A Pleasurable Aperitif
An Aladdin’s aperitif cave opens up for the discerning vermouth drinker in Soho’s Mele e Pere
Review by Winston Chesterfield
It is difficult to sound unpretentious when you say you’re going to a vermouth bar. “Var-mooth?” people frown “what’s that?”
Normally, there is a moment of great satisfaction when informing someone of something they know nothing about. Those Greek philosopher airs come out and you curl a smile. But when it happens to me, I am actually frustrated. I cannot fathom how in this ridiculous bubble-tea, micro-brew world of aggressive nicheness that so few have heard of that splendid fortified wine – one of the most versatile, complex and pleasurable aperitifs.
Which is why propping up the bar at Mele e Pere is a delight – because they are all about the vermouth.
On the much-trampled Brewer Street in southern Soho, black bricks and neon lights in bright green, white and red mark the entrance. As you enter, you encounter a small bar and small seated area, and most likely, a member of Mele e Pere staff asking if they can help you.
Mentioning the vermouth bar with a puzzled face seems to be enough of a code and down you descend into the basement, where you encounter a copper-topped bar with leather stools, vintage posters and countless bottles of vermouth, amari and spirits. Beyond the bar is a large dimly-lit dining area with wooden tables that fills up with groups of rowdy, in-the-know Londoners who come to the trattoria to graze on the brilliant sharing staples such as the Puglian Burrata, deep fried squid or Ascolana olives.
I could spend this entire review writing the names of some of the most obscure aperitifs on their shelves from Italian, French and even Australian & British makers, but all you need to know is this: go to any puffed up five-star London hotel bar, with white-jacketed, brass-buttoned staff and cocktails priced like a steak dinner and ask if they have any other amari (bitter) besides Campari. They’ll be dumbfounded.
Ask at Mele e Pere, and you’ll receive a knowing nod – most likely from one of the charming Hughes brothers. And then Aladdin’s cave opens…
A word to the wise: do not attempt to play the cocktail ingredient snob. These chaps know their apples (and pears), and here you will find some of the most recherche vermouths and amari in London.
For example, when it comes to bitters, I prefer Contratto instead of Campari; darker, more subtle and slightly less harsh. But if you’re really looking for something no one else in the postcode has, there’s the brilliant Victory Bitter, which is made in London but is probably one of the finest expressions of amari outside of Italy, with notes of apricot, rosemary and sage, it has the punch you need in a bitter but is altogether more refined.
The finest thing about imbibing at Mele e Pere though is the Dry Martini and Negroni pages in the cocktail menu. Not because Mele e Pere are pushing their takes on these classics, but because they give you a menu of different gins, bitters and vermouths to make your own. It’s the cocktail bar edition of an ice cream parlour and the excitement of choice is almost as intoxicating as the libation you end up with.
They don’t have run of the mill gins either. There’s some great premium choices like Brighton Gin and King of Soho, as well as some exquisite ones you’ve never heard of like Da Mhile – made in Wales, don’t you know.
The bar also caters for the more run-of-the-mill drinker, with Italian beers and Prosecco on tap, although coming to Mele & Pere for a Moretti feels like going all the way to Australia and staying in Canberra.
Enquires: Mele e Pere, 46 Brewer Street, Soho, London W1F 9TF / 0207 0962096 / www.meleepere.co.uk/