Negroni nirvana at Bittersweet in Leith.
Updated: Jul 2, 2022
“I want you to speak to Fabrizio, so I have booked a seat at the bar, you’ll love it!”
My friend Kerry has reserved Bittersweet for a girls’ Aperitivo. She knows how much Eleonore loves chatting to her fellow ex-pats and how both of us love our Negronis. So this new corner spot bar below the red sandstone tenement flats in Henderson Street, Leith, is swiftly dubbed: ‘Negroni Nirvana’.
A wet Wednesday night sees us lined up on barstools with beak-open eagerness for education about our favourite thing: food and drink.
Fabrizio Cioffi is the perfect barman. He tells us stories of how he arrived in London circa 15 years ago from Naples with his younger brother Simone. They worked their way up in hospitality (Simone is the chef in Bittersweet), started the Old Poison Distillery at the Old Biscuit Factory in Leith and opened this bar to curate their artisan spirits, mixology and the Italian cultural practice of ‘Aperitivo’.
The back bar is lined with bottles from the distillery: Selkie London Dry Gin, Hina Rum, and bottles of pre-made, ready-to-drink Negronis. The drink has history.
If Negroni’s granddad is the Mi-To, with its mix of equal parts Campari and Sweet Vermouth, its dad is the Americano which adds soda. And when the eponymous Count Campari asked for some gin, instead of soda, to strengthen his Americano, the Negroni was born in 1919.
As we order drinks Fabrizio explains how Campari and Negroni have become almost synonymous; the crimson drink is so associated with the cocktail. Essentially, however, explains Fabrizio, a Negroni is a build of bitters and sweetness. So in their punk/DIY fashion Old Poison make their own vermouths, bitters and ‘liquid garnishes’ with organic ingredients such as citrus fruits from Italy. Jars of preserved Amalfi lemons line shelves above the heads of patrons sitting in the soft glow of this cosy cocktail bar.
I sip the house Negroni 'Old Poison' comprising Selkie Gin, Edinburgh Vermouth Rosso, Edinburgh Bitter Aperitivo.
Food too is aperitivo style but don’t be deceived, what constitutes snacks for Italians can be full-blown meals for modern Scots. Kerry and Eleonore both indulge in stick-to-your-ribs Gnocchi. Italian comfort food where homemade pasta bathes in scarlet tomato sugo and creamy mozzarella. Simone's menu also includes dishes such as pizza, lasagne, parmigiana, arancini and polenta. Italian comfort food. I have Bresaola Carpaccio, ruby slices of beef fillet cured in salt and spices, air-dried and drizzled with lemon and olive oil. Kerry shares some and we have wide grins as we enjoy the juicy meat.
Don’t worry if Negronis aren’t your thing. Other cocktails,wines and beers are available at this bellissimo bar. The Coconut and Chilli Margarita is calling me.