The Art Of Aperitivo
Nestled in those magical late afternoon hours before day becomes night sits Aperitivo: part refreshment, part ritual without rules, always a social occasion. Steeped in Italian tradition, it is an art held dear – sacred almost – for Sicilian-blooded Chef Danny Natoli.
Along with Adrian Li, Natoli is part of the creative duo behind the food and drink at Next Hotel Melbourne, the new build boutique 5-star hotel located in the dynamic 80 Collins precinct, where cool comfort replaces formality.
Their restaurant housed within the new luxury hotel, La Madonna, is turning on its head the typical hotel restaurant and bar with an offer that skews Italian while doing so much more. Umami-rich Italian and Chinese flavours seamlessly merge across spontaneous ever-changing menus that celebrate seasons best produce and their distinctly separate culinary heritage.
And in the spirit of twisting the traditional, Natoli is bringing to life his take on Aperitivo to the hotel’s hospitality. The result is a delightful homage to the end of day ritual offered in the different spaces of Next Hotel Melbourne, enticing guests to discover something new. No surprise then that Aperitivo at Next Hotel Melbourne
What is an Italian Aperitivo?
With humble origins, today Aperitivo goes well beyond simply enjoying a glass of something delicious that whets the appetite. In truth, the tradition of Aperitivo in Italy is so much more; Aperitivo is all about embracing La Dolce Vita in that golden hour before night.
“Aperitivo has always been just a natural coming together at the end of the day with your family, your neighbours, your friends. For me it’s a little bite, a little drink of something, a little chat and a chance to work out the next thing for the evening… “ Danny Natoli.
Aperitivo is a daily, informal celebration of life with good people, good drinks and good food at that perfect time of day. It signals the close of the working day, and that the evening meal is close, but not yet begun. Friends and family gather informally for the pure enjoyment of celebrating life and good company. The idea is not to fill up before dinner, but who knows? There are no rules here, this is the good life.
Aperitivo seems to have originated in Northern Italy with the invention of vermouth, becoming popular in the cities such as Milan, Bologna and Venice and Verona, it is now pervasive throughout Italy, and taking across Europe and beyond.
What is served at Aperitivo?
Typically, Italian Aperitivo cocktails are light on alcohol, can be alcohol-free, and tend to be dry or bitter on taste, rather than sweet. They stimulate the appetite, teaming well with delicious salty cured meats, milky cheeses, sharp pickles and finger foods that are nibbled between the chatter.
Classic Aperitif drinks include:
- Aperol Spritz
Aperitivo snacks vary by region and while there aren’t any rules, in Italy you would typically find the staples:
- olives and cured meats
- anchovies and sardines
- pickled vegetables
- nuts and grissini
- fresh or grilled seafood
- warm finger food and pizza slices
Apertivo can be enjoyed anywhere: at home or in a bar, in a park or by the sea, so long as you are relaxing, in good company, with food and drinks that are delicious. No surprise that the tradition is taking root here in Melbourne, where good food and wine is embedded in Melbourne DNA.
“One of the things that I love about Melbourne is that good food, good wine and good times is buried deep within its soul.
I do think during the lockdowns of 2020 we all became much more appreciative of that, of what we have around us, and are more willing to stop and to toast how good we have it here. I think this is why the idea of Aperitivo is becoming popular in Melbourne. I’m really enjoying giving it our distinctively Next Hotel Melbourne edge.” Danny Natoli
Aperitivo at Next Hotel Melbourne
The discreet Little Collins Street entrance, sophisticated spaces and an exclusive Club offering all set the scene for a stylish Aperitivo hour in Melbourne city. Located right in the heart of the CBD and walking distance to Flinders street, the city centre, Melbourne Cricket Ground and other major attractions, we’re also is the first hotel in Australia to introduce in house barrel ageing of it’s own cocktails, spirits and liqueurs, under the watchful eye of Spirits Master Phil Smithers.
Aperitivo at The Club
The purest expression of Aperitivo at Next Hotel Melbourne is found in “The Club”- our sophisticated sanctuary reserved for Hotel Club Guests to recharge, connect and immerse in the Next style of hospitality.
Club guests can find a spot within the loft-inspired surrounds for solo contemplation or gather with their companion and fellow guests – as day becomes night, wind down with Aperitivo hosted every evening between 5-7pm.
Here Aperitivo blends the tradition with the distinct service and culinary offerings of the hotel and signature restaurant and bar La Madonna. Expect a changing cocktail on offer, including some barrel-aged, along with hand-picked wines by the glass from La Madonna’s carefully curated wine list. There are also non-alcoholic options as well. Snacks are just so, with Natoli clearly revelling in the opportunity.
Charcuterie, artisan cheeses, olives and freshly shucked Oysters are on hand, and a changing offer of warm snacks including grilled seafood, arancini and other small bites complete the generous gesture.
Select your favourites to add to a small plate, pour a glass and press pause on the day.
Aperitivo in The Club is the perfect way to toast gratitude for the good life, before heading onwards to your Next adventure either within the Hotel or in the city outside it.
Aperitivo with La Madonna Restaurant and Bar
Visitors and guests can also time a visit to La Madonna Restaurant and Bar on the third floor, the dimly-lit, sprawling dining and drinking enclave for that Aperitivo time of day. Perch up at the bar, sink into a comfortable lounge at your leisure or take in a glimpse of The Barrel Room.
Welcoming and chatty staff will guide you through the best dry or spritz style drink on their barrel-aged cocktail list to unwind from the working day. Settle into a Negroni matured in former Australian sherry barrels for 12 weeks. Or an aged Old Fashioned made with Rebel Yell bourbon, Calvados, raw sugar and aromatic bitters, matured in ex-pinot barrels for six weeks. Then there is the popular Martini a La Madonna, a good gin and some aromatised verjus aged for two weeks in chardonnay barrels, then stirred (not shaken), and served with a caperberry. Discover the snack menu for small bites to get your taste buds transitioning from day to night with Togarashi Smoked Walnuts, Marinated Toolunka Creek & Sicilian green olives and the taste sensation Salt & Vinegar Zucchini Fritto the top Aperitivo picks.
While cocktails and spirits are a focal point of La Madonna, the wine menu created by Restaurant Manager Dom Getson (Dandelion, Flinders Hotel, Saigon Sally and Neptune Food & Wine) also shares a similar focus on discovery with a mix of small scale local producers and sustainable winemakers both foreign and domestic.
Natoli has had his hand here as well, evident in the Southern Italian varietals, like as Sagratino or nero d’Avola over omnipresent Pinot Noir.
There are thoughtful no-alcohol options too, such as the Amalfi Mist that combines bergamot, lemon, Champagne vinegar and eucalyptus – all perfect Aperitivo selections if wine strikes more of a chord at the end of the day.