Alongside pasta, pizza and Pavarotti, the aperitivo – an overtly Italian ritual that involves having a couple of drinks and a round of snacks before your actual dinner – is one of our favourite cultural imports from the world's favourite boot-shaped country. God knows that it's an upgrade to having a solo lager and a pot of salted peanuts at the pub while you wait for your mates to show up.

An aperitivo is a social occasion in and of itself and a classy sort of affair where excellent plates of cicchetti like zucchini fritti and smoky salumi can be consumed with a handsome array of aperitifs and spritzes. A negroni goes down dangerously well before a meal and we're never going to say no to a couple of Campari sodas – no matter what time of the year it is.

London's still not completely caught on to the dine-at-9pm culture of the Med and asking your mates to spend a couple of hours drinking and eating before you go out to do... more eating and drinking might seem a little bizarre at first. But just trust us that it's not, and that London has got a growing number of aperitivo bars and restaurants where you can sidle up to the counter, order a round of cocktails and small plates, and think long and hard about how your life is going. We hope it's going well. Genuinely. If not: this guide to the best aperitivo bars in London should hopefully provide some antidote.

18 best aperitivo bars in London

1. Bar Termini

7 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JE

If there's a place in London to embrace authentic, 1950s Italian culture, Bar Termini is it. From the pocket-sized venue, clad in marble, dark wood and green leather, to the equally pocket-sized negronis, served in custom-made glasses, everything about this sleek joint in Soho reeks of La Dolce Vita-style glamour. There are four negronis on offer: the rosato (infused with rose petals and dangerously easy to drink); the superiore (a punchy, pink peppercorn-infused iteration); the robusto (a traditional blend of London Dry gin, Italian Vermouth and Italian Bitters that's aged for a more robust flavour); and the classico. Alongside those negronii you can find a selection of other tipples to wet your whistle. And the snacks! Mini ham and cheese paninis, prosciutto crudo, burrata and beef carpaccio are just some of the options to help you soak up all that booze – but, failing that, you can sober up with strong, aromatic Italian espresso.

2. Maremma

36 Brixton Water Lane, SW2 1PE

Wines, salumi, cheeses and olive oil are the specialties at Maremma – a Brixton neighbourhood spot that's as ample an option for a full-on dinner date as well as a spot to while away the post-work hours and graze on excellent aperitivi and spuntini. Spritzes, negroni, bitters, and martinis all populate the drinks list while snacks come in the form of springy focaccia, Nocellara olives, green anchovy crostini, artichoke crostini, and a selection of salumi sourced straight from the Maremma region of Italy. Bang any of those together and you've got the makings of a perfect little evening. The Fig Manhattan is an absolute must.

3. Osteria

Barbican Centre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS

Brutalist architecture may not be strictly synonymous with Italian elegance, but head to the top floor of the Barbican for an unexpected treat: Osteria, a refined trattoria with a killer list of seven negronis, from purist-pleasers to rye whiskey twists. Our personal pick of the 'groni group is the Boulevardier – a mixture of bourbon, red vermouth, and campari that delivers just the right amount of bitter punch to get our appetites revving. There's grappe and wine aplenty, too, and a menu stacked with Italian classics. Don't miss out on the seafood linguine.

4. Ritorno

442 King's Road, SW10 0LQ

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For a big ol' dose of Italian glamour, head to Ritorno, the latest addition to the King's Road, where head barman Paolo Viola – formerly of The Ritz – and chef Filippo Salzano have put together a unique cocktail and food pairing experience revolving around a menu of more than 40 small plates. With plush interiors accented by murano glass and silk velvets, this is definitely a destination for the well-heeled to loosen up with a portion of crispy fried calamari.

5. Cecconi's

5A Burlington Gardens, W1S 3EP

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Mayfair ain't a bad place to have a drink and rubbing shoulders with the city's high-rollers isn't a bad way to spend the preliminary part of an evening, especially with the relaxed vibe that you can reap from spending time somewhere like Cecconi's. Sidle up to the swish bar and pair your bicicletta with some Parma ham and Umbrian focaccia for a pre-dinner snack of the Gods. If you're properly looking to celebrate – and fancy pretending you can hang with Paul Allen and co. – you can always dish out the dosh for Cecconi's champagne martini. Konik's Tail vodka, champagne cordial and bitters all get together in that classy kick-start of a drink.

6. Mele e Pere

Brewer Street, W1F 9TF

Mele e Pere boasts a back bar full-to-bursting with bottles of bittersweet, herbacious vermouth, with varieties from niche Italian producers or even blended in-house by vermouthier Ed Scothern. Complemented by a stellar set of gins and other amari, you're likely to be served one of the best negronis you'll ever have the pleasure of drinking at Mele e Pere. The ground floor aperitivo bar is an especially fine place to knock back MeP's homemade vermouth on tap. All that booze can't be served without some serious food, though, so make sure you head here when you're hungry as well as thirsty: choose from small bites like deep-fried olives and calamari; or get stuck into San Daniele with gnocchi fritti or deep-fried lamb meatballs.

7. Cafe Murano

Various locations

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We're firm believers at Foodism that cichetti and cocktails are a food and drink combination made in heaven. Cafe Murano's rendition of both of those hallowed offerings is a religiously good one, making any – and all – of the Italian restaurant's London outlets an ideal destination for an aperitivo hour or two. Sardinian salt cod fritters with parmesan and lemon; Puglian bruschetta with fig and goat's curd; Culatello and gnocco fritto. All of the above are salty and dreamy bitesize plates which get along famously with a Cafe Murano Spritz (Aperol, Cocchi Rosa, Luxardo Maraschino, prosecco and soda). The wine list is stacked with Italian powerhouses so a glass or two of anything off that shouldn't give you any trouble.

8. Lino

90 Bartholomew Close, EC1A 7EB

Lino is one of the best aperitivo bars in London. Why? Barrel-aged negronis and house pork scratchings, that's why. Ordering just the right amount of drinks and snacks is an exact science that can sometimes go horribly wrong. Lino takes a lot of that complicated maths out of the equation by offering a £22 sharing plate that's designed for you and another to sift through over a few dark and dangerous adult drinks. That handsome sharing plate includes hummus, free-range crispy fried chicken with buttermilk mayo, flatbreads, sauerkraut croquettes and cod brandade – all of which are made from scratch in Lino's kitchen. Besides, who can resist a cocktail with a name like Son of a Peach?!

9. Heads + Tails

175 West End Lane, NW6 2LH

Whether you're drinking up high at Heads or downlow at Tails, Heads + Tails is a cocktail bar that does light bites and heavy drinks like nobody else. Cheeky cocktails like 'Sex, Lies & Video Grapes (El Gobernador Pisco, 30&40 Double Jus, Discarded vermouth, Verjus, Prosecco) go surprisingly well with goat cheese bruschetta with fig, honey and thyme while short and stirred concoctions are our drink of choice when it comes to finding a liquid partner for a cheese and charcuterie platter.

10. Augustus Harris

33 Catherine Street, WC2B 5JT

Augustus Harris is a wine bar and coffee shop inspired by the bàcari of Venice. It's open from midday serving a wide selection of cicheti, crostini, spritz and an all-Italian wine list. Reading the food menu here is a bit like reading your favourite bedtime story. Anchovy and butter soldiers, dates stuffed with gorgonzola and wrapped in pancetta, and a salumi board heaving under the weight of prosciutto, sopressata, and finocchiona make up the brunt of the offering. Though, to be honest, it's hard to go wrong with any order at this Covent Garden underdog. Whether you're opting for a glass of wine or a gimlet of something a little higher-ABV, Augustus Harris is a lovely place to be.

11. Ombra

1 Vyner Street, E2 9DG

Ombra is a Hackney canalside bar and restaurant which makes an excellent perch for an early evening aperitivo. A bit like an Englishman abroad who comes back from holiday in Venice with a suitcase full of camp collar shirts and a taste for grappe, British produce is given an Italian attitude at Ombra with a menu where E5 sourdough bread and River Teign oysters mingle alongside baccalà mantecato and 'nduja and gorgonzola arancini. Wines come bollicine, bianco, rosata, rosso and skin-contact; meaning that the blame is definitely on your palate if you can't find at least one bottle you want to dive headfirst in to. If that wine list does seem a bit overwhelming you can always nab a Venetian G&T – an aperol, gin and tonic spritz that you should really start trademarking as your drink of next summer – while you make up your mind.

12. Rosetta

38 William IV Street, WC2N 4DD

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Craving charcuterie in Charing Cross? Rosetta's the one, the absolute one. The cold cuts and cheese used in the panini, piadine, salads and platters at this kitsch little Italian are the result of a closed cycle production where all the animals involved have been fed with maize, fresh grass and bred on open farms. It's even got an Italian aperitivo offer that runs from 5-9pm Monday to Thursday where you can get two drinks, a large mixed of cheeses, meat, taralli, and olives for £25. If you're more of a weekend grazer, a piadina or a panini is just as good snackage.

13. Ducksoup

41 Dean Street, W1D 4PY

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Natural wine might not be the first drink you think of when you're in the mood for a pre-dinner drink but the herbaceous and acidic flavour profiles that populate a lot of those additive-free bottles of plonk actually have a hell of a lot in common with an aperitif. Soho's Ducksoup open various different bottles of natural wine every week and pours by the glass to give you a chance to explore what the world of biodynamic is all about. An old school vinyl record player turning old school tracks adds to the charm of Duck Soup as bar snacks like fried cauliflower and tahini, oysters, and pork collar offer themselves up as stomach lining of the highest order.

14. Supermax

14-18 Handyside Street, N1C 4DN

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Supermax is a fun little cocktail bar that occupies the space under Happy Face pizza in King's Cross. Vermouth-forward cocktails, wines, beers and cicchetti are what you can expect from the aperitivo hour here that runs until 7pm Wednesday to Saturday. If you had a few too many Campari sodas to offset the zucchini and calamari fritti, you can always pull yourself up the stairs for a margherita straightener.

15. Polpo

Various locations

Russell Norman's Polpo has been one of London's best aperitivo bars and a true mainstay ever since it first set up shop in 2009. It's honestly a bit weird if you haven't been to Polpo. Like, why haven't you been? It's great! And the aperitivi options of a Polpo bellini, a glass of prosecco, or your favourite spritz make for the ideal drinks to neck with Norman's tasty cicchetti. Fried bocconcini, lardo with candied walnuts, mushroom and rhyme arancini, crostini on tap – it doesn't matter how much restraint you've got, it's nigh impossible not to order at least a half dozen plates at Polpo as you idly sink a night away.

16. Bright

1 Westgate Street, E8 3RL

No, you won't find a dark and embittered negroni on the menu at this tiny toque hotspot in East London, but you will find an array of punchy wines that make for excellent pre-dinner quaffing. What cements Bright as one of the best aperitivo bars in London, however, is the fact that its snack section – comprised of stomach satisfiers like coppa, grilled bread with ricotta and aubergine, oysters, raw vegetables with parsley and parmesan, and lasagna fritta – goes hard in the paint. A glass of skin contact and two of those deep-fried nuggets of lasagne, served split in twain to show off their beautiful cross section, will be your pre-big night go-to from here on in. If you want to know what an aperitivo bar looks like in London's modern dining scene: it's this.

17. Bernardi's

62 Seymour Street, W1H 5BN

What do you do immediately before settling in for an Italian feast? If the answer is 'have an aperitif', we've got a tip for you: head underneath Marylebone's pan-regional Italian restaurant Bernardi's and you'll find the downstairs cocktail bar, which specialises in vermouth and amaro-based Italian classic cocktails. There'll be something to graze on, too, in the form of a small section of the cicchetti and pizzetti served upstairs. If you can bear the surface (sunlight – shudder) there's a terrace that wraps around the restaurant, too.

18. Enoteca at The Delicatessen

33 King Street, WC2E 8SB

Based on the Italian tradition of aperitivo and based at The Petersham's deli, Enoteca is an aperitivo experience that takes places every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5-9pm. Visit to to enjoy a couple of glasses of Petersham Cellar wine and a selection of Italian charcuterie and cheese accompanied by live music. Other stand-out snacks include a Tuscan chicken liver pâté crostini a generous portion of hummus with seasonal crudités. A lovely wine list that stretches from your classic chianti to a Terre a Mano Sassocarlo orange wine that rolls around your tongue like a 90s raver. If you are hungry for afters, La Goccia and The Petersham occupy the same space and aren't exactly poor places to end a night.