and taleggio and provolone arancini with romesco promise to further whet appetites.
Then on to… Little Duck, Dusty Knuckle Bakery – if it’s pizza night, Pidgin
8. Prawn on the Lawn
Whether it’s oysters and rosé, signature prawns and manzanilla, marinated anchovies and Aperol — even an entire Padstow crab and bottle of Albariño brut, the cracking Cornish fishmonger and restaurant has the dream booze and seafood pairing to kickstart an epicurean escapade.
Then on to… Black Axe Mangal, Trullo, Westerns Laundry.
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Faultless. And, thankfully, not all that tricky to nip into without a reservation come aperitivo-time. On a sunny day, bag the street-side table, otherwise the candlelit bar’ll more than do as the backdrop to a white negroni (white vermouth, Mondino, Suze and gin), glass of Pét-Nat, or any other natural marvel on that week’s boards. Invigorate the palate with sourdough and market pickles, labneh with dukkah, Jersey rock oysters, or pork collar under oil.
Then on to… Quo Vadis, Kiln, Wun’s, Ducksoup
10. Six Portland Road
Slide into the diminutive bar at the Holland Park haven of Terroirs’ provenance, and order a house negroni — enriched by their trading Campari for Contratto Bitter, to be savoured with the olives, bread and oil that greet every guest. Having chosen a low intervention fizz or wine from the deftly curated and expansive list, seek out a genuinely shareable starter on the daily-changing menu of Mediterranean fare, such as globe artichoke and vinaigrette or San Daniele ham, fresh peas and walnut.
Then on to… Hereford Road, Orasay, Core by Clare Smyth
Soundtracked by old school rock’n’roll, five to seven promise to be the giddiest of hours at this gastronomic tour de force from The Dairy’s Robin Gill. To wit, there are old school offers — £1 oysters, at £30 for half a dozen with champagne. Still, it’d be negligent not to also guzzle a couple of gildas, an order of truffle arancini, a lobster brioche roll and … It’s wholly acceptable to just move from bar to dining room after a potter around Embassy Gardens.
Then on to… Brunswick House, A Wong, Lorne
12. The 10 Cases
A lazy oenophile’s paradise, 10 Cases’ cave à vin offers 25 reasonably priced, intrigue-piquing wines by the glass each night. Extensive cheese and charcuterie options and pick-at-able small plates, e.g. polenta chips with parmesan and Iberico croquetas, will ensure hunger soon stirs.
Then on to … Parsons, Barrafina Drury Lane, Terroirs
13. The Clove Club
London EC1V 9LT, UK
Despite the fuss — The Clove Club is #27 in 2019’s World’s 50 Best — it’s easy to forget the discreet grown up’s refuge at Shoreditch’s arrhythmic heart. Bar-chef Rob Simpson’s hyper-seasonal menu brims over with tantalising creations, including a London spritz, the Orange Line, made with Kanpai sake, Kamm & Sons aperitif, pickled blood orange, spent coffee and tonic. The alcohol-free concoctions are equally on-point. While the drinks are so well-balanced, it’s arguably possible to forgo the ‘bite’ element, Isaac McHale’s signature buttermilk fried chicken with pine salt is available.
Then on to… BRAT, Lyle’s, Brawn
14. Frank's Cafe at Bold Tendencies
London SE15 4ST, UK
Fancy aperitivo with that rare combo of vibe and view? Clamber Bold Tendencies’ rose-hued stairs, secure sunset-facing elbow room, and toast nightfall with a house negroni or hard rock shandy. If not into choice Levantine dips on pitta, Peckham Rye bread and butter, spicy snacks or padron peppers will fuel the stroll to dinner.
Then on to… Levan, Coal Rooms, Kudu