Ahh, dating. Isn’t it great? Whether you’re single, in a relationship, engaged or even married, date night will always be something to look forward to. Got your fragrance? Your outfit planned? Well, you’re ready to go. Now for the restaurant…
Like any major city, London has culinary experiences left right and centre. Fortunately when Dan and I were dating, he was hot on his research and did take me to some insane restaurants. Gaucho on Swallow St will always be our special first date place, Purl in Marylebone continues to be our intimate cocktail hole and the (now gone) Wabi was the best sushi I’ve ever had. For those who don’t know, Wabi was this crazy sushi restaurant underground in Holborn where the waiting staff dressed like Kill Bill and the head chef was ex Nobu, who was handpicked to open Nobu in Australia by the owner.
Here are my top places to date in London, (£ to ££££).
Smoke & Salt
Inside a shipping container (yep, you heard me right), Smoke and Salt is a cool concept brought to you by chefs Aaron Webster and Remi Williams. With just 20 seats inside, this informal setting in Brixton is a great date night venue for a relaxed get to know each other. Food is lovely and a great talking point to keep things interesting!
Everything on the menu is simple but with a twist. Split in to ‘fish’, ‘meat’ and ‘veg’, it’s easy to decide for even those who are more nervous than others. For me it’d be the Wiltshire Bavette steak with red eye gravy, molasses and onion and a tequila cocktail.
From the restaurant giants Colbin & King, Marylebone’s Fischers is evocative of Vienna in the early 20th Century. As soon as I heard of it I knew I had to go there and it’s been a firm favourite ever since. It’s elegant, informal, a good celeb spot and the decor – top notch. The food here is always delicious whether it’s their Brotchen or Wiener Kaffee. Don’t be worried about not knowing what that is, the staff are on tap to help (and it’s also written in English).
When it comes to ambience there’s always a perfect distraction should the conversation falter. It’s a favourite of mine for breakfast with clients or lunch but dinner is where it’s really at. Perfect for a date that has potential to lead onto after-drinks in the nearby bars. It’s a place I always really look forward to going for a few days in advance. To give you a feel for the restaurant, Colbin & King also own The Delaunay, The Wolseley and more recently, Bellanger.
What To Order
I never defer from the chicken schnitzel, mashed potato and paprika buttered green beans. If on a budget, you can sack off the starters because it’s all about the main course and good wine. Wine can be pricey (red and white £24-£140, Champagne/Sparking £46-£195 ) but is always good. A decent bottle for under £30 will always be satisfying and really hit the spot when you want to relax and enjoy yourself. A reliable inexpensive bottle of white such as the Grüner Veltliner ‘Lois’ 2015 Loimer, Kamptal is my perfect accompaniment to the chicken.
KAIA at The Ned
The City, £££
Imagine a dish that’s full of colour, full of flavour, healthy and Asian-Pacific inspired. Yep, Kaia at The Ned is my new favourite must visit place. From Robata grills and clean Poké bowls to rainbow lattes and matcha pastries, whether you’re doing a lunch or dinner date it doesn’t disappoint.
For me it’d be the salmon, mango, yuzu and salmon caviar poké and the smoked aubergine to share. Not forgetting to wash it all down with some sake! Sushi here is around £8 a dish with some of the grill plates going up to £35. Expect a bill of over £150 for two if drinking.
Notting Hill, ££££
Now this is where you go if you want to SERIOUSLY impress your date. The Ledbury is very very expensive, it’s classy and even the interior design alone is worth going for.
Now, dishes are charged at £125 per person for 4 courses (lunch or dinner) or £80 per person for a 4 course set lunch menu. Cocktails average around £15 each (pretty normal for London) and a lovely Charles Heidsieck bottle of Champagne will set you back around £120. You’re looking at pretty pricey rates on wine but they do also offer half bottles for around £50.
See, I told you it was expensive.
The food is as rich as the price with interesting ingredients. Chef Brett Graham has poured his soul in to dishes such as “Warm Bantam’s Egg, Arbois, New Season’s Morels, Dried Ham and Wild Garlic” and “Pyrenean Milk Fed Lamb, Baby Salsify, Truffle and Nutmeg Butter”, (dribbling). Phone and book in advance.
Covent Garden, £££
Gregory Marchand, known for his off the chart cooking at Savoy, Mandarin Oriental and Fifteen for Jamie Olivers (where he adopted the name ‘Frenchie’) has brought his unique passion for food into his restaurant in Covent Garden.
Located next to (mediocre, sorry) places such as Sticks N Sushi and Flat Iron, Frenchie is a diamond in the coal mine. It’s chic Parisian feel during the day is bright and bustling and then by evening is relaxing and intimate. I love that table right there next to the kitchen because you get amazing service and can see everything. If you want to impress your foodie date this is the place. Staff care about food, love to talk about ingredients and can match wine superbly.
What To Order
Lunch differs to dinner. Midday enjoy a fixed menu – either two courses or three. Always do the three. For dinner, enjoy the delights that the six course menu have to offer. You don’t have to have all six courses of course. Always choose the bread but be cautious of the snacks if you don’t like pork. To start, if Duck Foie Gras, with Beetroot, Raspberry & Horseradish Snow isn’t your thing, choose a small pasta dish. The mains menu is seasonal so always on rotation but for me the ‘Glazed Salsify, with Smoked Egg Yolk and Scottish Chanterelles’ is yummy. Allow the staff to pair your wine for you but do keep an eye on price.
Somerset House, £££
Located inside the stunning Somerset House, not only is the venue romantic but so is the interior decor of Spring. Open for lunch or dinner, the menu is as fancy as the design with dishes such as “guinea fowl with poached radishes, Jersey Royals and dill”, and “grilled native lobster with hollandaise, finger lime and matchstick potatoes”. Also on the menu are lamb and sea bass if you’re feeling less adventurous.
What To Order
Mac & Wild
When my hero and Times food critic Giles Coren describes something as ‘the best restaurant in the world’, you know it’s going to be pretty memorable.
The first time I tried Mac & Wild, I could not get over how inexpensive it was and how good the food is. A Scottish restaurant known for its meats, this is a restaurant that I’ve told nearly anyone who will listen about. I’m yet to get Dan along but it’s not for want of trying – they laughed when I called them at 7.30pm on a Wednesday to try and get a table for that evening. Their venison is 100% wild and their superfoods are actually quite adventurous. I’m always desperate to go even as I write this.
If your date is a whiskey lover they will definitely be impressed too!
What To Order
Without a shadow of a doubt, you must order the ‘Veni-Moo’. It hasn’t been voted the UK & London’s best burger 2016 for nothing you know. Complete with beef patty, venison patty, cheese, béarnaise and caramalised onion, the goodness all comes served on a brioche bun. You can order extras and at just £10 you definitely cannot go wrong. I wake up craving this burger. If you’re dating a vegetarian, you may want to consider leaving him/her.