In praise of The Negroni

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Restaurateur Russell Norman, owner of the Venetian-inspired collection of London tapas favourites Polpo, Polpetto and Spuntino, explains the allure of Venice's favourite tipple - The Negroni.

Why I love it
"My relationship with the Negroni goes back to the start of my adult drinking life; I’ve always had a preference for bitter flavours in food and drink. The combination of Campari, vermouth and orange is the essence of agrodolce, (meaning bittersweet); it's the magic of Italian cuisine."

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The best Negronis I’ve drunk have all been served in Venice, usually by thick-forearmed, short-fore headed, career barmen (a slug of gin, a slug of Campari, a slug of vermouth, throw in some orange and put it on a cocktail napkin). When the Negroni goes wrong, it’s because it has been over-thought or over-complicated - making a nonsense of something that should be so simple. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said: “perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”.

How to make it

Don’t mess with the proportions: they are the key to this drink. If you’re running low on Campari, then make something different. If you love gin and want to add more than the recipe says, don’t. It will ruin the drink’s balance. Serve the Negroni with an American style “sip-stick” rather than a straw: people will use it to stir (but not drink) the cocktail, and this will help chill the drink as the ice begins to melt and dilute the mix slightly.

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The recipe
This is how we make it at Polpo. Accept no substitutes.

You will need: a glass, no smaller than 130cl but not much bigger either; ice cubes; 25cl good gin; 25cl Campari; 25cl good sweet vermouth (we use Punt e Mes but Martini Rosso or Cinzano Rosso are fine); slice of orange

Method: pour the booze over the ice. Add the slice of orange. Stir with a small sip-stick and serve. Repeat until you are happy.

The “wrong Negroni”
The Sbagliato (wrong negroni) is made with prosecco in place of gin. So the story goes, one night, a barista at Bar Basso in Milan was making a Negroni for a customer when he grabbed the spumante bottle by mistake. The resulting cocktail was so delicious it was put on the bar’s menu, and has been part of drinking history ever since. It’s light, spritzy and extremely easy to drink.

Russell Norman’s latest restaurant, Da Polpo, opened in June. His Campari bar is at 41 Beak Street, London W1 (polpo.co.uk)

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