Emma Blunt sips her way through Soho during a night of Italian aperitivo education with Cocchi
Three magic words – ‘L’hora del aperitivo’. An Italian phrase full of enchantment, after-work and pre-sunset hours are all about the aperitivo.
An alcoholic beverage sipped before an evening meal, the idea of an aperitivo is to open up the palate and awaken the appetite.
I was invited to take a gastronomic tour of Italy’s finest pasttime with Cocchi, one of their most loved vermouth and wine-based aperitivo producers. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.
Italians perfected this art long ago. It’s only now that we’re catching up with our continental cousins, with twists on the Spritz, Negroni and Americano cocktail found within almost every London watering hole.
Cocchi vermouths and aperitivos from the hills of Piedmont are at the top of every bartender’s wish list right now, and after an evening of education, eating and cocktail creating through Soho, it was clear to see why.
The pitstop: Lina Stores
The purpose: perfect food pairings for aperitivo cocktails
We start with the iconic green and white stripes of Lina Stores, which transport us to an Italian style delicatessen in the heart of London’s Soho.
Masha, head chef of Lina Stores provides us with a lesson in pairing the best antipasti accompaniments with our Cocchi-infused aperitivo cocktails.
With only the highest quality ingredients hailing directly from Italy, Lina Stores create traditional Italian antipasti dishes and cocktails with a modern twist.
Dishes include Pane Pugliese (sourdough bread) with organic olive oil (sourced from the Amalfi Coast), Stracciatella with baked olives, caperberries, sundried tomatoes and spicy bread croutons, Tono Tonnato (tuna tartar) with anchovy mayonnaise and Polpette di Melanzane (aubergine fritters in a crunchy golden shell topped with tomato and basil).
However, it’s the Pansoti con burrata salsa di datterini e pinoli that takes pride of place at Lina Stores. Freshly made bright yellow pasta dumplings are stuffed with soft burrata cheese and accompanied with a fresh tomato sauce to make a perfectly simple yet exceedingly delicious dish.
However, what really gets the gastric juices flowing is Lina Stores Cynar Americano – a twist on the classic Americano cocktail.
Made with equal parts Cynar (an artichoke-based liqueur), Cocchi Americano and Soda, this tipple comes farnished with a baby artichoke to emphasise the flavour of the bittersweet Cynar. Any cocktail that comes with a snack included can be considered my ultimate aperitivo!
The pitstop: Mele e Pere
The purpose: learning the art of the spritz
A short walk away, we next head to the downstairs bar area of Mele e Pere. Home to London’s largest selection of vermouth (including its own homemade varieties), Mele e Pere is no stranger to the art of aperitivo making.
Here, we took part in a cocktail class. Perfect for daytime drinks and summer serves, we mastered the iconic Italian spritz using Cocchi’s trio of aperitivi.
From the classic Cocchi Americano Spritz to the fruity Cocchi Rosa Spritz, we get to grips with whipping up this summer’s hottest drinks – before finishing with a Cocchi Vermouth di Torino Spritz.
Christmas in a glass, the Cocchi Vermouth di Torino has a rich, intense flavour with enticing notes of red fruits, cocoa and orange – it’s perfect for a sultry sip.
The pistop: Polpo Covent Garden
The purpose: the journey of the Negroni
Last but not least, our final pitstop of the evening is at Polpo Covent Garden. Often hailed as the king of Italian cocktails, there’s no better way to finish an Italian-themed evening than with a lesson in the history and making of the pillar of Italian aperitivos – the Negroni.
Marking the drink’s centenary year, the cocktail was first mixed at Caffe Casoni in Florence in 1919 at the request of Count Camillo Negroni who wanted to swap the soda in his Americano for gin.
From a moment of intoxicated ingenuity, the Negroni was born and whilst it may not be one for the faint-hearted, it remains in pride of place atop many aperitivo-takers drink of choice.
For those who think bitter is better, this cocktail is the one for you and Polpo’s mixologists teach us how to master the classic as well as some modern twists.
We start with the classic Negroni to master the very definition of balance and simplicity. Then, it’s time for a new spin on tradition.
For anyone who finds the classic too bitter, Polpo’s white Negroni is the one for you – satisfyingly sweet with creamy honeysuckle notes, this light Negroni can be drunk anytime of the day!
After an evening of feasting, drinking and learning I can confirm that there is no better way to spend the treasured golden aperitivo hours than by sipping and socialising the evening away – even if you can’t be in Italy itself.
Offering the next best thing to a glass glugged by the Colosseum, when the apertif witching hour next strikes, Cocchi have got you covered!
Words by Emma Blunt