Belsazar Botonical Garden, Moorgate

1 day ago

The Vibe
Tucked away in a cul-de-sac directly opposite the main sluice of Liverpool Street Station lies a secluded high-walled courtyard that forms the Old Bengal Bar’s garden. The upcoming summer months’ see this secret gem transform into a lush botanical garden courtesy of vermouth brand Belsazar. As soon as you arrive a personal welcome is made by a charismatic greeter, followed by the waiting staff and bar tender, all in swift succession. This gives you plenty of opportunity to scout your surroundings and find your preferred spot for the night. The crowd is mainly made up of co-workers enjoying a post-work tipple giving the place a more relaxed feel. Perfect for those who want a less date-centric venue whilst they’re still getting to know someone.

The Order
Naturally, drinks are the main focus of any date at the Belsazar Botanical Garden. So, leave your two-drink rule at home and make the most of the floral-decorated cocktails on offer. Start light with the fruity frozen cocktail Frosé, featuring Belsazar Rosé mixed with rosé wine, strawberry puree and agave syrup. Move on to the Rosé-T, to refresh in the summer heat, or choose a Spritz Me Up, if you like to keep it sweet. Finish with a Vermouth Punch, combining Belsazar Red, Sparkling Wine and Hibiscus Tea adorned with slices of fresh pineapple and orange for a tropical end to your date at the botanical terrace.

The Game
No reservation is needed at the Garden, so look for a cosy corner or private alcove to steal for you and your date. As the drinks flow so too will the conversation, just make sure it is never a one-sided affair. Past travels, career aspirations and summers in London are all likely to be covered throughout the night. When the air begins to chill move the date inside. The low-lit interior accented with a few red highlights provides a much more intimate and sexy setting to the open-air terrace. Order one or two more drinks and make the most of the glamorous surrounding. If it looks like it’s going well, be bold and ask ‘where next?’.

The Faults
Belsazar Botanical Garden Terrace is only a summer fling, but who knows what the next reincarnation of the terrace will bring.

The Ivy Market Grill, Covent Garden

1 month 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.

Untitled, Dalston

2 months ago

The Vibe

Nestled in between run down shop fronts in Dalston, this sleek little gem sticks out like a sore thumb. Push through the doublewide cedar door and prepare yourself for an experience that has questionably been ripped from the future. One massive, elevated slate table runs down the middle of the concrete room with leather-studded bar stools ready for the taking. The faint shimmering of the foil wallpaper stirs a dull desire to hop up and dance like you’re in a techno club, but the sophisticated, ambient mood music encourages otherwise. Bask under the exhibition style display lighting and get ready for some seriously flamboyant cocktails.

The Order

Upon taking a seat, one of the many zealous servers in a patterned, garage-style shirt will whisk you a vacuum-sealed menu – literally. There you will find a host of wild cocktails mixed and embellished with seemingly inedible ingredients such as clay, chalk, pine, zink, oak and silver tip. If you don’t scratch your head upon walking through the door, browsing the menu will surely be your time to shine. Before ordering libations, ask to kick off your cocktails with a ‘wish’ and wait to be utterly baffled as you’re delivered a shiny plastic rose pedal in an ornate painted dish that you’re intended to eat. Surprise! Start with ‘Snow’ and ‘Satyr’ – a couple of sweet tasting warm up drinks in luminescent elixir glasses then graduate to “Sicily” and “Violin” which are guaranteed to singe your taste buds and get that tipsy train on the move.

The Game

For a date, grab an early meal in Shoreditch then arrive around 8pm, but think about making a reservation as the table can become a bit full around this time. Get the cocktails flowing ASAP but make sure you relish in the hand-crafted quality and delicate absurdities of each unique creation.

The Faults

The overhead spotlights can unknowingly accentuate all the wrong angles so make sure you lean back in your stool a bit so as not to frighten your date.

Sex Factor
2. If you’re a lover of minimalism, modernism, and maybe even alcoholism (in a playful manner of course), then this place is your new favourite pit stop.

El Pastor, Borough Market

4 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

6 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 Hari, Belgravia

6 months ago

The Vibe

The Hari Hotel – formerly Belgraves – and it’s luxurious bar, is nestled in the embassy district of Belgravia. Part of the New York luxury boutique chain of Thompson Hotels, The Hari provides a casual opulence and dressed-down bling to its guests, with excellent service and a charming atmosphere.

All soft furnishings and flattering lights, it’s a date location that shows a true touch of class. There’s also a very cosy roof terrace and botanical garden towards the back of the bar. I suggest you base yourselves there on a date and snuggle under the heaters.

The Order

The cocktail menu is fresh, fragrant and natural. It’s classic cocktails with a herbal twist. Try the Rosemary Whisky Sour or the Thyme Bramble. It’s always important to remember that knowing your favourite drink and ordering off menu is very sexy, but talking to the barman about which of their 12 bourbon whiskies makes the perfect Old Fashioned is not.

Order some light bites. The crispy squid is excellent. Probably stay clear of messy bites like chicken wings or having to say the words “I’ll have the cheese balls please” on a date.

The Game

Hotel bars are always great for people watching. The guests trudge in with their shopping bags. The visitors drink into the night, and as things get friskier they consider staying. Park yourselves on the black leather sofa in the far left hand corner of the bar. Sitting on a sofa together creates intimacy, whereas sitting opposite each other can create a confrontational vibe. On this sofa, you have a full view of the bar and she can drape her long legs over your lap. You’re the envy of the room.

The Faults 

It’s a popular haunt for super rich kids with nothing but fake friends. Quite a lot of people on their phones.

Sex Factor

4 – Belgravia just sounds sexy doesn’t it?

Humble Grape, Fleet Street

11 months ago

The Vibe

In the vaults of St Bride’s Church (where Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall exchanged their wedding vows) sits Humble Grape. Opening in the wake of its successful Battersea sister, this is City date heaven – dark, full of wine, not overpriced.

The ethos of the owners is to offer handcrafted wine from small, sustainable, independent vineyards, avoiding the industry-standard markups from agents, importers or distributors. Translation: you can drink deep without breaking the bank, in a rather good looking room.

The 200 person space hosts wine tastings, as well as working well for a dinner or just drinks date. Flattering lighting and the sort of place you could bring a group date or just one person. Head there mid-week to feel just a little bit bad.

The Order

Wine, swine. The wine list features around 30 wines available by the glass or carafe and over 200 wines available by the bottle to drink in or take away. You can pair with charcuterie and cheese or have a proper meal of Galician octopus and lamb stew. And the roast bone marrow with dipping soldiers? Wow.

The Game

This is a post work date for City workers. Meet there and playfully decide to choose a wine for each other. Create your own tasting experience by ordering new wines with every round and making up reviews.

Make sure you eat something – no one likes a corporate drunk – and stay until the place closes. Definitely kiss while you’re in there. Then resist the urge to go home together and order separate Ubers.

The Faults

It’s harder to keep the boutique feel in a big space.

Sex Factor

4. You drank too much.

The Grazing Goat, Marlyebone

1 year 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

1 year 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

1 year 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.

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