Northern Italy’s beloved preprandial rite is making waves in the West, livening up late afternoons with bittersweet bracers and bang-up snacks.
Prosecco. Mortadella. Campari. Parmigiano. The list of Italy’s contributions to the world of food and drink is an exhaustive one, no doubt. And while each and every item on the seemingly endless roll call offers pleasures all its own, the real magic happens when they come together in abundance, as they do during aperitivo.
Derived from ‘aperire’ – Latin for ‘to open’ – aperitivo is the Italian practice of sitting down to pre-dinner drinks and snacks, in the spirit of awakening the appetite. The tradition is said to have originated in the country’s north somewhere around the turn of the nineteenth century, but it has become firmly entrenched in the day’s proceedings nationwide since.
“Aperitivo is more than a drink before dinner,” says Fiona Di Lanzo, who owns the Mount Hawthorn wine bar and aperitivo haunt, La Madonna Nera. “It’s a ritual – and rituals that revolve around eating and drinking make up a good part of the Italian way of life.”
The setting can be anywhere from a raffish train-station tavern or low-key café through to a five-star hotel bar, but the core of the offering remains the same: bitter, often bubbly drinks that are low in alcohol, accompanied by salty finger foods. At the very least, that translates as an Aperol Spritz or Campari and soda alongside some bread, crisps, olives, salumi and cheese. What isn’t uncommon, however, is a full-blown buffet complete with marinated vegetables, pizza, pasta and plenty more. Enough, in other words to constitute a proper dinner, backed up by beers, wines and palate-priming cocktails.
“In Australia, Happy Hour is basically indulging in a session of reduced-price drinks,” says Di Lanzo. “In Italy, you pay more for the drinks, but you get free food.”
Although the increasingly high cost of goods and labour make it virtually impossible to replicate the custom quite the same way here at home, more and more of WA’s bars and restaurants are incorporating aperitivo into their afternoon routine. It makes sense. Along with the meteoric uptick in Aperol Spritz over recent years, there’s been a surge of interest in natural wine and wine-bar culture more broadly as a result – all tips of the hat to a more European lifestyle. In the midst of what many are calling a cost-of-living crisis, the lower price tag certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
“It’s a cost-effective experience that makes it easy to catch up quickly after work before kicking on or heading home, so there’s little wonder it’s in high demand in Perth,” says Elise Anastas, Marketing Communications Manager at Garum – Guy Grossi’s Roman osteria at The Westin Perth, which offers aperitivo throughout the week.
From both the venue’s and the customer’s perspective, the economic incentive is hard to ignore. And yet, for those looking to keep spending especially low, the prospect of hosting aperitivo at home holds just as much appeal. It’s an easy way to turn sundowners into an occasion – and if there’s Gino Paoli or Peppino di Capri pulsing from the speakers, then all the better.
“Italians love any excuse to get together for great food, drinks, music and good company,” says Anastas, “and that’s exactly what the aperitivo tradition is about.”
Eager to experience it for yourself? Roll up to these five spots, and go for gold.
La Madonna Nera
On Fridays and Saturdays, the party kicks off from 4pm at this sultry little enoteca, where $9 mini cocktails, $8 beers and vino specials are poured alongside $2.50 pizzette and polenta crostini till 6pm.
1/155 Scarborough Beach Road, Mount Hawthorn
Guy Grossi’s swish hotel diner leans right into its Roman roots with reduced prices on salumi, suppli and porchetta panini, as well as Prosecco, Negronis and Spritzes from 4.30-6pm, Monday through Saturday.
The Westin Perth, 480 Hay Street, Perth
Between 3-5pm, from Tuesday to Saturday, Swanbourne’s second home for natural wines does a fine line in the likes of $5 anchovy toasts or chickpea panelle to be chased with $10 Spritzes or Americanos.
2/137 Claremont Crescent, Swanbourne
No matter when you pop by, it’s always aperitivo time at this perpetually packed Mount Hawthorn mainstay, where the $18 Aperol Spritzes include olives, crisps or a bit of cheese.
148 Scarborough Beach Road, Mount Hawthorn
Santini Bar & Grill
Lamb köfte? Octopus skewers? Snapper ceviche cannoli? Not quite your typical line-up, sure, but the QT’s handsome Italian-leaning bar levels up the nibbles game from 5-6pm Monday to Saturday, with $10 drinks to boot.
First floor, QT Perth, 133 Murray Street, Perth