El Pirata, Mayfair

5 days ago

The Vibe
Tucked away in a quiet corner of London’s Mayfair sits a cosy, rustic and charming tapas bar named El Pirata. The outside is unpretentious, a sentiment that is carried on into the restaurants interior and staff, who welcome you with warm familiarity as though you’re a regular. And you’re certainly not alone in feeling at home, every guest has a relaxed air about them as they sip red wine and chat with their friends and family. The whole place is reminiscent of the typical neighbourhood tapas bars in Barcelona or Madrid offering a little slice of Spain in West London.

The Order
El Pirata offers a gluttonous choice of authentic Spanish cuisine, creating a danger of spending too much time negotiating the menu and not flirting with your date.  To avoid, be bold and brazenly ask the waiter to select three of the best tapas to start and buy yourself more time to select the tapas that truly appeal. Each dish here is simple, yet heart-warming, undiluted by the popular trend of modern fusion cooking. The seaside comes fourth in the sizzling Gambas Pil Pil and the taste of the land punches through the Chuletitas de Cordero. Accompany with a bottle of Altún Crianza; warm, rich and with a note of autumn fruit that sits well with the melange of flavours that come with tapas. End the night being charmed into a dessert by the Spanish waiter who we’re convinced tells all the indulgent Torta de Chocolate can’t be missed, but he isn’t lying.

The Game
Head down the black wrought iron spiral stairs and steal a table inside a softly lit alcove; perfect for looking out onto fellow diners for a game of ‘guess their story’. Everything about this place is more fun and more laid-back than you knew Mayfair could be, so use this to your advantage. Be charming, yet authentic, and find out what one another would truly be like away from the glamour and illusion of luxe cocktail bars and opium drinking dens. If there’s a spark, Mayfair boasts a fine selection of cobbled streets to walk around and enjoy a cheeky snog underneath the midnight sky.

The Faults
The Mayfair postcode may set up an expectation that doesn’t materialise, but El Pirata’s confidence to remain traditional in a bevy of modern beauties will win you over.

Sex Factor
3. There’s something about Spanish flavour that always ignites passion and wild abandon.

No.29 Power Station, Battersea

1 week ago

The Vibe
No.29 Power Station is the latest addition to the Darin & Wallace collection of independent neighbourhood bars, all of which are named after the street number on which they sit. The space is vast and achingly stylish, the décor a juxtaposition of elegant 1920’s art deco and subtle nods to the resident’s industrial past. An enormous drinks list is enough to win us over and promises a very boozy night ahead.

The Order
A bar first and foremost, No.29 Power Station West has an ample selection of wines, craft, draught and bottled beers, and a hand-picked collection of seasonal long and short serves. Drinks, and plenty of them, should therefore be the focus of your order. Start with a collection of cocktails. The Watermelon Sour offers a refreshing mix of Ciroc Summer Colada, Kam & Sons with fresh watermelon, whilst the Dark ‘n’ Stormy is a more warming mix of Gosling’s Black Seal, house made ginger syrup and fresh lime. Follow with a sample of small sharer plates, the beef and black pudding croquette is a fine choice and offers the perfect excuse to move on to a glass of Pinot Noir.

The Game
Designed to feel like a ‘home from home’, No.29 is ideal for relaxed post-work drinks. The crowd is made up of young professionals catching up after a long day in the office. However, leave talk of work firmly at the door otherwise risk losing the attention of your date to one of the many attractive (and potentially single) guests. Start with innocent small talk and as the drink tally rises, dive into more flirty topics. If the night is going well, extend the date by suggesting a stroll along the river and sneak a kiss in one of the many alcoves that line the walk.

The Faults
Battersea Power Station is still in the first chapter of its development, but Circus West Village has introduced it to London’s bar scene with a very stylish start.

Sex Factor
Slightly industrial décor, but everyone has their kinks…

Oslo, Hackney

3 weeks ago

The Vibe
Oslo is a fairly new arrival in the dynamic area of Hackney. Located in a unique redeveloped space of a railway station, the restaurant gives a gentle nod to its past with luggage-rack lighting and industrial stylings. The place also has some Scandi-inspired décor with an open-plan kitchen surrounded by long dark oak tables and offset with exposed brick walls. The crowd is mixed, atmosphere relaxed and dress code casual which makes it a perfect go to for a low-key date night.

The Order
The food at Oslo is nowhere near as Scandi as the venue’s name, although faux-smorgasbords, rye bread and cured fish do feature to keep the theme in play. Mains include fresh salads, a pea and lemon risotto and a catch of the day. The stars, however, are the selection of sizeable burgers crammed with calorific goodness and served alongside hand cut chips. Order two and join your date in getting messy as the generous fillings escape the brioche bun. The drinks list is also impressive with a range of Norwegian craft beers and classic cocktails to choose from. A favourite has to be the Poppy Mojito, a mix of Havana Anejo Rum, poppy liqueur, mint leaves, lime juice and brown sugar. Another, the tropical Mai Tai with fresh juice, amaretto and rum, lit on fire and served by a charming waiter.

The Game
Find a table next to the side window and avoid being that ‘couple on a date’ in the middle that other guests eavesdrop on to see if all is going well. Start by ordering a cocktail and let the conversation flow; any tales of trips to Scandinavia are prime material as well as whether you’re an East or West Londoner at heart. As the night progresses keep things playful and fun. If you both have a love for music end the night by checking out a gig upstairs and get lost in the crowd with your new flame.

The Faults
Hackney is not the easiest place for everyone to travel to but if you plan wisely and commit to making the most of your night it will feel like a commute well spent.

Sex Factor 
4. Fun, relaxed and for the trend-setters.

Gillray’s Steakhouse, South Bank

4 weeks ago

The Vibe
There’s something about having to walk through a bar to get to a formal dining room that always loosens up a dinner date. It would be rude not to pit stop for a quick – and impeccable – Vodka Martini before moving into the grand yet rather homely Gillray’s steakhouse. Part of the London Marriot County Hall, the restaurant requires some finding but once you have you tend to stay in the lofty room for a very long time. River views? Check. Impeccable wine list. Yes please. Surprise Yorkshire pudding to serve as an amuse bouche? There’s simply no messing about.

The Order
It’s an AA award winning steakhouse so you’d be a fool to order anything but. Until we saw a couple almost fighting over the last lamb chop, and a nearby group of friends going to town on a pulled pork burger. Food wise, we regained focus and went for light starters – 12 divine Cornish oysters and poached pear with stilton- followed by steaks. Marrow comes as standard on the plates, and sauces to suit. Add a poached Clarence Court brown egg for a rich topping. Puddings should be skipped on dates to avoid falling asleep but if you’re defiant the chocolate pot is something. Choosing wine involves being charmed by a handsome Spanish waiter who proclaims not to be a sommelier but knows the grape inside and out. The wine was a 2015 Salentine Malbec and frankly the best I’ve had in a very long time.

The Game
It’s a classic case of dress up, over consume and end up back in the cocktail bar till midnight. The clients ranged from low key American families to attractive young ladies in bandeau dresses who are hilarious to play ‘chat about strangers’ with. Ask for a table near the tall windows so you can have the last of the sunshine streaming over the table, watching the rays go down with the last of your bottle. Romantic summer walk and pavement snog obligatory.

The Faults
Like any hotel, a very mixed crowd so the cool credentials come from the decor and funny Yorkshire pudding touches.

Sex Factor
4. Solid first date territory for those who favour formality over Soho speakeasies.

Downstairs at Machiya, Piccadilly

1 month ago

The Vibe
Downstairs at Machiya is a neat little basement bar located on Panton Road, only a short walk from its sister-restaurant. The place is styled with dark wooden panelling, plush leather chairs and gently lit by dim mood lighting. The space is certainly a sharp contrast to the modern and light Japanese restaurant that sits above, although the crowd at both places is near identical. The biggest thing anyone will notice as they enter this minimalist cocktail bar is the quiet atmosphere, making it an ideal stop for those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of tourist-saturated Leicester Square.

The Order
The drinks menu at Machiya is its crown jewel. Begin by ordering the delicious Kawaii Ne, a zingy sour cocktail with sake, lychee peach liqueur, zuzu juice and yuzu foam. Move on to crowd favourites: the Jigglypuff, a fluffy pink concoction of Portobello gin, Campari, lemon and vermouth foam, or a Smoky Negroni made with Antica Formula. If you have a sweet tooth then finish things with the vodka and peach mixed #Ppap. If you fancy a nibble then there’s also a small selection of Japanese bar snacks such as wagyu slider, pop-katsu and a bowl of fiery Machiya hot wings.

The Game
The bar is suited to those later in the dating game. As such, all small talk should now have been exhausted and conversation should instead move towards the more meaningful – family, love, life. The relaxed vibe is ideal for putting your date at ease and having them open up. Keep it simple, interesting and honest. There’s nothing pretentious about Machiya which means the flamboyant barriers so many employ when first trying to impress are almost completely removed here. However, be sure not to get too comfortable and be that person that over-shares.

The Faults
The rather “cosy” bar environment can be seen as either a positive or a negative. On the one hand, there’s not much glamour to help seduce your date. On the other, a quiet little den makes for a more relaxed affair which can sometimes be a nice change when you’re a seasoned dater.

The Sex Factor
New on the scene, this drinking den is still trying to find its sex appeal.

Nine Lives, London Bridge

1 month ago

The Vibe
Set in a Victorian basement close to London Bridge, Nine Lives is a perfectly placed bar for those seeking a post-work date night option. Unassuming from the outside, there’s only a subtle neon sign to indicate what lies beneath. As you enter, immediately take the stairs down to a dark and intimate drinking den. The décor, a perfect blend of Havana Cool and Penthouse Luxe. Think wooden trellises and bamboo partitions juxtaposed by marble tables and exposed brick work. Each element designed perfectly to create small alcoves of privacy where you can flirty freely, without ever being shut away from everyone else in the room.

The Order
Take note, this place is only suitable for those who like their dates flirty and with plenty of booze. The menu is made of twelve imaginative cocktails, divided into four styles: Short, Long, Tarted (Up) and Lowriders. For those planning a long night, take your time and sample one from each section. If you’re unsure how long, or how well, your date will go then start with a Lowrider. The Stingray offers an intriguing blend of port, raspberry liquor and mint; whilst Alright Blossom is a delicious mix of prosecco and rosé combined with hibiscus and raspberry giving a floral aftertaste. Follow up with Crossfire Hurricane; a Long glass of rum, citrus lemon, orange and sweet pineapple, adding some tropical flavour to your night.

The Game
Secure one of the aqua cushioned booths and enjoy an intimate setting to relax with your new interest. The electronic music, softened with bluesy beats, is played at just the right level to hold a conversation about your travels and love for all things Chelsea. As the cocktail count builds turn to more eccentric discussions and, if at all competitive, there is a wooden shuffleboard to test your dates sporting prowess and sneak a few tactile touches.

The Faults
The place isn’t completely faultless. It can take some time to place your order at the bar, leaving one half of the date on their own for an awkward period of time. To avoid this, make a clear claim to your space and both attend the bar together or just be willing to relocate every time you need a new drink. After all, it’s the company you’re with that matters.

Sex Factor
As the saying goes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts and this has never been truer than with Nine Lives. A cobbled street with a lonely sign may not appear to be the sexiest of locations, but inside is another story…

Martello Hall, Hackney

1 month ago

The Vibe

Did I just step into a beehive? Because this place is buzzing. The voices of young, well-dressed and creative individuals fight over the DJ’s alternative tunes and the frenetic sound of cocktail shakers. Fresh artisan pizzas whiz from the kitchen to the main bar floor and barely make it a few seconds before the vivacious hands of patrons snatch them to bits. The large windows cast a summery glow on the rustic wooden interior as the dim overhead lights dance across the faces of those below. Shoulders bump and feet are tread upon as fiercely eligible singles eye one another across the large space.

The Order

The cocktails are on fleek. Do the kids still use that word? F-L-E-E-K. Start with a cheeky espresso martini to put a pep in your step before graduating to the ever-so-tempting blood orange margarita. For nibbles, you’d be a fool not to go for the Phoenix – a rather sinful pizza embellished with toasted pistachio, parmesan, pecorino, spring onions and romesary. Like I said – sinful.

The Game

Martello Hall is the kind of place where nights can both start and end. Always casual and almost always lively. Stroll into the venue for some hand-shaken cocktails and a shared pizza then make your way to Hackney Picturehouse and cuddle the night away to your favorite film.

The Faults

Martello Hall is casual. While that’s great for the occasional 4th or 5th date, it’s not necessarily a stunner for those looking for a higher end gig. When busy, the line for the bar can also become quite lengthy due to the extensive artisan drink menu.

Sex Factor

2. Sexy? Not entirely. Charming? Absolutely.

Belsazar Botonical Garden, Moorgate

2 months ago

The Vibe
Tucked away in a cul-de-sac directly opposite the main sluice of Liverpool Street Station lies a secluded high-walled courtyard that forms the Old Bengal Bar’s garden. The upcoming summer months’ see this secret gem transform into a lush botanical garden courtesy of vermouth brand Belsazar. As soon as you arrive a personal welcome is made by a charismatic greeter, followed by the waiting staff and bar tender, all in swift succession. This gives you plenty of opportunity to scout your surroundings and find your preferred spot for the night. The crowd is mainly made up of co-workers enjoying a post-work tipple giving the place a more relaxed feel. Perfect for those who want a less date-centric venue whilst they’re still getting to know someone.

The Order
Naturally, drinks are the main focus of any date at the Belsazar Botanical Garden. So, leave your two-drink rule at home and make the most of the floral-decorated cocktails on offer. Start light with the fruity frozen cocktail Frosé, featuring Belsazar Rosé mixed with rosé wine, strawberry puree and agave syrup. Move on to the Rosé-T, to refresh in the summer heat, or choose a Spritz Me Up, if you like to keep it sweet. Finish with a Vermouth Punch, combining Belsazar Red, Sparkling Wine and Hibiscus Tea adorned with slices of fresh pineapple and orange for a tropical end to your date at the botanical terrace.

The Game
No reservation is needed at the Garden, so look for a cosy corner or private alcove to steal for you and your date. As the drinks flow so too will the conversation, just make sure it is never a one-sided affair. Past travels, career aspirations and summers in London are all likely to be covered throughout the night. When the air begins to chill move the date inside. The low-lit interior accented with a few red highlights provides a much more intimate and sexy setting to the open-air terrace. Order one or two more drinks and make the most of the glamorous surrounding. If it looks like it’s going well, be bold and ask ‘where next?’.

The Faults
Belsazar Botanical Garden Terrace is only a summer fling, but who knows what the next reincarnation of the terrace will bring.

Murakami, Covent Garden

3 months ago

The Vibe
A stylish designed modern Japanese restaurant in Covent Garden, Murakami Restaurant brings a touch of the East to the theatre district. Enter through the right door and be greeted by a charming hostess who will take you to your table. If you find yourself seated in the brightly lit window space, politely ask for the more romantic option in the lowly lit back. The restaurant is normally calm enough for this not to be any hassle and will help make for a more atmospheric date.

The Order
An assortment of delicious delicacies are on offer, giving you the opportunity to enjoy a Japanese-style tapas in the heart of Covent Garden’s theatre district. Accept the water as soon as you sit down and sip as you browse the expansive menu. For those with an indecisive nature, start with the rib eye dripped in sweet soya and add the black cod on saikyo lemongrass miso, continuing from there. Accompany your selections with a Japanese cocktail or two. The wham inspired ‘wake me up before you tok-y-o’ is a delicious Espresso Martini that is sure to add a perkiness to your game. If you are abstaining from alcohol try a sweet sake and disguise your choice as a desire for a more authentic dining experience.

The Game
Take a window seat and watch theatre goers pass down St Martins Lane, or for a cosier night ask to head towards the back with darker lighting and better spaced seating. The menu offers an exciting starting point for discussion, particularly for well-travelled foodies or Japanese enthusiasts. From therein, take advantage of any stories you have gathered from your trips to the East or reveal a quirky love for haiku poetry.

The Faults
Leaving the restaurant onto the tourist packed St Martins Lane can cause any romantic haze to soften. To avoid, order a couple more drinks and wait for the visitors to head home.

Enoteca Pomaio, Brick Lane

3 months ago

The Vibe
For the trendy vino lover, it’s been a long time coming but finally an Italian duo have brought the best selection of craft wines to East London. Enoteca Pomaio is the place to find them, a boutique Italian restaurant and craft wine bar right at the top of Brick Lane. The venue itself is charmingly understated. A light touch of styling and simple layout gives the place a homely feel, as though you’ve stepped off the vineyards and into your famiglia’s country kitchen. The crowd is certainly mixed, from an old couple sat looking out the window to two female colleagues catching up over a glass of red in the back. This is definitely not a bad thing and helps add to the relaxed character of the place.

The Order
As with most Italian restaurants, it may take a while to translate the menu so order a Prosecco to accompany your reading. There’s a generous offering of red and white wines to choose from, with the occasional splash of orange to liven things up. If you’re feeling adventurous throw out the rule book and sample each colour by the glass. Small plates are on hand to accompany your tipples, with Tuscan delicacies like hand cut prosciutto, bruschetta with truffle and salame grande. Indeed, aperitif style plates are much more suited to this style of date and if you feel hungry simply add another to your selection as the night goes on.

The Game
Whatever stage you are at in the dating game, ask to be seated downstairs for a much more romantic setting. The tables are close but the other guests never feel intrusive. As this place purposefully seeks a quieter atmosphere, this date is definitely one for talking. To avoid any long pauses, make sure you have plenty to discuss throughout the evening. As the wine glasses add up the conversation will flow much more smoothly. It may even be wise to take advantage of the private feel of the place and tackle more meatier subjects. Sip, flirt and stay until close but make sure to carry the night on elsewhere in fashionable Shoreditch.

The Faults
A bar for couples and singles to drink at would be a massive win for Pomaio. For now, we’ll settle for a cosy table for two in the corner.

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