If I could sum up the way I've seen much of London's cocktail scene going in the last year or so in two words, it would be these: bitter and twisted.
No, I'm not talking about bartenders with a chip on their shoulders. I'm referring, of course, to London's embrace of the aperitivo, a relentless race to the bitter side of the taste scale, taking negronis and spritzes, vermouths and amari along for the ride.
In bitter cocktails – known in Italy as aperitivi, and usually consumed in the couple of hours between work finishing and a dinner reservation – the capital has found a drinks tradition informed by sociability and informality.
It's less cramming into a dusty, dark speakeasy for punchy whiskey cocktails and more stretching out underneath a spacious marble table, supping on (OK, sometimes equally punchy) bitter cocktails.
The 'twisted' part? Well, of course, Italian-inspired bars aren't just serving the classics – they're playing with the formula, too.
The Dog House, the downstairs bar at Italian restaurant Bernardi's, is a great example. It looks and feels Italian – the aforementioned marble tables, vintage Cinzano and Campari adverts on the walls, and a drinks list of experimental aperitivi designed to get the stomach growling.
I'd advise doing what I did: grab some Parmigiano-Reggiano and balsamic glaze, a bowl of nocellara olives and maybe a couple of arancini to go with a Royal Negroni, a sbagliato twist with Dubonnet, Amer Picon, Citadelle gin and rosé prosecco. Or seek out cocktails made with ingredients you don't recognise: Amaro del Capo, for instance, an Italian craft aperitif; Gin a la Madame, a bathtub gin made by Rome bar The Jerry Thomas Project; or Amaro London, made to an age-old Italian recipe by an Italian in Bethnal Green. And as well as playing with the aperitivi, The Dog House team are looking into blending their own vermouths and gin, too. Bitter and twisted, indeed.
62 Seymour Street, W1H 5BN; bernardis.co.uk