The Shed, Notting Hill
Get me the hell out of this city, says the over-boozed, over-glitzed and overfed London dater. For those who have ticked off every hotel bar, trendy fast food joint and sky high tower restaurant in town, The Shed is a charming slice of Sussex in Notting Hill. What could be less trying for the metaphysical hangover, a post-Christmas boozing state of anxiety that begs for calm and homeliness.
Run by a well-bred and very charming pair of brothers, Oliver and Richard Gladwin, stepping into The Shed can be like entering a slightly Sloaney but immensely friendly seaside shack, where the interiors are bits and bobs from the countryside (vintage bread bins, barrel tables, paint washed wooden chairs, ceiling foliage). There are several things that make it perfect for dating. Firstly, there’s a cute bar the second you step in, tended by a real charmer and providing the immediate sense of comfort you’d find in an upmarket countryside local. Secondly, like the former Ark restaurant it replaces, this place is snug as hell, a lot of covers crowded into a smallish space providing instant atmosphere and charm. It’s a mixture of certain types, all fairly posh: young professionals from the home counties mix with glamorous twenty/thirtysomething PR girls catching up over small plates, elegant Notting Hill residents try out their new local with reserved judgement, and a cheerful smattering of trendy types break out from Portobello (The Electric Diner and Rum Kitchen were fully booked). The two-man tables for dates don’t take precedence in the layout, which means you avoid the trap of being one of many couples having an interview style meal. Thank God.
Small plate heaven. The menu changes daily and is partially sourced from the Gladwin bros’ little brother, a quaint family affair. This is ideal dating food- small, manageable, pretty. Be warned though, the bites at the beginning of the menu are quite literally canapés so expect a mouthful each- more of a culinary tease to chat over with your first drink than a semblance of a starter. When you get to the plates themselves, they suggest you order around 3 each but, for the sake of the tiny table, start with 4 and take it from there. The lamb chips (from the Slow Cooking menu) are inventive and the Fast Cooking menu offers lighter dishes like trout with watercress and horseradish. The menu changes daily though so don’t bet on pre-choosing what you’ll have during your lunchbreak at work. It’s nice to have a light dinner here rather than go for a full stuffing, then return another time to sample what you missed.
This is a date for people who either live in West London, or already spend time there. Partly due to its size, partly its youngish following, you can expect it to be fairly buzzing most nights. Go for a Wednesday or Thursday date, meeting up early enough (7.30pm) to enable a post-dinner drink at a local pub afterwards. Meet your date by the bar as you can be assured that the bartender will facilitate some chat for the awkward loner. Guys, keep on the city shirts but open a button and scruff yourself up. Girls, if you can, keep on the work blouse but replace the pencil skirt with jeans and sexy/scruffy hair. You are likely to be sitting perpendicular to each other on small round tables so be playful, tactile and ignore the menus for the first 15 minutes. Use the pastoral setting as impetus to talk about family trips to Cornwall, weekends spend visiting grandmothers in Dorset, memories of the seaside. Corny as it sounds, it’s very romantic to open up the past for someone you may see a future with. You won’t be feeling too full after the meal, but you will have dragged it out and had a few glasses of fizz (their Nutty Brut) and even finished with a sherry. Then head to the Mall Tavern or Prince Albert pub for a nightcap, definitely go in for a kiss and call it a night (separately) by 11.
It’s a challenge to get a lot of food and drink on the table so you’ll have to cull some items or work in rounds.
2. A chilled and cosily romantic setting but perhaps not the precursor to a crazy night of sex. Love-making, certainly, so only take someone you plan on calling the next day.