Bittersweet, Leith

A slice of Italian aperitivo culture arrives in Leith with Bittersweet, the new bar from the team behind the Old Poison distillery

Feature by Peter Simpson | 10 May 2022
  • Bittersweet

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and everyone loves a hearty dinner, but when it comes to mealtimes, aperitivo is the unsung hero. You’re at a friend’s house for dinner, and while they’re preparing everything, you’re chit-chatting with a drink and eating quite a lot of snacks – that, in essence, is aperitivo. Meet up with pals after work, grab a spritz or a glass of wine, and have a selection of nibbles before your actual dinner. An Italian tradition, a great thing, lovely stuff.

Bittersweet, the new cocktail bar from Leith-based distiller and mixologist Fabrizio Cioffi, offers a glimpse of that way of eating. Among the exposed brick and copper accents in the corner bar just off Junction Street you’ll find small dishes, light bites, and an enormous list of cocktails, beers, spirits, Italian wines and aperitifs.

Cioffi’s distillery Old Poison is based across Leith at the Biscuit Factory, and the drinks menu reads like it was put together by someone who has their own distillery on hand. Bittersweet’s House Spritz (£5) is made with the distillery’s own aperitivo liqueur, sweet and refreshing with a blood orange twang, and the Bellini (£6) is the kind of sharp and fruity sipper that would go down a treat on a summer day in the Bologna sunshine. The Coconut and Chilli Margarita (£8) hits ludicrously hard, with a real spice and a lip-puckering amount of citrus, in a short glass with a thick rim of salt, chilli and desiccated coconut. Our only note would be that the design of this drink may leave you licking the entire perimeter of your glass like some kind of boozy horse; that’s not a problem per se, just something to bear in mind.

The food comes in small but well-formed portions, so take a tip from us and grab a seat at the bar. When you finish your Twisted Arancini (£7) stuffed with mushrooms and blue cheese and served with a deliriously funky dipping sauce, being able to see through to the kitchen and work out what’s up next before immediately flagging down one of the bar staff is ideal.

The arancini are fantastic, as is the calamari (£6.50) which also comes with an impressively punchy dip (spicy rather than cheesy, still cuts right through). The parmigiana (£5.50) is a dinky little pile of cheese, sugo and aubergine, the potato crocchè (£6.50) are chunky wee lads full of starchy goodness, while the proportions of the cheese board (£7) are... a bit odd. A considerable volume of four tasty cheeses paired with two quite small bits of focaccia feels strange, but the cheeses are great so this is really just nitpicking.

Scotland’s pub culture is fantastic – the wood panels, the cask pints, the low-key-incredibly-valuable whisky collections, the pies! – but sometimes it’s nice to take a little vacation to another place for a post-work drink or two. That’s what Bittersweet offers, the chance to trade your pint for a spritz, and that bag of crisps for some olives and a collection of lovely fried things. And what better way to roll up to your next night out than with the swagger of someone who’s already had some tasty nibbles and an extremely effervescent drink or two? Trust us, you won’t regret it…

24 Henderson St, Leith, EH6 6BS
Tue-Thu 10am-11pm;
Fri-Sat 10am-midnight;
Sun 10am-10pm