When it came to romantic dinners, Virginia Woolf knew how important it was to get the venue right. “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” was her view. The food, of course, is important, but even more crucial is the vibe. Pasta somewhere with low lights and staff who know when to step discreetly into the shadows will always beat a solemn procession of two-starred expectorations from the chef-patron of a Mayfair dining room/mortuary. Just remember: shareable dishes can be very romantic, but only if there really is enough for two on the plate.Read More
The Most Romantic Restaurants in London
Where both food and vibe are just right
1. Westerns Laundry
The home of one of London’s best blackboard menus is also one of its best date-night options. Westerns’ Laundry’s great strength is its flexibility. First date? Grab counter stools and split a cheeseboard, then a rum baba. Anniversary? Seafood, seafood, seafood: oysters, cuttlefish and ham croquettes, langoustines. No chance of awkward silences here either; it’s a big room and it’s always busy.
London N1 5SB, UK
Canalside, blackboard menu, small kitchen, rickety tables, rickety green tables — Towpath reads like a romantic cliché but rises above it every time the shutters open for the season. On the right day, sun slanting over the canal and a smart salad or two joining some sort of rural French assembly, there’s just nowhere better to be. Get whatever seasonal fruit cordial is on for quenching.
3. Milk Beach
London NW6 6RA, UK
By day, Queens Park’s best-kept secret is a roastery with one of NW’s most enticing brunch menus. By night, the candles come out and it turns into a supremely romantic spot, serving impeccably chosen small plates and wines — natural, organic and skin contact (nudge, wink) are specialities. Start with sourdough from St. John and Napoli salami, then move onto cavatelli with clams, sweetcorn, and miso.
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There are many restaurants like Brawn in London — low-lit, stylish dining room; elegant, European food; a balance between special occasion dining and weeknight charm — but there is only one that is actually Brawn. It has always had the ineffable something extra that makes it essential, and there’s no exception when it comes to romance.
5. Sessions Arts Club
Boasting a jaw-droppingly elegant dining room, candlelit booths, and food so painterly that it could be in a gallery, one of London’s best new restaurants of 2021 is also, immediately, one of its most romantic. Florence Knight’s cooking sees that rare saw between tautly precise composition and total sprezzatura in dishes like squid calamarata and raw bream with fig leaf oil and sorrel, and a backdrop of distressed pastel and cracked grandeur makes a perfect frame for its beauty.
A bit of a sleeper hit since it opened in 2016, Luca is a beautiful dining room, complete with a garden terrace and unshowy, confident cooking that won’t be frightening any horses but feels right for letting romance blossom. Ambrosial pasta and parmesan fries, low-lights, and handsome countertops — little else required.
7. Noble Rot Lamb's Conduit
As with many restaurants on this guide, it’s confidence and conviction in its passions that makes Noble Rot a surefire hit — as well as the romantically cosy dining room. The boisterously Gallic cooking with diversions into oysters and cured meats is a great mood-setter, and the colossal wine list (with one of the best champagne and friends selections in the city) is as easy to get lost in as a lover’s eyes.
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8. Café Deco
Cafe Deco, Anna Tobias’s Bloomsbury restaurant, offers a two-fold romance: the love kind, and the faintly nostalgic kind — in part because of its Bloomsbury setting, and in part because of its transportively straightforward cooking. Old-fashioned puddings offer lush peaks of whipped cream or scarlet jellies; the stout elegance of plates like puntarelle alla Romana and “steamed mussels and chips” is the kind to linger over.
9. London Shell Co.
The river cruise with food and wine is the kind of romantic cliché that gets to the heart of the word — it’s almost always naff, but there’s also a reason it had the chance to become so. London Shell Co. is, let it be clear, a boat on the Regent’s Canal, which serves fizzy wine and practically begs for cheesy selfies. But it’s much more than that on the plate, with a focus on seafood presenting as crab risotto; a nifty cod bourgignon; and the ubiquitous smoked cod’s roe. Sometimes clichés are good.
10. Quo Vadis
“Quo Vadis was my guaranteed knicker-dropper,” confides one London food luminary, recalling the days before he met his husband-to-be. “Also, they [the staff] will never let on if you’re in with one boy one day and another the next.” A combination of super-strength cocktails, steaks cooked to perfection and shareable puddings (profiterole stack, anyone?) makes the grand dame of Dean Street a safe bet. It’s even managed to make Monday sexy — what could be more romantic than sharing half-price oysters and one of Jeremy Lee’s golden-hatted pies?
11. Andrew Edmunds Restaurant
Is there a better backdrop than Old Soho for the beginning (or, indeed, the end) of an affair? For more than 30 years Andrew Edmunds has been setting the scene with a Franco-British menu encompassing asparagus, dressed crab, confit duck and rhubarb jelly with cream. Upstairs it’s all flickering candlelight, wax dripping down claret bottles (steady on) and wildflower posies. The discreet tables downstairs, meanwhile, are very popular with men of a certain age whose wives don’t understand them — or maybe understand them a little too well.
12. 40 Maltby Street
40 Maltby Street unfolds layers of romance like the impeccable pastry on its pies and tarts. On one level, it ticks the traditional boxes: a shareable menu; plenty of wine; a balance between coziness and bustle. But over multiple visits, and sometimes just one, the language of its blackboard menu can open up like a shared secret, its depths and foibles revealing themselves to diners just as people do to each other.
13. The River Café
A bit of a baller pick, it’s true, but a real anniversary winner. The terrace is the move, just to add on even more romance, before settling in to what remains some of the best Italian cooking in the city. Checking out the dessert menu, overseen by the brilliant Anna Higham (formerly of Lyle’s and Flor) is a must.
14. Nandine (Camberwell Church Street)
Nandine, Pery Baban’s Kurdish cafe and restaurant, is a place of warmth, a bustling vibe, and generous cooking, all of which coheres into its own very individual sense of romance. It also delivers a peerless Kurdish breakfast, for when the vibe is needed not come night, but come morning.
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Since it opened in 2017 this neighbourhood restaurant has been quietly going about its business, serving stylish but substantial plates (homemade fettuccine, asparagus and pesto; poached pear with ganache) in a room that’s more than a touch #AccidentallyWesAnderson. The truffle chips lend themselves to a bit of knowing finger-licking, while the mid-century jazz and blues playlist is spot on.
Adejoké Bakare has registered Chishuru — which from Brixton Market serves dishes such as pork belly asun with charcoal-grilled peppers and onions, jollof rice, kale salad; cassava fritters; and degue with pear — as one of London’s best, most creative new restaurants, whose cooking and atmosphere inspire a devotion that is unmistakably that of love. To eat there is share in it, and there is little more romantic than that.
17. Petersham Nurseries
Richmond TW10 7AQ, UK
A headily floral option in Richmond, Petersham recently revised its hours, so those in such of a romantic evening in TW10 will have to settle for Saturday or bust. Dining here is somewhat of an event whose reputation precedes the food, but the cooking has quietly shifted away from Italian reliability into something a bit more expressive, in places. Still, when seeking Romance, go Roman with puntarella, or settle in for lemon sole with chanterelles and a braised cabbage with Berkswell.