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The Italian tradition of aperitivo – pre-dinner drinks with complimentary snacks – is fast becoming a trend in London, replacing the after work pint with something altogether more sophisticated.
Popular all over Italy but particularly in Milan, aperitivo takes places in bars and restaurants between 6 and 9 pm on weekdays, when friends or colleagues gather to unwind and socialise. Campari and Aperol – two bitter liqueurs – form the base of many traditional Italian aperitivo drinks, although everything from prosecco to cocktails are also available with all-you-can-eat complimentary snacks such as canapés, pizza, cold cuts, olives and cheese served at a communal table.
While aperitvo is not new to the English capital, in recent years some exciting restaurants have introduced it to their menus, hoping to make the time-honoured European tradition a mainstream London scene.
Pizza East Portobello, Notting Hill’s posh pizzeria by the Soho House restaurant group, offers a casual aperitivo from Monday to Wednesday between 5 and 7 pm. Anyone who buys a drink can help themselves to a buffet of antipasti, where the daily changing selection includes such delicacies as beef carpaccio, pear crostini, pizzette (mini pizzas), grilled sardines, cheese and Italian cured meats – all of which will whet your appetite for dinner.
British chef Theo Randall offers an authentic aperitivo menu at his namesake restaurant at the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane. You’ll find classic Italian drinks such as Campari mixed with soda or white wine, but instead of a communal table of antipasti, drinkers are given a complimentary pre-plated selection of Italian meats, cheeses and juicy green olives.
Banca, an upmarket Italian restaurant in Mayfair, is one of the most recent places to join the trend. Every Tuesday to Friday from 5 to 7:30 pm, the chef prepares small plates of pickled button onions in raspberry vinegar, salted cod fritters, pizzette with anchovies and tomato and more, which are placed on the long bar for drinkers to help themselves.
Practical as well as enjoyable, aperitivo helps Londoners abide by the golden rule: never drink on an empty stomach. Let’s hope it is a trend that catches on.
Malika Dalamal is the London Localite for BBC Travel