A recent trip to Rome introduced me to the Italian tradition of aperitivo. It's a ritual of post-work and pre-dinner drinking and nibbling. You pick your tipple – perhaps a prosecco, a limoncello or an Aperol spritz – and nibble on a selection of meats, cheeses, bread and so on. Whether you use this to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner or end up overindulging and skipping dinner altogether is up to you (I am personally guilty of both).
This culture is now spreading to Britain, and here in Yorkshire it is being pioneered by Veeno, who have bars in Leeds and York as well as a North West branch in Manchester. The family business serves fine wines from Caruso and Minini, their family vineyard in Sicily, meaning the same family takes care of everything from the planting to the moment the glass arrives at your table. You can also enjoy cocktails, authentic Italian liqueurs or anything else you fancy, and it's all accompanied by 'spuntini' (that's the food bit).
It seems to me that York is the perfect location for such a venue. The city has a constant influx of tourists who get kicked out of the museums at 5pm but haven't got a table booked in a restaurant until late at night. And, like any city, York is full of working people who could do with a drink when they clock off. But Veeno is relaxed and civilised, friendly and welcoming, and the drinks are miles better than sinking a weak half in a city pub.
I asked our charming waitress for a wine recommendation – they know best, after all – and I was very pleased with her choice, a dry Grillo with a delicate bouquet. My friend opted for the house special cocktail, which is an Aperol Spritz, served with a dash of Prosecco. It was all going well, so we decided to rely on Veeno's recommendations for the food too.
We started with the speck, a juniper and pepper smoked ham which was salty and indulgent. We also went for some scamorza affumicata, a smoked and stretched curd cheese which was served with strawberry jam. Why has this combination never occurred to me before? The sweetness of the jam accentuated the deep smokiness of the cheese perfectly.
By now we were feeling quite relaxed, and also like part of the family – our hosts were friendly and attentive without being overbearing. More wine was poured. Next we tried the mozzarella di buffalo – you know the score here. Wonderfully fresh-tasting, milky soft cheese. This made a sufficiently light accompaniment for the lardo con pane – yes, that is exactly what it sounds like. Pork fat with bread. Still, if we were in the pub we might be on the pork scratchings by now, so where's the harm?
We finished with some acciughe – that's anchovies to me and you. Strong, salty anchovies on crisp, oily bread. They were the most anchovy of anchovies. If you don't like anchovies, I wouldn't recommend these anchovies. Fortunately, I love anchovies.
I'm well suited to Veeno. I am a snacker; | love to graze. Ask me if I'm hungry, and the answer is probably yes (any time of day or night). But I think anybody could enjoy Veeno. It's a stylish spot to have a quick drink, but if you want to really go for it, you can have a panini or salad and even finish with a pudding (we like the look of the piadina dolce – flatbread with Nutella and sweet cream). They also have reasonably priced lunch deals, wine tasting sessions and evening buffets.
Best of all, it's relaxed, informal, and incredibly friendly. If you're looking for a boozy lunch with a difference, killing time after work, or just want to indulge further during a shopping spree, Veeno is a welcome taste of Italy. Go on; dinner is hours away…
7 Piccadilly, York
7 Duncan Street, Leeds