WIN A Private Tasting Competition – At Carluccio’s New Aperitivo Site, Marylebone

“Prendiamo un aperitivo” is not something you’d usually hear around London. Its English translation – “let’s go get an aperitivo” – doesn’t exactly fall off the tongue either. But Carluccio’s new pre-dinner type cafes are certain to have the taste buds tantalised in no time.

In keeping with Antonio Carluccio’s expertise, the aperitivo is truly Italian in tradition, born from the long hot days of the Mediterranean where people tend to eat later and spend hours ruminating round a table. It works well as an after work refresher – a small liquid relaxant coupled with an energy boosting taster to kick start your evening. And the new Carluccio aperitivo-led café in London’s Marylebone is designed with exactly that in mind.

We caught Wine & Coffee Expert, Mike Stocks – who’s been with the company since its launch back in the ‘90s – at the new Marylebone site just before it’s official opening this weekend. As the host to our private tasting competition we wanted to know a little more about this seemingly charming young fellow. A London resident, his favourite restaurant in the city “if not the world” is Locanda Locatelli London, he’s a “very big fan” of Polpo and likes random drinking sessions at “The Palm Tree at Mile End Park.”

Happy with his taste, we invite you to enter our competition to win four tickets to a private, hosted tasting session on a date of your choosing at the brand spanking new Marylebone site. Just comment on our Hg2 facebook page saying why you’re the perfect candidate! (Competition closes Friday 2nd March, 2012)

Mike Stocks, Carluccios

Mike Stocks, Wine and Coffee Expert, Carluccios

But first, a little more about the whole, new Carluccio aperitivo concept….

What’s the thinking behind these new aperitivo-focussed Carluccio’s restaurants?

Essentially there’s a bit more of a focus on the evening. So now you can come and have a drink first or just have a drink, as you choose. On the continent they tend to eat a little bit later but might, after work, have a little drink and a light bite to eat. It captures a more diverse audience too; people post shopping, post work – those looking for something other than your full sit down meal.

The pre-dinner aperitivo is a very Italian tradition; will that theme be continued throughout the drinks menu?

Yes, it’s predominantly Italian, certainly from the wine side of things. There are a couple of bits and pieces which are more international – some of the spirits and some of the juices and soft drinks.

We’re still in contact with a lot of the producers that we used when we had only one or two restaurants and as they’ve grown we’ve grown with them. Every year we usually take a dozen or so of our managers on trips out there to get some inspiration. We’re just about to introduce a couple of Sardinian wines that we found on a visit last October – Grotta Rossa (the red cave) and a white wine, Pedraia. They come from a fantastic little cooperative.

Carluccio's aperiivo bar, London

Carluccio's Aperitivo Bar

What trends have you seen developing with regards to Italian wine?

There’s far more a trend for indigenous varieties – people are looking beyond, whilst still hugely popular, your Pinot Grigios of this world. They’re keen to try something different – explore things a little more. I think people are also looking for a little less on the premium.

Rose wine is still never ending in popularity. One of our rose’s we actually import exclusively into the UK from Puglia, which is called Silvium, which is made from Montepulciano grapes. It’s from a relatively small producer but something like 70 or 80 % of the rose he produces we import into the UK. It’s a family-run business who are also ecologically minded – they’re almost at the process of having all their vineyards organic and they’re planting forests to offset their emissions; they’re turning the whole winery to be essentially self sufficient with solar panels and the like – very much focussing on the future.

There are several chain restaurants to choose from these days – how do you stand out from the crowd?

Even though we’re up to 50 odd cafes we still think and act as though we’re still only the one. There are a lot of people from back when I started that I still work with now. We have kitchen porters who are now head chefs who again have grown with us as the business has grown. So it hasn’t got that great corporate feel to it, which I guess comes from having that personal touch still.

I think it’s important to stay true to our Italian style, not only from Antonio’s influence but including the products we use. Antonio is also still very much the taste buds of the company. But we want the dishes and the drinks to really retain that, you know, rather than slip down the same route that everyone else does. So we’re constantly evolving things.

And one aspect of that is about not being afraid to innovate and try new things, like here with the aperitivo bar. There are a couple of other places where we’ve refurbished and introduced it. But this is the first time we’ve opened a new site straight off with it.

You might also like:

P Is For Polpo – On The Record: While owner Russell Norman doesn’t particularly like the tag, Polpo is London’s ‘it’ restaurant….

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