El Pastor, Borough Market

1 month 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

3 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.

Bottomless Brunch @ Quaglinos, Mayfair

6 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.

The Grazing Goat, Marlyebone

9 months ago

The Vibe

Marylebone may sound like a swanky place to head on a date, but this hidden gem offers the perfect weekend retreat with amazing, traditional dishes and a warm rustic interior. Openly lit and relaxed waiters makes it seem that no one is in a rush and the food here is to be enjoyed. Both families and couples alike come to hang here creating a super comfortable setting for someone who likes to takes things a little more casual.

The Order

The menu is simple here: recognised dishes, cooked to perfection and piled on top of the plates, you’re sure not to go hungry. As a Sunday date screams cool and relaxed, there’s nothing better to order than their Roast Beef with all the trimmings. But not before you take that classic picture for instagram as no one will believe how amazing your lunch was later. Finish will the chocolate brownie to keep that indulgence level high and schmooze into a coffee whilst you debate where your afternoon stroll with take you.

This is the ultimate day date. Lunch, coffee around the corner at Daisy Green and then a walk around Hyde Park before parting ways and planning the same for next week.

The Game

As you’ve suggested a ‘sunday date’ you’ve either been together  awhile, went out together last night or are perhaps married with kids. However, all three mean that you need a little comforting, either from that hangover or the fact that someone else is cooking for once. The conversation is kept light and airy, much like the room you’re in and there’s little judgement as most people in the restaurant are more occupied with whatever is going on at their personal table than with you. Keep things relaxed with a simple bottle of house wine to keep you ticking over and definitely leave time for a casual stroll after as you will need this to let everything settle after the busy weekend.

The Faults

A little music wouldn’t have gone a miss, but perhaps if this is something you notice then the conversation hasn’t been exactly flowing.

Sex Factor

2

Gymkhana, Mayfair

9 months ago

Gymkhana is the sort of place countless friends and lovers have insisted on being taken for their birthday. There’s something exciting about guzzling a curry when it’s double the price and with quadruple the food credentials. Michelin star? Check. Mayfair location? Sure.
And if you haven’t done your research on anything but the food, you’ll also be pleasantly surprised by the decor.

I was expecting stark white table clothes and waiters dressed in Imperial-style uniforms. Instead it’s bloody relaxed. A dimly lit bar upstairs with local corporates guzzling cocktails and snacking on cassava, meanwhile in the basement restaurant the best seating is a cosy booth for two. Low ceilings, ceiling fans, tiled floors and dark wooden tables. On decor and food, it kills it.

The Order

According to a wary waiter, the tasting menu is only for the very brave – or those who haven’t had a good meal in a week. For everyone else, 3 starters to share and two mains will suffice. Highlights were South Indian fried chicken wings from the bar menu, a rich biryani and a black pepper fish tikka. Tread carefully with the wine, it can wrack up a big big and there seems to always be a ‘great deal’ on something extortionate and delicious.

The Game

Usually I’d suggest a pre-dinner cocktail upstairs but after browsing the menu it all seems a bit filling before the main event. Head straight to your booth and start a witty repartee with your waiter. Take small sips of crisp white wine and share travel stories. The time you hung out in Goa. After mains, come to the decision you are too full for dessert, pay up and go to the Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel for a Churchill Martini.

The Faults

The tasting menu is technically more economical but more like a challenge to finish.

Sex Factor

2. Large appetites, diminished desires.

Señor Ceviche, Kingly Court

10 months ago

The Vibe

Señor Ceviche is all about the busy cocktail bar and bringing the diverse flavours back into cooking. Neon postered walls, rustic wooden tables and candle lit climate, this is Peruvian street food at it’s best. The freshest fish, strongest cocktails and laid back atmosphere, after which you will be ready for a full on siesta!

The Order

The perfect order is around 6 or 7 dishes. As everything at Señor Ceviche is to share, temptation is to order less but in this situation, more is definitely better. The flavours are strong and powerful and keeps your mouth alive throughout the entire meal. The most addictive being the crispy pork belly with sweet and soy sauce, I could have had a few but I hear gluttony isn’t so cute. Their house-named ceviche is a must and get ready to finish with the passionfruit and white chocolate cheesecake. You will be genuinely ready to roll out of the place.

Cocktails: You may not have time in between the order and your dishes arriving to down them fast enough but I would say 3 cocktails is quite enough to have you giggling like a schoolgirl as you leave the table. Start with something fruity like the Inca Trail and then move on to something fresh like the Mancora Surfclub, which will leave you feeling crazy full but also ready for a cheeky glass around the corner.

The Game

Meet at a pub around the corner for a pre-settling drink and walk into the fairy-lit arena together up to the 1st floor where you will find Señor Ceviche. Order a sour cocktail to begin because before you know it the food is already there. As the food keeps flowing and your hands touch over the dishes, another drink is a must. By this time you’re giggling as you’ve begun to relax into their fun and vibrant atmosphere and as you sit by the open windows, it feels as if you could be on a beach side cafe somewhere in the southern hemisphere. By the time dessert arrives, which definitely isn’t ‘necessary’ after that last cocktail, steal a cheeky kiss on the veranda overlooking the hustling bars beneath. If you’re really feeling up to it, head around the corner to Dishoom for one final drink in the dimly lit bar.

The Faults

If you’re not a fan of coriander, make them aware before hand. They sprinkle the stuff as a garnish on everything….easy to rectify.

Sex Factor

4. It’s chilled out vibes make it the perfect first date spot. Close enough to the table next to you to get food envy but busy enough that no-one will notice the first date nerves.

Absurd Bird, Spitalfields

10 months ago

The Vibe

Southern American-inspired gourmet chicken flaps into Spitalfields and you better believe it’s here to nest. Rustic wood tables meet booths upholstered in festive flannels, dim light bulbs sit idly in their suspended cages, and the smell of spiced chicken and sweet syrup fill the air. You’ve just stepped into the kooky, yet charmingly kinetic Absurd Bird. Plop down in a seat and get ready to gain a few kilos you won’t soon regret.

The Order

Two words. Good luck. If a truly flawless menu has ever filled you with overwhelming indecision about what to order, get ready to ask your server for a few more minutes. Will it be the hurricane popcorn? How about the jalapeno mac n cheese? Garlic parmesan and lemon battered wings? Maybe, but make sure someone at the table orders the chicken and waffles, so you can snag a few unforgettable nibbles. Whatever you do, make sure to save room for the mouthwatering queen of the dessert minions – “The Dipsy” – fluffy, dippable cinnamon sugar bread dripping in icing and accompanied by an array of sweet sauces. DO YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN?

The Game

The game at Absurd Bird is what you make it. The cocktails are surprisingly on point – not only are they adorably named, but they may even be more beautiful than your date. Ok, let’s hope not. Embellished with mint leaves, lemon wedges and a handful of tangy pomegranate seeds, these tasty libations are sure to drown any inhibitions and get the good vibes rolling. Admire each other under the bird cage chandeliers and wipe each other’s faces when the cuisine gets a little too messy.

The Faults

It’s hard to nail one down, but let’s just say if you’re not so keen on waddling out of an establishment with a food baby, Absurd Bird is probably not for you.

Sex Factor

3, but don’t let that scare you away. Order a sexy cocktail and head downstairs to the lavish bar where the lights are turned so low, the birds don’t even chirp. With plans to offer live music and private parties in the coming weeks, the basement is sure to be a hit.

The Hops & Glory, Islington

10 months ago

The Vibe

This laid-back pub is quite the looker. With a nearly wall-to-wall bar, exposed brick and large windows that look onto the street, dim canned lights, and flickering tea candles atop rustic wood tables, Hops & Glory is definitely a stunner. In the late evenings, the venue starts to fill up, which offers a pleasantly exciting vibe.

The Order

Take a seat and within minutes, your server will greet you with warm, homemade sourdough bread, which is a perfect sampler that will undoubtedly make you take a second look at the short, but rather impressive menu. If you trust us at all, start with the Welsh rarebit and the brown shrimps then make your way on to the 28-day braised beef. If you’re up for dessert (which we highly suggest) and want a rich finish, ask for the chocolate nemesis with vanilla ice cream.

The Game

Although the mix is quite diverse, the bar tends to cater to an older crowd, but in a very undercover fashion. If Hops & Glory is the lucky date night venue, dress smart casual, stroll in hand in hand, and head straight for the bar. Start with a crisp Aperol Spritz, pick out a window table, and knock knees while enjoying the view.

The Faults

If not an Islington local, the bar is a decent walk from the nearest tube/bus station. However, strolling down the wide residential streets lined with trees and friendly passersby is quite the lovely retreat from the bustling central London, so we highly suggest it.

Sex Factor

4 – the venue is gorgeous, so it’s likely to amp up the romance.

Victory Mansion, Stoke Newington

10 months ago

The Vibe

If you’re looking for a relaxed, friendly neighborhood bar to make your home base, we just did you a huge favor. But let’s just say if you blink, you’ll miss it. Tucked away in between shopfronts on Stoke Newington High Street, this quaint, hand-built bar is sure to impress with its charming, old-fashioned interior and familiar bar favorites. Kick back and relax with a cocktail in hand or make it a few to turn up your evening.

The Order

Eclectic British food has never tasted so good. Charred leeks with crispy quinoa, purple sprouting broccoli with bitter lemon Sichuan dressing, garlic octopus with fennel and mouthwatering mussels with green pepper are crowd favorites and we absolutely see why. As for drinks, they’re beautiful. For a strong yet tasty cocktail and an undoubtedly good laugh (you’ll have to find out for yourself), order the Hurricane Dave.

The Game

Victory Mansion is perfect for that after-work cocktail. It won’t overwhelm, but it’s sure to impress. While it’s much more casual than a suit or heels, there’s no need to change out of work attire. With high tables and a chilled out ambiance, playing footsy is a must.

The Faults

The service was impeccable, but if there were more filled tables, I can imagine the singular waiter and bartender would be quite overwhelmed.

Sex Factor

3, but definitely a 4 if you venture downstairs for a drink and sexy rendezvous.

Old Tom and English, Soho

10 months ago

The Vibe

Even the most experienced Soho dater would be forgiven for missing the entrance to Old Tom and English. Resembling a good looking door to a fancy English home, you ring to get in before the receptionist has to bolt up from her perch and welcome you in. Coats checked, you go down into a stunning basement – a cross between an 18th century gin palace and 1960s private members’ club. Lashings of brass, reflective surfaces, all curves and angles, art and texture. Red carpets set the tone and couples gather around tiny tables in cahoots. There are a couple of hideaways for intimate meals, while diners in the main room are very much under the beady gaze of people watchers. It feels a little like a very good looking television set, inviting a self-consciousness that adds some needed tension to dates.

The Order

A shot of sweet pea soup followed by a stunning crispy bacon and gooey egg salad to share. Go easy on the starters as the main courses are substantial. The chef’s skills can be tasted in the juices to dip your fat chips in, from the delicate jus on the steak to the rich, sweet onion gravy with the bangers and mash. Buttery greens on the side and enough room for a Eaton Mess in a martini glass. The focus is the food, so a cocktail to start then a good glass of red with the meal will suffice.

The Game

Old Tom’s is perfect for an elegant Thursday evening dinner. Take the time to change from work attire into something a bit loungey and elegant. Flat shoes for women, zero suits for men. Don’t try and make this into a loud and lary date as you’ll only disturb the delicate ambiance in the room. Knock knees over the small table, flirt, serve each other and leave after 90 mines. Then follow up with a solitary kiss on the Soho streets and separate Ubers home.

The Faults

Small chairs make big dates look like the BFG.

Sex Factor

3. But if you get one of the secluded snugs, I imagine it’s a 5+.

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