David Ellis, On the Sauce at Negroni’s: What’s in a name? Well, not what I thought
Expecting a bar with a knack for nailing Italian classics? Guess again, says David Ellis
hat’s in a name? I’ve been pondering the question since the weekend, after being thwarted by Oxford restaurant No. 1 Ship Street, which had no room for walk-ins, the weasels. Consequently running short on time, my mother suggested we grab our pre-theatre bite at a burger joint she sort-of half-remembered might be near the Playhouse. “That chain,” she said, “Whatsitcalled. Brian’s?”
Now fair’s fair, my mum has somehow navigated life without ever going to a Byron before, but that didn’t stop me cruelly laughing my way through lunch. Sweet, I suppose. Still, her defence stands: what’s a poet got to do with patties?
More on the nose, I thought, would be Negroni’s — the rogue inverted comma theirs, not mine — which opened up on Frith Street sometime last year next door to Garlic & Shots, surely Soho’s maddest hanger-on from the old days.
If you’ve not been to G&S, and aren’t a vampire, change your plans. It is gleefully insane. Christ knows what condition the founders were in when they dreamt the concept up — the name is utterly literal — or what cocktail of uppers and downers was being knocked back when the menu was pieced together: offerings include garlic beer, garlic coffee, a garlic Martini, and apple pie with candied garlic cloves. Not the best for dates, then, but it has its own crowd, the weirdos. I’m in from time to time.
Anyway — Negroni’s. Columbo and co might have an inkling of what I was expecting. But apparently not; this is not a bar serving negronis. Well, not entirely. According to the website, with its Kerouac-meets-crack-addict copy, it somewhere where “chaos, in its most delicious and suggestive version, is the protagonist.” Right-o. I wouldn’t normally associate playing Lionel Richie’s Hello three times in 90 minutes with chaos, but everyone’s different. Negroni’s is also “the imperfect mix of yelling, loving, eating and drinking”. Any idea of what they’re on about? And what kind of place puts “yelling” as among their top four critical ingredients for success?
Had I looked up Negroni’s before I went in — instead of just wandering in off the street like a loon — I would have known it wouldn’t meet my expectations. The online free verse does warn that “of course, nothing will go as the script says”. Take the usual recipe for a negroni: gin, Campari and red vermouth stirred up in equal parts. They laugh in the face of such proportions. After politely asking our waitress if they had definitely, definitely served me the right thing (a hint, you might have thought, that all was not well), I realised what was wrong. Mine came without Campari. But of course it did — that’s exactly the kind of ingredient your average punter would expect in there, the squares.
It wasn’t all quite so squiffy. There was an Americano that was spot on and made the proper way, the AWOL Campari back on duty and splashed together with red vermouth and entirely delicious. An amaretto sidecar put the liqueur in with apple and lemon juices and, sweet as Haribo, it went down in about two gulps; have a more than a couple and I’d bet on the sugar shakes coming on, but I can’t say it wasn’t good.
In the end, this is really a restaurant and not a bar. What’s in a name? The power to dupe, I suppose, or at least to dupe those amenable to it. I expected Negroni’s to be a den of Italian cocktails because, well, at least in part I wanted it to be. That’s my fault. Have the frittatina, or the parmigiana, make sure they don’t skimp on the Campari and you’ll muddle through; we did. Not the roaring start to the year I was hoping for but then, well, there’s always Garlic & Shots.
Negroni’s, 15 Frith St, W1D. Drinks around £9; negronis.co.uk