Minnow, Clapham

1 day ago

The Vibe
Minnow charms from the very beginning with its park-side location offering views of the common, pastel green and soft pink décor and hanging roses. This is a cute, yet surprisingly spacious place that has already found its crowd in the form of young Clapham types who are looking for Michelin quality without the commute into the centre. There is a real buzz here, although it’s never too loud that you miss what your date says and have to ignorantly nod along. This is a place that is confidently different in a dating scene concentrated with high gloss cocktail bars and post-industrial offerings.

The Order
The menu is not overly long but everything on it sounds impeccable, making it difficult to narrow. Buy some time by ordering a snack to share, the crispy chicken skin served with aioli is a simple but clever idea that is extremely moreish. Add some cocktails into the mix, each inspired by a historic Clapham resident and served on a coaster explaining the details. A perfect excuse to drink more in the “thirst for knowledge”. The Grieg, named after Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, is a Scandi-influenced take on a martini made with dry vodka, vermouth and then smoked – a sharp taste that contrasts the whimsical décor. For a main, the cooked beef shin served on buttery mash is sure to satisfy – upscale comfort food. Desserts are on the smaller side and so it’s best to order individually rather than attempt to share. Caramelised watermelon with blood orange is an extremely refreshing end to the night, although the chocolate doughnut is a perfect indulgent dish.

The Game
Minnow is bi-level, each with its own distinct character and, therefore, appropriate game plan. The ground floor boasts a long marble bar, ideal to grab a pre-meal drink at and then move on to a table outside in the walled garden. Guests are seated close together, but are never intruding on one another’s space meaning date night conversation can flow very easily. Although, we advise against discussing anything too raucous in such an innocent setting. For a different type of night, head downstairs to a vaulted booth that is lit by a stained-glass light box and that sits in the restaurants wine cellar. The lack of natural light means you and your date can get lost in time, drinking and flirting into the late hours. When it’s time to leave, exit onto the common and enjoy a midnight stroll.

The Faults
For those with a sweet tooth (like me) the economic dessert menu may cause some panic, but there’s enough quality on the rest of the menu to keep your cravings satisfied.

Sex Factor
4. Charming and cute. Think country house romance rather than penthouse romp.

El Pirata, Mayfair

1 week 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

2 weeks 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

4 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

1 month 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.

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.

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.

The Ivy Market Grill, Covent Garden

4 months ago

The Vibe

It took far too long for The Ivy to copulate with new areas of London and give life to offshoots like Kensington Brasserie and the stunning Chelsea Garden. The Market Grill in Covent Garden is similarly good looking, with lots of marbled leather touches, a bar begging to be propped up, and a decent smattering of suits and couples sipping whiskey cocktails in well cut tumblers. What sets it apart is the charming decluttering operation that staff perform when you enter. I suspect it’s to do with encumbered and messy tourists. Let me take that bag for you, your hat, your coat, perhaps your jumper, definitely the selfie stick. It’s like a quicktime makeover. And so you float your way to the bar where a young Italian cocktail bartender waits, eager to please, asking how you find the Negroni after half a sip. For such a stunning place, it’s unpretentious and relaxing. And for Covent Garden, thanks to the expert operation at the door, you can barely see who the out of towners are.

The Order:

Start with a light Ivy Spritz (Kamm & Sons aperitif, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, fresh pink grapefruit juice, Prosecco and soda.) Then order something more low key like the Market Grill hamburger with West Country cheddar, or the exceptional Chicken Milanese. Order drinks by the glass, so perhaps a red with the mains and an Old Fashioned in place of dessert.

The Game:

For a first date, it’s a far finer thing to beg a spot at the bar. It also allows for some post shopping spontaneity. Side by side, sip away and talk about very light subjects: the restaurant, the punters, the interiors, your plans for the week. Dispose of your mains (just one course will do) and then get onto the real drinking. One cocktail turns into 3 and before you know it you’re play-punching and teasing them for not bothering to book one of the candlelit tables behind you. Leave before you fall off the bar stool and then walk over the cobbles of Covent Garden till you find a suitable corner to kiss in.

The Faults:

None we can think of.

Bon Vivant, Bloomsbury

4 months ago

The Vibe:

When blue and white stripes adorn the outside of a French restaurant in London we breathe a collective sigh of déjà vu and move on to a trendy little Sri Lanken joint in Soho. But Bon Vivant, with its Tom Dixon meets Riding House interiors, stunning hearty food and relaxed good time vibes had me at bonjour.

I like the layout, a small enough room to accommodate a bunch of young dates and a couple of tables of boozy friends. More importantly, I like the food, by Head Chef Oliver Kuehler (formerly at Les Deux Salons). On a Monday night, it’s the sort of place you plan to meet for a quick feed and before you know it you’re three courses and a bottle deep. Not scenery, not a cringes local couples joint, just a great feeding in a beautiful spot.

The Order:

The menu is short and to the point, reducing the awkward amount of time you spend scanning in silence. Classic fare accompanied by a great wine list. We balanced a rich foie gras starter (with quince cacao, and sauternes jelly) and very moreish brioche, with a big pot of mussels, equipped with a garlic baguette to soak up the crème and booze. For mains, the plaice with samphire and chorizo was sensational and the stuffed chicken with butternut squash a feel good, lip smacker. Add a side of dauphinois to fatten things up. Drink wines by the glass to match the food and end with an espresso martini.

The Game

While I’ve no doubt the place is full on a weekend, it makes for a thoroughly charming Monday/Tuesday date. Head there straight after work.  Be playfully strict when you sit down with your date: “Just two small glasses of white for us”. Watch the stress of Monday melt away with the first morsel of whipped pate and capitulate to a second medium glass of red 20 minutes later. Hold hands for seconds before the mains arrive, then snap out of it. Marvel at “what a little find this is” and greedily eye up the bigger round tables for a group trip. Joke about making this “our place” and slap yourself on the back for being that couple who are the last to leave as staff pack away. Leave tipsy and full, perhaps not quite sure if Bon Vivant just forced you into more commitment than you were ready for.

The Vaults:

You know it should be a little more full, but kinda don’t want it to be.

Sex Factor:

A surprising 5/5 to BV, now a solid component of your dating  game.

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