One of the greatest epicurean delights of Italian culture is aperitivo time, a paradigm of such unbridled belly-pleasing genius that I wish I could give a big cuddle to whichever bright spark thought of it.
The typical premise, for those who are unaware, is very simple: buy a drink and thou shalt eat for free. Indeed, I can (smugly) recount many a wonderful aperitivo time during my travels to Italy, most notably perhaps being the Milan fishmongers which opened up its doors in the evening for fresh seafood with each glass of Prosecco.
Although aperitivo runs for a set time, similar to ‘Happy Hour’ style discounted periods, unlike its more Anglo-American cousin it is not a tool to shift cheap drinks and keep you interested for when the prices go back up. No, aperitivo is as much about simple, good quality food as it is about grabbing a drink with friends before the evening proper takes shape (there are other times of day which you may find aperitivo, though).
So, London must have adopted this excellent idea in abundance, right? Well, no, and in fact finding proper aperitivo in London is as rare as rocking-horse shit. But there are some venues that are thankfully bringing authentic Italian aperitivo to our doorsteps. An excellent example is Il Tempo, Covent Garden, a relatively new venture sitting closely to Trafalgar Square which offers aperitivo from 6:00-8:30pm – perfect for pre-theatre goers and evening revellers alike.
Wander in to Il Tempo at this time and you will find a modestly-sized and pleasingly homely surround with a small counter lined with little treats that change daily. On my Tuesday visit I was privy to delicious mini breads livened with pesto, artichoke, crispy mushrooms and spicy sausage as well as bigger bowls of home-made gnocchi dripping with deliciously gooey sauce.
To warrant my food ticket, I tried the cheapest white, red and rosé wines from their sommelier-picked selection (beer is also a viable aperitivo option) and certainly found them to hit the spot. At about £6 and up, they are arguably priced a little more than you would usually pay for a glass, but are very good drops, and you of course can fill your bellies for free alongside them.
And dig in you must, as owner Stefano Patrone stressed. ‘I have to tell people, please eat as much you like!’ he said, reaffirming the real Italian aperitivo spirit: get stuck in.
Away from aperitivo time, Il Tempo stocks a great range of home-made pastas, sandwiches and other delights that span breakfast to dinner (and can be taken away), and the coffees are very reasonably priced, so should be your first point of call to try at least (I unfortunately didn’t get around to that) before you guzzle your Starbuck’s Corporation-cino.
I’ll be going back, so see you there.
48 Chandos Place
Tel: 020 7240 4179