Charlotte’s Bistro and Gin School, Chiswick
Down the road from Turnham Green Station, Charlotte’s Bistro sits on a pleasant, flower shop on the corner, boutique kind of street. More homely than hip, it’s calm and domestic: a sturdy, though unexciting platform for a first date.
However, my date and I had come to test drive Charlotte’s Gin School – now here’s a way to combat the Monday blues. Bar reassuringly near the entrance, and surprisingly bustling for so early in the week, the chosen gin sits proudly on display and ready to be doled out into attractive tasting glasses. There’s low lighting, oil candles and light music; add a free Martini into the mix and you’ve got a sexy set up.
It’s traditional, so start with fish. Have the Brittany style mussels and impress your date by daintily eating them with an empty mussel shell: how very French! The Mackerel, served as a light pâté with wafer thin shards of toast and peppery horseradish, is highly recommended.
For main, you must have meat. The Seared Bavette of Beef, served on a velvety blanket of earthy parsnip mash and wild mushrooms, is perfection. The Crisp Pork Belly is equally good, though slightly fatty – however, my date found the rich and sticky meat perfectly to his taste. Order the greens for colour’s sake only; and yet, buttery, vibrant and crisp you’ll be fighting over them. Add some zing to dessert, with a fresh, palette cleansing and marvellously alcoholic, Gin and Tonic Sorbet.
Allow your server to suggest the accompanying beverages; these guys know their stuff. A glass of crisp white with the starter, a strong Spanish Traslanzas with the main, and a warming cognac for digestif, will nicely facilitate the whispering of sweet nothings and a cheeky game of footsie under the table.
He or she is a little surprised when you suggest a Monday date – telling them to get there for half 6 doesn’t increase the allure much either. However, mention a recreational activity with gin at the heart of proceedings and things begin to get interesting.
Charlotte’s Monday evening gin school is perfect for a nervous first date. Informal and informative, relax at the bar whilst awaiting the gin expert to make his way round and pitch his brand – this week’s was a potent Pink 47. Arrive ten minutes early, armed with a little knowledge on the evening’s gin (enough to impress not bore). Bond over the bar, enjoying the free Martini or G&T offered upon arrival, and nibble upon novel Pig Popcorn with a moreish garlic and sage salt. By the time you stumble up the stairs to the dimly lit dining room, you’re pleasingly tipsy and ready for further indulgence.
It’s a little out of the way, but well worth the trip. Be prepared to pay up for some fine wine.
4. Free cocktail to start, amazing food to follow – play your cards right and you’re onto a winner.