Let’s start at the beginning, as authors suggest, and consider the concept of an apperitivo. According to Oscar Balcon, co-owner of Artusi, the latest Italian restaurant that Delhi is crushing on like a schoolgirl, “Fare l’Apperitivo is a fun and glamorous way for Italians to celebrate what they call the ‘dolce vita’, i.e. the ‘sweet life’. The essence of it is meeting with friends at a neighbourhood bar and enjoying some sparkling wine, a cocktail or other drinks. The bar will serve you a variety of small but delicious Italian finger food (and in doing so would become an apperitivo). One never knows what will be served up, but it is always something that is a good match with pre-dinner drinks, and nobody complains since it tastes delicious and is with compliments from the kitchen.”
In a city where pasta has become as naturalised as the parantha, it comes as little surprise that Dilliwallahs have embraced the concept with all their hearts and both hands, outstretched. Whether it’s fine dine restaurants such as Artusi or the new Amour Bistro or more casual spaces such as Ruby’s Bar and Grill (formerly the Ruby Tuesday chain), restaurants are seeing a stream of patronage in the previously “dry” time between 5-7pm.
While apperitivo might technically be an Italian idea, other European restaurants are cashing in on it, albeit with tweaks. Popular French restaurant Le Bistro Du Parc has “apero hours” between 3.30 pm -7pm when it offers a 1+1 deal on its full bar menu, as opposed to the usual format of free appetisers with regularly priced drinks. The restaurant’s new executive chef Alexis breaks it down further, explaining, “The Bar Menu offers a selection of French favourites such as Chicken Liver Parfait, Salad Parisienne and Croque Monsieur and other sandwiches. As the promotion is not exclusive to one particular alcohol, apero attracts a range of customers. We get Europeans, who stop by for a Kir Royale or other champagne cocktails and snacks before dinner, as well as Japanese clients who tend to eat dinner early. As result, they often reserve tables at 7pm so as to take advantage of the 1+1 offer on wine to accompany their meal. Of course, we also have many Indian guests.”
While Amour Bistro’s apperitivo hours are in full swing, Artusi is planning to launch full-scale operations after summer and is, at the moment, conducting rather successful trials. Depending on the day, they may serve hot Piadina breads with Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, Salame or other cured meats, or breads with cheeses and herbs, or pizzette (tiny pizzas), or bruschette with tomatoes or cheeses or olives. Sometimes crisps or French fries, calamari and battered or perhaps pickled vegetables are available.
But there has to be a catch, right? There’s no such thing as a free meal, as a myriad movies, books and elderly aunts have informed us. Apparently not. As Balcon concludes, “All food served at the bar for common consumption (no individual orders or requests) is completely complimentary. There are no formal rules or limits in terms of quantity or selection, but one expects guests to understand that complimentary food is just that, there to be enjoyed in a dignified manner and as provided by the kitchen. Approached with an open mind, it is a true delight and can turn any dull weekday evening into a small celebration.” Amen. Salut, even.