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Drinking around Italy at The Baglioni.
You’d expect an Italian-owned hotel to do good Italian food, wouldn’t you?
And the opulently-decorated 5 star Baglioni is quite proud of its Moreno restaurant, recently taken over by Michelin-starred chef Moreno Cedroni which we’ve had a sneak preview of to be published shortly.
So when I visited the hotel recently on my way to a show at the nearby Royal Albert Hall (The Baglioni is the closest luxury hotel within walking distance), I was expecting a bit of a culinary treat. What I hadn’t expected was an equally inspiring showcase of my favourite Italian drinks…
Regular readers will already have an inkling of this after my colleague’s recent cocktail tasting at the same hotel. But being more of a classical wine, beer and spirits kind of gal I was immediately drawn to the wine list.
For instance there are fine wines (and champagnes if you want them and Italian sparkling wine too) on the bar list, but my eye was caught by a little section over the page – a collection of 5 different grappas and 12 digestivi.
I tried three of them – Averna, Montenegro, and Mirto – and boy was it a fun tour! Let’s start with northern Italy and Montenegro from Bologna.
They’ve been making it since 1885; it’s a mix of 40 different herbs and 23% alcohol by volume. I was surprised to find a fruity rather than herbal taste, with delicate hints of peach and candy and a little vanilla (it also reminded me a bit of the ‘milk bottle’ sweeties I used to get from the sweet shop in Gooseberry Garden Walk when I was very little…).
The taste is so delicate that the flavour seems almost to evaporate in your mouth; it’s the taste equivalent of hearing a violin play the upper harmonics, almost inaudible but not quite. And there’s none of the stickiness you expect from this style of liqueur. Instead, the finish is lightly citrusy – perhaps orange rather than lemon being the keynote.
Head south to Sicily and Averna is even more robust. It’s nearly 20 years older (invented in 1868) and is made with herbs, roots, citrus rinds and caramel. Dark reddish brown, it has a slightly mentholated aroma and is thick in the mouth, coating your tongue with sticky syrupiness. Very sweet, it has just enough herbal bitterness to cut through the sugar and bring the flavours to life – some licorice, spice, orange peel and even chocolate.
Next I flew west to Italy’s other big island and tried Mirto di Sardegna, a much stronger drink at over 50 percent alcohol. It’s made with myrtle berries – the myrtle grows wild on Sardinia – and to my mind it was even better than the other two drinks, with a rich and complex fruity taste and almost no residual sweetness. Purplish brown in the glass, it tastes of honey and bitter fruit and has a very Mediterranean dry character to its bouquet, like the scent of a pine forest or the garrigue. Wonderful.
Of course there’s also limoncello, from the coast near Sorrento and Amalfi; a pale whitish yellow like barley water on steroids, made with lemons picked fresh from the groves which tumble down the cliffsides. With another half a dozen of these typical Italian specialities on the drinks menu, my only question is “why would anyone drink Jagermeister instead?”
The Italian touch continues with the ‘spritz’; not spritzer as we know it, but mixing Aperol (a Campari-like aperitif), prosecco, soda and orange juice. It looks like Lucozade, but it tastes a whole lot better, with a mild edge to the flavour like angostura bitters. I’m informed that it’s traditionally drunk with an olive in it in Venice, but here the olives came on the side – great big olives in a remarkably vivid green, not at all the rather drab green you usually see. Extra Italian style, even in the smallest things!
Not all the Italian style at The Baglioni is traditional, like the two-hundred-year-old liqueurs. I particularly liked the fresh fruit cocktails made with pulped raspberry and strawberry, just right for an early autumn evening, though most of the standard cocktails are also on the menu.
And of course along with your chance to drink your way around Italy comes the amazing décor of the Baglioni’s restaurant; glowing yellows and wonderfully patinated gold, dramatic black Murano glass chandeliers, armchairs upholstered with velvet floral patterns or bold checks and stripes. Readers of my earlier design tour will know what I mean.
I can’t think of many better ways to occupy that couple of hours of early evening light before heading out to a concert…highly recommended!
Disclosure: Andrea was a guest of The Baglioni.
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