What's an aperitif?

I wonder if you’ve ever been to a show, a musical or opera, or a big MGM-style song-and-dance film. People gather and chat, take their seats and generally get in the mood. Then, the lights go down, and people’s focus shifts. There’s excitement, but the curtain doesn’t rise immediately: the show isn’t starting just yet. First, the band plays an overture. It’s a little foretaste, little snippets of tunes and themes that you can expect to hear, to pique your interest in what’s to come. It heightens your sense of expectation and gets you ready to lose yourself completely in La-La Land, Miss Saigon or La Traviata.

What you’re getting is the musical equivalent of an aperitif.

Photo: G Mather

When I’m planning a dinner party, I want my guests to have that same sense of expectation and excitement before I serve the starter. European cultures have long relied on the aperitif for this, and it’s become a social occasion in its own right. So much so, that in Spain, France and Italy, one can meet with friends for an aperitif, then go one’s separate ways for dinner afterwards. What a delightful way to start an evening!

Aperitif foods and drinks are small, full-flavoured and designed to stimulate the appetite. They can be classily simple, like the Champagne and saucisson sec I once enjoyed at my boss’s home in northern France, or a full-on set of canapés served with cocktails at a 1930s-themed dinner we had in Harrogate. What neither the food nor the drink must do is spoil your appetite, so less is always more. Leave your guests wishing there was just one more slice of anchovy toast to enjoy, one more martini in the jug, rather than head for the table already sated and squiffy.

Next time: some thoughts on what makes a great aperitif drink.


  1. That's really good Paul. I look forward to the next blog. X

    1. Thanks Elaine. I'm really excited about sharing these reflections. Keep checking back for more ideas, cocktails and food recipes.


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