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The Royal Mail Hotel is changing
28.03.2017

Executive chef Robin Wickens has a stronger influence at the Royal Mail Hotel's upcoming restaurant, slated to open later this year.

Adventuring along America's north-west rivers
28.03.2017

The rivers of America's north-west running through Washington state and Oregon form the arteries of epic landscapes and bold discovery routes. Emma Sloley follows in the wake of Lewis and Clark.

The World's Best sommeliers are coming to Australia
28.03.2017

For the first time, the world's top international sommeliers will take part in the World's 50 Best Awards too.

Seven Italian dishes that shaped fine dining in the 2000s
28.03.2017

Italian food in the restaurants of Australia blossomed into maturity in the new millennium, as the work of these trailblazers shows – dazzling and diverse, a successful balance between adaptation and tradition.

Steam ovens: a guide
27.03.2017

Billed as the faster, cleaner way to cook, are these on-trend ovens all they’re cracked up to be? We take a close look at their rising popularity, USP versus the traditional convection cooker and how each type rates in terms of form, function, and above all, flavour in this buyer’s guide.

Our chocolate issue is out now
27.03.2017

Our April issue is out now. In his editor's letter, Pat Nourse walks you through what to expect.

Roast pork with Nelly Robinson
27.03.2017

Nelly Robinson of Sydney's nel. restaurant talks us through his favourite roasting joints, tips for crisp roast potatoes and why, when it comes to pork, slow and steady always wins the race.

Water carafes
24.03.2017

More than mere vessels, these pieces bring a cool breeze of style from the fridge to the table.

Flour and Stone Recipes

Baker extraordinaire Nadine Ingram of Sydney's Flour and Stone cooks up a sweet storm for Easter, including the much loved bakery's greatest hit.

Fast autumn dinners

Autumn weather signals the arrival of soups, broths, roasts and more hearty meals.

Roasted cauliflower salad with yoghurt dressing and almonds

The cauliflower is roasted until it starts to caramelise, which adds extra depth of flavour to this winning salad. Serve it warm or at room temperature.

All Star Yum Cha

What happens the morning after the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards? We treat the chefs to a world-beating yum cha session, as Dani Valent discovers.

New cruises 2017

Cue the Champagne.

1980s recipes

Australia saw some bold moves in the ’80s, and we’re not just talking hairstyles. Greater cultural references started peppering the menus of our restaurants, and home-grown ingredients won a new appreciation. The dining scene was coming of age and a new band of pioneers led the charge.

Melbournes finest meet Worlds Best

Leading chefs descend on Melbourne in April for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. We asked local hospitality folk who they’d abduct for the day and where they’d take them to show off their city. There may be coffee, there may be culture, but in the end it’s cocktails.

Savoury tarts

Will your next baking project be a flaky puff pastry with pumpkin, goat's curd and thyme, or a classic bacon and Stilton tart? As autumn settles in, we're ticking these off one by one.

Aperitivo: bittersweet symphony

John Irving raises a glass to the original aperitivo as we know it, the Italian concoction of herb-charged wine designed to enliven the spirits. Cin cin.

Apéritif means one thing; aperitivo has come to mean another. The first ought to quicken the secretion of gastric juices to induce hunger pangs before a meal. It ought to, but does it?

Not according to Kingsley Amis, who wrote that, "In practice, an apéritif is what a waiter calls a drink you drink before you eat. Theoretically it's supposed to stimulate your appetite, though in my experience all a drink stimulates your appetite for is another drink."

One evening at a café in Turin a colleague declared, "Che grande invenzione, l'aperitivo!" The invention she was referring to wasn't the drink in her glass but the panoply of good things on the table in front of us: roasted peppers topped with anchovies, cubes of cheese, discs of salami, saucers full of mixed pickles, grissini, small squares of focaccia.

In other places, in other cultures, similar titbits, part and parcel of the aperitivo package, would be called mezze or tapas, canapés or amuse-bouches. In Italy they are stuzzichini, or teasers. But nowadays they don't so much tease as feed. Sometimes they're so abundant and filling, they aren't appetisers at all; they're appetite-killers. A word has been invented to describe the new craze: apericena, aperitivo-cum-dinner.

Turin café culture is celebrated in Italy and Turin is the city where the aperitivo ritual first caught on. In the days when it was a preprandial enticement as opposed to a prandium proper, everything revolved around vermouth, another Turin invention, at least in its modern form.

It was in 1786 that Antonio Benedetto Carpano started selling his own bittersweet blend of white wine fortified with an infusion of 30 different herbs and spices in his bottle shop under the porticoes on the city's Piazza Castello. A plaque still commemorates the man and the place.

The word vermouth derives from the High German wermud, meaning wormwood, one of the ingredients, in turn a compound of the ancient veran, to raise, and muth, spirit.

The habit of fortifying wine with herbs goes back a long way and spirit raising, rather than appetite teasing, is the thread that sews the story together. Witness book four of The Odyssey, in which Homer has Helen of Troy cheering up her husband Menelaus, King of Sparta, by adding "a herb that banishes all care, sorrow, and ill humour" to his wine. "Whoever drinks wine thus drugged," wrote the poet, "cannot shed a single tear all the rest of the day."

The early Turin vermouth makers tended to keep their recipes secret. One exception was a certain Rovere, who produced liqueurs and cordials by royal appointment to King Carlo Alberto of Savoy. He left a list of vermouth ingredients among his papers: "Venill Siliz N.2, Hoegipt n. 20; Alcool 1 n° 10 extr. Amar.; Ob bianc. pente N. vj. viy.; Vin. Alb. Generos, pente N. 80." What it all means remains a mystery even for scholars.

In his 1854 Trattato di Cucina, or treatise on cookery, the royal chef Giovanni Vialardi provided a more comprehensible recipe calling for "quassia bark, gentian, quinine, common centaury, wormwood, citron bark, elderflowers, juniper, angelic root, carnation petals, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper". Many Turinese used to make their own vermouth at home but I would defy anyone to glean all those ingredients today.

Following Carpano's example, other Turin companies - Cinzano, Gancia, Martini & Rossi - began producing vermouth commercially and the drink enjoyed huge success straight or as a cocktail ingredient in Italy and worldwide through the 19th century into the 20th. In the meantime, Antonio Benedetto's heirs contrived to make a masterpiece out of a masterpiece when they came up with Punt e Mes, "a point and a half" - a darker, more bitter take on the original concoction. The trademark was registered in 1890 and the drink is still produced today.

Where does its name come from? Like tequila, much of the anecdotal evidence has to be taken with a pinch of salt. The most plausible theory is that, on a day when trading on the Turin stock exchange went up by a point and a half, the Carpano company created the drink to celebrate the news. Whatever, it used to be common in bars to order a glass of Punt e Mes by raising a thumb to indicate "one" and making a sweeping gesture with the right hand to indicate "a half".

In the late 18th century, brothers Carlo Stefano and Giovanni Giacomo Cinzano formed a company which subsequently produced vermouth. Fratelli Gancia & Co was founded in 1850 by Carlo Gancia, a commercial traveller for Turin's Fratelli Dettoni distillery, and his brother Edoardo. Their vermouth soon became the official apéritif for the Savoy royal family, who granted them permission to use the advertising slogan "Bianco Gancia, Vermouth of the Aristocracy and Royalty". By the end of the century, both Cinzano and Gancia were exporting to Latin America to meet the demand of the Piedmontese emigrants there. So was Martini & Rossi, the world's leading producer of vermouth, which began production in the mid-19th century. The company was an offshoot of a distillery in the village of Pessione near Turin, where a bijou museum still relates its history. I paid a visit recently and, on the drive home, memory crowded upon memory.

When I came to Turin as a student in the late 1970s, vermouth was everywhere. Plasticised aprons and tea towels and posters with the classic Martini and Cinzano labels - intricate Art Nouveau collages of coats-of-arms and medals and flags - were popular. Bottles of vermouths red, white, rosé and dry, some with what for me were exotic names - Rosso Antico, Cora Very Americano, Antica Formula, Cocchi, Stock - glistened in the cocktail cabinets of private houses and on shelves behind counters in bars. Through their advertising, the big names conjured up an image of fun, excitement and glamour.

Today the top vermouths come in new-look bottles with redesigned labels, even in mini ready-mixed soda versions, but young people seem to prefer wine, or even beer, at the aperitivo hour. "A bottle of vermouth can last for weeks," says Sergio, my neighbourhood barman, who remembers the old days. But I still treat myself to a glass at his place every Friday evening. The perfect pick-me-up at the end of the working week. Vermouth - che bella invenzione!

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