February 14 — a good day for love, generally a bad day for food-lovers. Want to go out for dinner but keen to avoid going the whole hog and eat one instead? Give silly-priced set menus majoring on oysters, truffles and disappointment a swerve, and go for one of these London favourites. From bookable neighbourhood restaurants with bags of atmosphere to walk-in hot tickets that might well be worth a punt early or late in the evening, these are the best Valentine’s Day options London has to offer, with no faff, fakery, or plastic flowers in sight.Read More
The Best London Restaurants For Valentine’s Day Dinner
No booking? No problem
The Holloway seafood specialist is low-key romantic: never in-yer-face about it, but indisputably so. Long tables will take the edge off any Valentine’s awkwardness, and the menu lends itself to being lingered over: langoustines, crab croquettes, day-boat fish, complemented by unfussy veg-first sides and a gargantuan, constantly evolving wine list. As instructed by the blackboard, share the rum baba to finish.
Westerns’ stablemates name may call to mind Dolly Parton’s least romantic song, but it’s a classy Valentine’s choice. The third opening from Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell is a lightly-worn, industrial-pastoral paean to continental hospitality and traditions rooted in the soil and the fields. The blackboard menu is long on assemblies of good ingredients exchanging sideways glances: pork and green sauce, buttermilk and plums, ravioli and sage butter. Then, of course, there’s the famous cheese toastie — anecdotally, it’s quite the aphrodisiac.
It’s hard to go wrong with the follow-up to P. Franco. What could be sexier than asparagus and sprouting broccoli with hollandaise to dredge them through, aged beef sobrasada on toast or tagliatelle with gamey ragu? The wine list here is a showcase of natural, low-intervention styles from small scale producers across Europe and the New World, and the food is a contemporary mix of classic Italian cuisine (including fresh pasta) and modern European inclination, an idiosyncratic style of cooking which is more than a little interested in the rich seasonings and importance of umami found in Asian cuisine.
How to up the chances of securing a table on Valentine’s Day? Pick a restaurant with lots of tables. Barboun, Shoreditch’s good-looking new Eastern Mediterranean grill restaurant, fits the bill: the dining room is expansive but doesn’t feel cavernous. Almost everything here is made for sharing — think blackened aubergine with pita for dredging, sour-cherry-stuffed dolma with garlic yoghurt, and smoked eel on split peas.
Navigating the early stages of a thing? This is the ideal venue for bet-hedging. Bao’s buns and bowls are never-fail fun and suggest sharing without screaming hearts and flowers. It doesn’t have to be a date, but it can be if that’s the way the wind’s blowing. Sit at the upstairs bar — if the conversation runs dry, there’ll be plenty going on in the background to talk about.
“Quo Vadis was my guaranteed knicker-dropper,” confides one London food socialite, recalling the days before he met his husband-to-be. A combination of super-strength cocktails, steaks cooked to perfection and shareable puddings — profiterole stack, anyone — makes the grande dame of Dean Street a safe bet.
Sit shoulder to shoulder on stools at this perennial Soho favourite and feast on the less obvious food of love: think braised radicchio with farro, gorgonzola dolce and hazelnuts, deep-fried lamb breast and spiced apple and rye cake with date ice cream. And yes, there are oysters, priced at £15 for half a dozen. Threesomes can book.
Andrew Edmunds Restaurant
For more than 30 years Andrew Edmunds has been setting the scene for romance 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, 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.
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mei mei london
It’s impossible to book at Borough Market standout Mei Mei, hailed as the best casual opening in London for several years, which means the planning-averse are in with as good a shot as anyone at grabbing coveted counter seats at lunchtime. Elizabeth Haigh’s solo debut in the city takes it inspiration from kopi tiam culture: Hainanese chicken rice (with or without buttermilk fried chicken) is a must-order, while the deservedly hyped kaya toast comes, conveniently, in two pieces.
Another great way to score a table on February 14? Eat late. Loyal Tavern, former Duck and Waffle executive chef Tom Cenci’s buzzy all-day restaurant on Bermondsey Street, is open until 1.30am on Fridays and Saturdays: what could be more romantic than a table at, say 9.30pm, with grilled flatbreads, beetroot tartare, rib of beef and warm chocolate brownies (all of which are on the Valentine’s Day menu).
The Other Naughty Piglet
Victoria, while a handy meeting point, is about as romantic as a case of athlete’s foot. Give thanks, then, for the team from Brixton’s Naughty Piglets, who’ve set up shop above The Other Palace theatre. As at the original, the small plates are clever but totally unpretentious — Devon crab, peanut and pickled cabbage; chocolate mousse with tonka bean and salted caramel — and the French-focused wine list is a joy. Seats at the counter are more chilled out than the tables.
Terroirs East Dulwich
Formerly known as Toasted, this neighbourhood wine bar has lost none of its neighbourly charm since restaurant parent Terroirs assumed naming rights. The formula that has made Terroirs and its Clapham sibling Soif so successful is on full display here: eclectic wine lists with a good selection by the glass, classy charcuterie boards, and seasonal, modern European cooking. Effortlessly romantic.