The first time we were invited to someone’s house for an ‘apéro’, as it is often called, we knew that there were certain rules to observe. We asked a Dutch friend, whose husband is French, to help us out. What time should we arrive? Should we take anything and when should we leave? She didn’t know either, so she promised to check with her husband. There are three possibilities with this type of invitation. Firstly, the apéritifs of alcohol and nibbles will precede a meal to which you are also invited. Another possibility is the classic ‘apéro’ invitation. Once, we were invited to pre-dinner drinks to meet the dinner guests. When our host’s husband went into the kitchen and started cooking, we knew this was the signal for us to leave. Our hosts and their friends ate together as soon as we had gone. The third permutation is often called ‘apéritif dinatoire’.Drinks are served with nibbles that are more substantial than peanuts and crisps. There might be tiny individually wrapped cheese cubes, cherry tomatoes, mini pizzas, miniature slices of pork pie or stuffed fresh chicory leaves. Your host might have made a variety of ‘verrines’, which are served in tiny glasses and could have several colourful layers. For example, these could be finely diced fish under a vegetable purée topped with a creamy cheese layer. One of the dishes of a modern apéro-dinatoire’ is a ‘cake apéritif’ –  a savoury version of a tea-loaf which could contain asparagus, sundried tomatoes, olives, chorizo sausage or ham. Pitfalls abound. Once, we were invited for an ‘apéro’and had eaten a light meal before we went, thinking we would leave before eating. However, when we arrived, we found the table had been laid and a three course meal awaited us!

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