Martello Hall, Hackney

3 days 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

1 month 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

1 month 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

2 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

2 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.

Smith and Wollensky, Covent Garden

3 months ago

The Vibe

Clanging forks and the sound of a Central London Sunday brasserie bustling away with Mimosa-soaked friends and smug couples. That’s not what you’ll find walking through the doors of Smith & Wollensky for weekend brunch. Instead, it’s dulcet piano tones as you glide through the room where diners look remarkably relaxed, content, sometimes tipsy but mostly just charmed by the old school vibes of the place. Sharp white-jacketed waiters bring you coffee as you peruse an extensive brunch menu ranging from brunch classics to steaks. A word for the wise, dress for the occasion (crisp, relaxed glam) and make it a Champagne kinda brunch.

The Order

It may take you a good 20 minutes to work through the options so order coffee to get you up to the task. The braised beef hash and poached eggs was rich but delicately portioned so you’re still able to split waffles for dessert. For burger aficionados, the cheeseburger was honestly up there with the best – strong cheddar and juicy patties and yet confusingly light. For dates this is perfect; you can eat well and still feel desirable by the end of it. Before you leave, order a Negroni to share then head towards Somerset House to amble the day away.

The Game

The scene for relaxed romance has already been set. If you booked, make sure you turn up early and beg for a booth. Sitting next to each other is infinitely preferable. Drinking after you’ve eaten is a better idea, it doesn’t feel like the sort of date you booze your way through. Chit chat about your weekend and make it very clear you have nothing else to do after brunch, paving the way for a day of chilled fun. Don’t go straight into the intense grilling , this is the first hour of a longer date so keep it trivial for now.

The Faults

The service is so efficient you might find the meal goes a little too quickly; slow things down by asking for more time.

Sex Factor

2. It’s a Sunday and you’re in your best.

*Special Event*: And for something a little different, on Friday 17th March, they will be celebrating St Patrick’s Day with Jameson cocktails and a big old celebration in the Adelphi Bar from 5.30pm. We’ll be there…More info HERE.

El Pastor, Borough Market

5 months ago

The Vibe

So laid back it’s horizontal. But if you find yourself on the standing benches in the front room, you’ll be propped up in a vertical pose throughout your meal, lending a strange jauntiness to proceedings. This feel like a quick stop that could, at the mention of mezcal, turn into a full session.

Not for those looking for full on romance but perfect for first daters who are constantly on the search for options that sit somewhere between liquids-only and sit-down stuffy.

Decor-wise, there’s some corrugated iron on the walls, hanging lightbulbs, hard surfaces and what looks like formica on some of the tables in the back. Again, not fancy, but really rather cool. Remember, we’re in a Mexican joint, where alcohol consumption takes equal weight with the food, so every cocktail, from Old Fashioneds to Negronis, are laced with tequila.

And should your date dare to question the food credentials, this joint is the from the formidable restauranteurs behind Barrafina and Quo Vadis, Sam and Eddie Hart. So pipe down Princess and finish your salsa.

The Order

Tortillas are freshly made on site and ‘el pastor’ cooking – meaning ‘shepherd style’ – involves meat being marinated on an upright grill, most notably pork marinated in a mixture of dried chillies, spices, achiote, and orange juice. Served in a soft corn taco. Wet your whistle with some sipping tequila or a damn near perfect Margarita.

Food-wise, start with a truly delightful sesame tuna tostado and some guac, then head straight to taco town, with a ridiculously moreish chorizo, sweet potato and salsa verde, followed by a sweet n’ meaty short rib and pineapple taco. For date chat distraction, the carnitas are a Do-It-Yourself dish, so as playful as you guys wanna make it.

The Game

On a date, the mistake would be to head here early evening for a formal sit down. This is more of a bowl up tipsy at around 8/9pm and prop up the counter tables while satiating your hunger, vibing off the energy of the Borough crowd and getting your meat fix. Meet on a Saturday to wander around the market and then end up in Bedales for some slow wine drinking. One glass becomes four and before you know it your stomach is rumbling and you want something a little more occasional than a quick fix at Brindisa. Stay a maximum of 60 mins to keep up the momentum of the date, then wander into the night to snog on the streets and find a night cap.

The Faults

The bill might surprise you; Wahaca it is not.

Sex Factor

2. A very decent pit stop but not the closer.

Wright Brothers, South Kensington

7 months ago

The Vibe

I like my Martinis dry and my oysters dressed to kill, which is why Wright Brothers has always been a soft spot. But after a few too many dates in Borough – the standard Bedales wine followed by Wright Brothers seafood platters – I decided to take a break.

Until discovering the Mermaid Bar at Wright Brothers South Kensington.

A small and cosy room under the main restaurant, you’re seated on tiny stools around a petit drinks table, while bartenders introduce themselves and their favourite cocktails to you, setting up a camaraderie that breaks up any first date tension.

The House Cocktail is made rather a fuss of here, so you oblige by ordering it and your waiter lights up. The thirsty expectation is infectious. Like any decent date bar, the lights are low and you’re sat rather close together. But the most important touch is booths. Big, leather, high-backed booths which allow you to sit perpendicular to each other and knock knees. I’m a sucker for a good looking basement so they had me at bonjour.

The Order

We acquiesced to the cocktail of the month, which was “In Good Spirit” – Coirvoisier VP, Amaretto, vanilla syrup, apple juice, lemon juice and cardamom. Strong, bitter-sweet and speedily consumed. The second option was a Martini with sake and pickled ginger, cut with an oyster on the side. Went down like water.

Food wise, you should stick with the oyster theme and start with 6 of the daily selection. You’ll be astonished by how much they differ, plus it adds an activity element to the date, as you try and discuss. Oh no I definitely preferred the gloopier one. The spiced aubergine with yogurt and sumac makes for a rich accompaniment to counteract all that salt water.

For mains, the specials are the way forward. We had a buttery and meltingly good skate, then ordered on menu (and off seafood) with the tender pork belly with white beans and gremolata. With carafes of red wine flowing, you may want to skip dessert and just share a little port afterwards.

The Game

They lay things out well enough for those without game to fair well. Case in point, the couple on a first date next to us. Despite the chatter about her cruel ex, and a few tears shed over cocktails, their main courses pulled things back from the brink and by the end they were getting on (relatively) famously.

For optimum flow, it’s advisable to meet at least 45 minutes before your sitting so you can enjoy the cocktail bar bit. By the time you reach your table you’re relaxed and, since you’re so close together, a pre-oyster peck on the lips makes sense. Stay bloody ages, chat as intensely as a Parisian would, split the bill like comrades and end the date with a plan to return between 10pm and 11pm for a night of £1 oysters. You’re very close to having created a future routine.

The Faults

Once people catch on, it’ll be hard to secure one of the few tables downstairs and upstairs doesn’t pack the same first date punch.

Sex Factor

4. Serious credentials.

The Orange, Pimlico

7 months ago

The Vibe

If you’re going on a breakfast date there are three ways you would have gotten there. 1) You spent the night together after a boozy first date. 2) You met on a night out.  3) you’ve been together for a while and this is just another lazy morning.

Either way since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, what’s better than to start it in a little pub just off Sloane Square, where nothing really gets started until midday anyway.

The Orange is perfect for a hide-away breakfast to revitalise you, before sneakily heading back home to mull over the most fruitful night out you’ve had out in a while.

The Order

Sitting outside on the quiet streets for breakfast is immediately soothing, so ordering a mimosa on a Thursday is totally acceptable.

Indulgence is the key here, with rich duck eggs and a fluffy brioche soaking up mushroom juices and truffle sauce. Rich and full of flavour, you will be sure to combat last night’s alcohol and feel ready for the day. Add a side of crispy bacon and there’s no going back.

The Game

Breakfast is one of the most relaxed dates you can have and if they’re prepared to extend last night’s date into the morning then they’re a definitely a keeper. Don’t be the first to order alcohol, this isn’t an all day session.  Keep it short and sweet, then Uber your way out of these before the hangover really kicks in. Make a parting joke about returning there for a decent evening session.

The Faults

Everyone’s a little slower in the morning, including the service, but here’s hoping you’re lost in conversation.

Sex Factor

3.

Bottomless Brunch @ Quaglinos, Mayfair

10 months ago

The Vibe

Opulence, plain and simple. With a grand staircase that dips into a sunken dining room and a platform for a band, Quaglino’s is a Titanic-esque dining room with a hefty dollop of Mayfair bling.

And boy does it have a history. Opened in 1929 by Giovanni Quaglino – a restauranteur from Northern Italy – it attracted a fashionable crowd thanks to great Italian cooking and a lack of stuffiness. In 1993 it was taken over by the Conran Group and patronised by Princess Diana and a swanky London crowd, and in 2004 D&D London took over and once more breathed life into the place.

What most remark about Quags is that it’s a glitzy affair but not crazy expensive. The touches like the grandiose flower displays and house band are a charming nod to the Old World of Mayfair dining, while the newly launched bar – with its faux animal skin touches, dim lights and sparkle, adds a good does of shamelessness to satisfy any young aspirant.

The Order

One thing D&D really know how to do elegantly are bottomless brunches. 2 courses fo £25 or 3 for £29, with the addition of unlimited Prosecco for £15.

On a date, share with 4 Rock Oysters with shallot vinegar, and cured smoked salmon on melba toast. Then for a delicate main, the sea bream with sauce vierge on a bed of crushed potatoes is light with a citrus sharpness balancing indulgent potatoes. For something more brunch-like, the cured ham Croque Monsieur is the stuff of legends.

The Game

Dress for brunch. Men in crisp white shirts and women mostly in trousers, heels, blouses and fancy bags. Even better, wear a goddamn frock.

Wait for your date outside the restaurant so you can descend the staircase together and grab a hand for the journey down. Try to mirror the restaurant’s vibes – smart but not stuffy – with casual chit chat and playfulness. Swap stories from your Friday nights and make plans for the afternoon. Go for the bottomless option but stop after 2-3 glasses (stay classy).

Before you leave, grab a peck on the lips at the top of the stairs and head out for a walk around St James’.

The Faults

If it’s sunny outside, the windowless vibe may not work for all.

Sex Factor

3 for brunch. 5+ for dinner.

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