Credit: Courtesy of The Dolphin

Anyone who has travelled throughout Italy will tell you all too readily of the wonders of ‘aperitivo’: that magic hour between drinks and dinner where, as if by magic, bars across the country will become festooned in small plates of food executed to varying degrees of sophistication.

Aperitivo is one of those quintessential Italian traditions that has long been missing from bars across Australia during ‘happy hours’, where all too often the focus falls far from the food on offer. It would seem inevitable then that someone would soon catch on. Chef Monty Koludrovic of The Dolphin (amongst other venues) is one such early adopter, and his version of Aperitivo Hour takes a great deal of its cues from one of the concept’s fundamental tenets: time spent with friends.

“We just wanted to hang with our mates and good people,” the chef tells GRAZIA. “It’s about offering up great and varied experiences.” In Koludrovic’s updated version of the timeless tradition, some of the city’s most notable drinking and dining figures have been invited to contribute to regular residencies over the coming months. “There’s no rules and not everyone on the program is going be a chef. We have writers, winemakers, bar peeps and the like all coming in to mix up some treats. A few to watch out for, for sure! Then, as we move forward we will have a round two line up and some regular spots get filled in.”

Those contributors include chefs from Momofuku Seibo, Acme, Good Luck Pinbone and Hubert, alongside the viticultural experts from DRNKS, Rootstock and Andrew Guard Wines. It’s something Koludrovic says he considers to be the quintessential ingredient in any aperitivo hour, besides good wine and food – an example of which is featured below.

“The other ingredient is people. We’ve got some on hand which are pretty good, or you can bring some of your own or try your luck with some randoms.”

Naturally, the wine selection is nothing to scoff at. As always, James Hird has equipped the bar with some of the country (and Italy’s) best producers, with a focus on food friendly pairings with natural acidity and without unwanted additions.

“We pour one producer at a time so people can get a sense of the place and the people behind the wines,” says Hird. “It’s amazing to bring a happy hour to a pub with a strong wine focus. We currently have three of Tom Shobbrook’s wines for Aperitivo, including an early look at 2017 Poolside from 20 litre drum which has just finished fermentation. Delicious!”

For the uninitiated, Hird advises opting for something new, be it a spritz, wine, beer or mixed drink. But if you’re still unsure, you’d be hard pressed to beat Hird’s pick of the moment: a Peron Cotillon des Dames 2014 from Savoie, France.  “It’s an incredible wine at 9.5%, it’s almost struggling to be wine. Acidity drives an amazing spiced orange palate and textural. It’s made from Jacquere in an extremely cool grown region that’s been allowed to spend some time on skins. Peron is a producer each year that I really look forward to tasting as his new releases drop; it is stunning. It’s the kind of acidity you can only get from a cool growing region, and in this case, the French Alps. It’s one of the planets’ great food wine.”

Memorise that and you’ll be molto bene, whatever the hour.

Anchovy on toast
“Anchovy on toast is at the heart of what aperitivo is. Salty, crunchy, fresh, sour… I definitely didn’t create it at its barest form but this version was put together originally with what was at hand in the kitchen: our pickled radish and fragrant yuzu koshu aioli with anchovies and rye toast. Aperitivo is simple, cheap, quick and delicious. It’s such a fun realm to cook in.”

1 Small Rye Sourdough Loaf, cut into 8cm x 1cm thick slices, approximately 6cm square
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and pepper to taste
8 top quality anchovy fillets, cut in half
½ daikon radish
550ml hot tap water
300ml rice wine vinegar
38g salt flakes
200g sugar
½ tsp yuzu koshu condiment
½ meyer lemon
2 Tbsp White wine vinegar
4 Tbsp Mayonaise
4 Caper berries, cut in half

Combine yuzu koshu and mayonnaise, mix well and season to taste. Cut your radish into thin ‘blankets’ using a mandolin slicer. Combine the hot water, vinegar, salt and sugar. Mix well to dissolve. Allow to cool and then pour over the radish. This can be stored in the fridge. Place your bread into a sandwich press and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook until golden and crisp around the edges. Cover with 2 Anchovy pieces per piece of toast. Dollop with small amounts of the yuzu mayonnaise. Top with a strip of pickled daikon and a half caperberry. Serves four as an entrée.

Credit: Courtesy of The Dolphin

Tile and cover image: Courtesy of The Dolphin