Praise be to the gods of summer, the apéritif is having a moment. Russell Norman, Soho’s ever-prescient restaurant king, was one of the first to get in on the act - his cult Venetian bàcaro Polpo features a subterranean bar devoted to Campari. But there are superb apéritifs being served all over town, in bars as diverse as Quo Vadis, Hix and The Connaught.
“What sets the apéritif apart from the rest of the cocktail menu is that they should be dry, light and subtly blend sour, herbal and occasionally fruity notes,” says cocktail expert Tom Sandham.
Esquire’s own Tom Parker Bowles is (unsurprisingly) an apéritif connoisseur. “That wonderful bitterness jolts the taste buds into action, which makes it the perfect pre-lunch sharpener,” he enthuses.
Most commonly made with dry spirits or wines such as vermouth, gin, Campari, Lillet or Dubonnet, a good aperitif should whet the appetite. And, while the Aperol Spritz and the mighty Negroni may be the most-ordered aperitifs in town (indeed, you should be drinking them already), here are a few Esquire favourites you may not have tried, with Sandham’s expert tasting notes.
“This drink was originally known as the Milano-Torino, taking the Campari from Milan and vermouth from Turin,” Sandham says. “It started smacking lips in Italian cafés in the mid-1800s, becoming the Americano when the tourists discovered it.”
“Charles Vexenat once made this for my wife when he was working at the Lonsdale,” says Sandham. “She asked for a gin drink and was delighted with this. Slightly fruity and spicy for an audience less keen on dry starters. Cocktail legend Robert Vermeire invented it in 1921 at the Embassy Club in London.”
“One story attached to this drink’s creation is that Johnnie Solon at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York, invented it in the early 1900s, naming it after the Bronx Zoo. It was a first when it came to adding fresh orange and originally went stronger with equal parts gin, dry and sweet vermouth and a splash of juice.”
“This simple Dubonnet recipe is the cocktail the Queen and the Queen’s Mother used to drink (hence the name),” says Alessandro Palazzi, head bartender at Dukes Bar. “The beautiful trick of this cocktail is in the lemon and orange, which give an enchanting aroma you can smell as you drink it. Simple but amazing.”
Click on the picture above to learn how to make your own.