The east-London hipster’s favourite cocktail is now a legit luxury tipple, says Alex Doak, who chooses his five favourite negroni’s from across the capital
Legend has it that the potent, bitter, ruby-red “negroni” cocktail, served ice-cold in a chunky tumbler, was invented in Florence in 1919 for Count Camillo Negroni, who requested that his normal cocktail, the americano, be fortified with something stronger. His obliging bartender added gin instead of soda and a legendary tipple was born.
It quickly became a popular “aperitivo” throughout Italy, kicking off the evening for convivial night owls with something refreshing, palette cleansing, and yes, suitably alcoholic. As restaurateur Russell Norman notes in the drinks section of his POLPO cookbook, Orson Welles had a thing about negronis and claimed that they were good for you. He maintained that while the gin might not be good for your liver, the bitters were, and the two balanced each other out. (“Try telling that to your doctor!” Norman notes, sagely.)
What follows are five of our favourite spots to enjoy the drink in London’s more salubrious quarters, which don’t arrive in a jam jar served by a tattooed man called Felix in a car park near Clapton. But should you wish to try it at home instead, the recipe couldn’t be simpler:
Combine over ice in equal measures some good-quality, versatile London gin such as Beefeater, red vermouth such as Martini Rosso or Aperol, plus Campari bitters. Serve over one large block of ice and garnish with an orange slice – the citrus oils enhance the whole effect brilliantly.
Not necessarily known for its cocktails, rather chef-patron Stevie Parle’s ever-shifting global flavours, Dock Kitchen is nonetheless one of the finest al fresco spaces to enjoy a mid-summer sundowner, being perched on Grand Union Canal near Ladbroke Grove, in a converted wharf building that once served as Virgin’s first headquarters. Ask for some of Parle’s freshly baked tahini flatbread to nibble on too.
While Russell Norman’s Venetian tapas phenomenon continues to expand beyond its humble beginnings in Soho, it’s worth remembering that he almost singlehandedly revived the dated Aperol bitters brand in the UK with his signature “spritz” aperitif, borrowed from the canalside bars of his favourite Italian city. His bars serve both this and a classic negroni, plus the Negroni Sbagliato, whose titular “mistake” is replacing gin with prosecco for a less lethal hit.
Photo by Jenny Zarins for Russell Norman’s “Polpo” cookbook. polpo.co.uk
Tony Conigliaro’s 69 Colebrooke Row in Islington, followed by the Zetter Townhouse bar, consolidated his reputation as the “Heston Blumenthal of cocktails”, introducing sous vide, infusional and thermal techniques to take the humble spirit into sensational new territory. His latest venture with high-class tattoo artist Mo Copolletta is a coffee and cocktail joint in Soho, Bar Termini, which has just launched off-licensed bottles of pre-mixed “Classico” negroni. Cooked “sous-vide” at a very low temperature for several hours, the gentle heat stimulates the breakdown of aromatic compounds in the liquid and speeds up the ageing process, creating a drink that is almost identical to a bottle-aged cocktail, says Conigliaro.
Coburg Bar at The Connaught
One of the most quietly kept secrets of Mayfair boozing, the Coburg is that rare example of a hotel bar offering something unique and exciting in its own right, rather than the usual experience of sipping a £20 gin and tonic in a lobby while an American tourist wheels his suitcase into your ankle. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu here, and you certainly can’t go wrong with a negroni or three. Failing that, their whiskey sour is a work of high art.
Artesian Bar at the Langham
For the fourth year in a row, The Artesian was winner of The World’s 50 Best Bars last October, not just for its extravagantly ornate surroundings but for its unusually daring approach to drink. Mixologists Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale are renowned for their surrealism and experimentation, with such drinks as “Join The Colony” being brought to the table on the back of a giant copper ant. When it comes to the negroni, however? It’s a straightforward concoction by its very nature, but Caporale couldn’t resist spiking it somehow, using Wild Geese Premium rum instead of gin for a genuine twist with a twist. Cheers to that!