Italians often come into Bar Termini, on the eastern fringes of London’s Soho, and say that it reminds them of home. It’s a compliment, of course, but sometimes the owners – Tony Conigliaro and Marco Arrigo – have to bite their tongues. “I feel like saying, ‘Where in Italy? Show me!’” laughs Arrigo. “Termini is more Italian than an Italian could come up with. We’re the only place in the world doing it this way.”
It’s true: OFM’s Best Place to Drink for 2016 might look and feel like that timeless Italian bar you remember from your Roman holiday, but everything about the experience is considered and perfected. When you squeeze into the tiny room with just 25 seats, a white-suited bar person will offer you a menu. There are three coffees (espresso, bianco and latte) and a pair of hot chocolates; no skimmed milk, no takeaways, no decaf. On a short cocktail list, it’s hard to look beyond the four house negronis. Arrigo, who oversees the coffee side, and Conigliaro, the cocktail alchemist, admit that Bar Termini is “anti-choice”.
“It’s about our nostalgic, exaggerated memories of Italy that only second-generation Italians have,” explains Conigliaro. “It wasn’t necessarily that we wanted a 100% accurate version of Italy, but we wanted people to look around and feel they had been transported somewhere.” Arrigo adds, “It’s nice that we can please the Italians, because they are the hardest buggers to please.”
At a time when coffee shops and cocktail bars are depressingly identikit, Bar Termini, an all-day operation that opened in late 2014, stands out. There’s no latte art; instead the milk – a blend of full-fat and UHT, to give it that particular flavour of Italy – arrives in your cup like an avalanche dump, so dense you can almost chew it. Arrigo, whose other job is head of quality for Illy, describes the coffee machine as “the Frankenstein”: it’s a Faema body with sawn-off La Marzocco handles that produces a soft, strong, triple-shot espresso through long extraction.
The cocktails arrive daily pre-made from Conigliaro’s Drink Factory, a lab in east London that also supplies 69 Colebrooke Row and the Zetter group of hotels and restaurants. “It looks like a blood bank: 40 litres of negroni in sous-vide bags,” he says. Conigliaro serves the negronis “up”, without ice, because he finds that ice dilutes the drink, makes it more bitter and “they just generally get soggy”.
“Someone turned round and said, ‘Tony, you’ve actually iPhone 6’d the negroni,’” Conigliaro recalls. “I didn’t quite understand but he went on, ‘When you look at the iPhone 6 next to the iPhone 5, you don’t want the iPhone 5 any more, because it makes it look obsolete, a bit dated.’”
Conigliaro and Arrigo’s dream is to open in Italy: “The more we say it the more it might happen,” says Arrigo. But until then, they will continue bringing a hyper-real slice of the country to Old Compton Street. “My favourite thing about Termini is the £1 espresso we serve at the bar,” says Conigliaro. “Locals come in and they drop that pound on the counter. They are not buying a coffee, they are buying a culture.”
7 Old Compton St, London W1D 5JE
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