When it came to date-night 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 (especially at the start of a relationship, when the scene for what’s to come is being set; save BOGOF Wednesday at Pizza Express for further down the road), 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 Best London Restaurants for a Date
It’s important to get it right
1. 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 Little Bread Pedlar and Tuscan cured meats with pickles, then move onto orecchiette in wild garlic sauce with cured egg yolk.
2. The Jackalope
When a Soho drinks date looks like it might be turning into dinner but no-one has booked anywhere, head for one of London’s best restaurant residencies. Former street food stall Liu Xiaomian’s well-filled bowls of Chongqing noodles in the basement of the refurbished Jackalope pub in Marylebone hum with Sichuan peppercorns and chilli oil — tingles guaranteed.
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.
One of London’s hottest new restaurants is also among its most date-appropriate. Chris Leach and David Carter, the team behind 10 Heddon Street, have established themselves in Soho with a roster of Italian delights like ‘nduja steamed mussels, brown crab cacio e pepe tonnarelli and Amalfi lemon sorbet. The pink fir potatoes with cod’s roe is the single sexiest thing on any Mayfair menu right now.
5. 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.
6. Randall & Aubin Soho
“Satisfying appetites since 1911,” declares the menu at Brewer Street’s seafood specialist. Case closed, m’lud. Oysters, of course, are a headline act here, with French, English and Irish rocks available all year round, plus natives when there’s an R in the month. Low-lighting and tables narrow enough for leg-nudges, plus a large and very reasonably priced wine list, create a genuinely louche feel that’s hard to come by in W1 in 2018. Look out for the halibut with crisp mussel fritters: the original sexy fish.
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7. 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?
8. Lina Stores
It’s always been Soho’s premier source of dinner per due provisions, and Lina Stores’ Greek Street restaurant feels purpose-built for Lady and the Tramp re-enactments. The group has kept things traditional: a snappy selection of meats, cheeses and antipasti gives way to plates of fresh pasta, all helped on its way by blood orange bellinis and an all-Italian wine list. Bag the love-seat table in the corner, then share the pane e olio, a plate of Bella di Cerignola olives and baby artichoke hearts, spaghetti with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon, and the cherry-and-almond tart.
9. Brunswick House
Blind-date awkwardness killing the vibe? Fear not — Jackson Boxer’s Brunswick House is one giant conversation-starter. From its location (the Vauxhall gyratory) to the decor (bold, old and gold are the operative words here; it merges with the Lassco architectural salvage yard), there’s plenty to keep things going until the drinks kick in. Then there’s the food, which never fails to delight and surprise: blushing longhorn rump, cep and watercress; roast figs and balsamic ice cream. A breakfast menu boasting smoked ham hock, comte and fried egg English muffins make this a fancy morning-after venue for south Londoners to have up their sleeves, too.
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When a Saturday night date turns into a Sunday morning one, this is the place to drag yourselves for breakfast. Charlie Boxer’s beloved deli Italo is the focal point of Bonnington Square, and one of south London’s friendliest spots. Weekend breakfast are roll-up-the-sleeves good: think babaganoush, harissa tomatoes and fudgy-yolked eggs, hoppers and thick-cut bacon rolls, all washed down with super-strong coffee and freshly squeezed blood orange juice. Had a really late one? Never fear — at midday the menu switches over to lunch.
11. 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.
Wooing a jaded foodie? Even they can’t fail to be impressed by the view from Hutong, which is right up on the 33rd floor of the Shard. The Northern Chinese-focused menu is a jaw-dropper too, with plenty of shareable dishes (Shandong shredded chicken with homemade butterfly buns; whole crispy seabass) and one of the city’s best dim sum selections (think Iberico pork xiao long bao, bean-curd rolls with monkfish and black truffle and shiitake buns). While undeniably delicious, the Sichuan-style deep-fried lobster — served with chilli, black beans and enough garlic to empty Transylvania — would be a bold first-date choice.
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London E1 7NF, UK
An ice-breaker! Something every first date needs. The pavilion housing Crispin, which apparent represents “an origami-folded kite or bird,” is definitely a talking point. Ultra-modern exterior aside, it’s a winningly cosy little spot, with just a handful of tables. The menu changes every week, leaning towards indulgent but still weeknight-acceptable: scallops with chorizo and crispy capers, braised beef cheeks with dauphinoise potatoes, bread-and-butter pudding made from leftover Dusty Knuckle pastries. If game, go for the one-of-everything option at £27 a head.
London N1 5SB, UK
Seasonal and limited to the end of the week, this canalside classic is exclusive enough for some serious romance and laid-back enough for an early encounter. Breezy, a little Romantic with a capital R European dishes, the green tables, the Duralex glasses, the water, the dusk ... it always feels like an event.