As GB News have started trending again — them, have a queasy take on an alleged sex offender? Who’da thunk? — yesterday I was scrabbling to recall if they’d ever done a single decent thing. They have. It was in July, when greying, anthropomorphised Lego man Mark Dolan spat at the “Negroni-swilling, establishment media elite”. And I thought: Great! Negronis are cool again!
The Negroni had long been fading. The problem is not the drink, it’s the bars: there has been too much f*****y. Negronis are not infinitely adjustable, or especially personal. They are not a martini. The original, masterful instructions of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari should be left well alone, just as the Mona Lisa doesn’t need a moustache (though I could get behind — behave — Michelangelo’s David with a Prince Albert).
Hands up, I’ve not always been a purist here: 40 Dean Street has my mezcal-spiked version on the menu (this delights me, obviously, and the drink works). But part of me now agrees with the trollied Italian bartender who once stabbed a menu and seethed: “The law, not a recipe!” And while a swapped ingredient is one thing, anyone who messes with the proportions? Sure, sling ’em in jail. Why not?
Owing to the basic maths of the drink, the skill required for a good one is minimal, and so paying through the nose for them galls. Russell Norman, who a decade ago chaperoned the drink into town with Polpo and now has them as his marketing ploy-in-chief at Brutto, understands this. At his place, they’re a fiver, every time.
Brutto, the red-chequered trattoria around the corner from Smithfield, says of itself: “Noisy. Not fancy. Don’t expect too much”. I’d say that’s about right: it’s a simple Italian spot that’s all atmosphere, does decent but not knockout food, and serves a perfectly good Negroni for little money. What’s not to like? No surprise, then, that Norman has just extended the opening hours by another day, meaning that any trying Monday at work can have a Campari-soaked stiffener at the end of it for less than the price of a pint. Full marks.
This all comes not because GB News are wrong’uns, but because we’re at the mid-point of the astonishingly over-PR’d Negroni Week. Let me help. Find the cheapest you can, and have that (if it helps, until September 24, Padella in Shoreditch has them for £2 with a plate of pasta).
But if you’re determined to go high-end, Ago Perrone at the Connaught has one riff I’ll accept, the usual recipe “with a float of mezcal, and a spray of orange leaves essential oil instead of the classic orange wedge garnish”. Otherwise, head to Theo Randall at the InterContinental, where £18 buys the opportunity to fiddle to your heart’s content — swap every part of it, if you fancy. If you beat the original recipe, get in touch. You can have a Negroni on me. At Brutto, that is.
Negronis £5, 35-37 Greenhill Rents, EC1M; brutto.co.uk