Food writer and Sunday Brunch presenter, Rebecca Seal, brings you her favourite aperitifs for the perfect down-time on Regent Street.
Is there anything more civilised than starting your evening with an aperitif? If there's a better way to segue from the hassles of the day into the glorious down-time of the evening, then I've yet to find it.
I love aperitifs in all their forms – I'm quite happy with a glass of cold white wine, with or without a splash of cassis dashed in, and I'll almost never say no to something fizzy in a flute. But what I'm always on the look out for – and what I try endlessly to replicate at home – are aperitifs (or aperitivo if you're following the Italian tradition of early evening drinks and snacks) with a bitter undertone and a rich herbal kick.
On menus, I look for drinks made with sherry, vermouth and amaros – herbal liqueurs often consumed neat as digestifs, like Fernet or Cynar – or liqueurs like Italian Aperol and Campari. I'm looking for tart, dry flavours because the whole point of an aperitif is to open up your appetite and get your mouth watering, ready for a meal.
Two of my favourites live on the menu at Hawksmoor Air Street: try a Sinking Spritz, made with Aperol, vermouth and elderflower, which is wonderfully floral but utterly dry; or a Tom and Jerez, with gin, super-dry Manzanilla sherry, pear and almond.
At Aqua Neuva, sip a Clover Club, with gin, raspberry, egg white and vermouth, or in the same building, try a Last Samurai at Aqua Kyoto, with gin, lemon, aperitif wine and cherry. If someone else is footing the bill, order a 3,000,0000 ¥ – not the actual price, it's £30 – a heady mixture of Campari, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, artichoke liqueur and absinthe.
A Bitter Sweet Symphony is served at Tuscan restaurant Frescobaldi, and is a brilliant blend of classic British and Italian traditions: Aperol, gin, lemon, tonic water and orange bitters. Heddon Street Kitchen dedicates a whole section of its list to appetite-opening drinks – I always gravitate towards the bitter options, like From A Few to a Thrill, but if you fancy something a little sweeter try a Figel Castro, with rum, honey, Noilly Prat vermouth and lime.