On the menu: Never go straight through to dinner, and never say aperitif


The aperitif is back, the aperitif is in. At Simon Rogan's joint in the Midland Hotel, Manchester, a guy in a bomber jacket breaks off a conversation with his date, "I'll have Just a Splash – that cocktail with Aperol and Prosecco," he says to the barman.

At Grain Store in London's King's Cross you'd have to be a fool, or a teetotaler, not to order the mustard martini before you start on Bruno Loubet's food, and the people at the table next to me are neither – they ordered two. At The Ethicurean restaurant in Bristol, Flloyd's in East London, and scores of other places up and down the country, waiters are gently guiding diners to the pre-dinner drinks part of the menu – or else straight to the bar. After all, as Kingsley Amis used to say, the most depressing question in the English language undoubtedly is "shall we just go straight through to dinner?"

That the practice ever even neared extinction is to our collective shame. You can see how it happened, though. There were reasons. First, the word itself. If I could remove, possibly with a spoon, one word from the English language, it would be "aperitif". It might have a noble history, being derived from the Latin verb aperire, "to open". But nowadays it sounds like the type of word deserving of a frilly collar and knee breeches. Would you ever ask your pals if they "cared for an aperitif?" Probably not, unless you'd escaped from a Noël Coward play.

The second problem is the amuse-bouche, those little edible "gifts" from the chef. A friendly gesture, no doubt, but they have the unfortunate effect of eating into the drinking time. Sometimes it is necessary to check a gift horse's gnashers.

Neither problem is insuperable though – you just need a strategy. The second is easiest. Simply tip the waiter the nod and delay the amuse-bouches, or, better still, avoid places which serve them altogether. And as to the first, let's just all agree, as many sensible restaurateurs seem to have done, to pension off the word "aperitif".

Now we have sorted out the name, another question comes over the horizon. What exactly should our pre-dinner drink be? What will hone the appetite without dulling the mind? Whisky is out straight away, as is gin and tonic. Both will trample the palate. A glass of champagne is good but that doesn't come cheap. A negroni is excellent, too, but may make you slur. There is only one thing that works, sure-fire, every time: the martini.

At dinner on Tuesday night, I was late, tired and cold. I ordered a martini and I was soon warm, happy and attentive. That ice-cold gin, with that little stain of vermouth floating across its surface, it has a magic effect. As Ogden Nash put it: "There is something about a Martini;/ A tingle remarkably pleasant;/ A yellow, a mellow Martini." Be warned, though, order more than two and you are in trouble. I once drank four in a restaurant called Skylon in London and forgot to have dinner.

Now, some may think pre-dinner cocktails – martinis especially – are haughty. Something for other people; people who live in Eaton Square, for instance. But they are wrong, wrong, wrong. A home-made martini requires nothing more than gin, vermouth and an olive – it is the democrat's drink.

And besides, the whole practice of drinking before eating is a courtesy to your fellow diners, a means of blowing on the waning cinders of the self and priming yourself for the conversational tennis to come. Do it with cider if you must. Just don't be discourteous – let's not go straight through.

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape