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.

Beer and Buns, Spitalfields

1 year ago

The Vibe

This noisy bar with its fun quirks is definitely a place where you can find a corner and get a bit drunk and silly on a first date.

So first thing’s first, don’t get lost on the way to your date and go to the Japanese restaurant beneath it because it’s easily done. Take a right at the K10 restaurant door and head on upstairs. You’ll be led up a dark set of stairs with various pieces of sound advice doodled on the walls. This reveals at the top an equally dark bar filled with indie music, sake bombs and bar staff encouraging you to write on the walls. It’s something a bit different and a very relaxed atmosphere.

The clientele is young and fun so a quiet, romantic dinner for two this is not.

The Order

They were spot on when they chose the name of this bar.The craft beer and steamed ‘Hirata’ buns are the order of the day, with a side order of sweet potato fries and spicy mayo. If you’re looking to bring your A-game and wow your date with your charm and sophistication, then the slightly messy jumbo chicken wings may not be what you’re looking for. However, if you feel your blossoming relationship can take it, order away as they are a treat.

The selection of craft beers is lovingly chosen – if you’d like some back stories behind the selection then John behind the bar is more than happy to oblige. The frozen margaritas and strawberry daiquiris make a nice change from the usual order and cool down your palate if you’ve gone for the basket of spicy popcorn to share.

The Game

So, let’s talk date logistics. Arrange to meet outside the K10 Japanese restaurant and head upstairs together. This eliminates the possibility of your date getting lost, and also if it’s a blind date, you may need some extra light to recognise them from their picture.

When you’ve made it to the bar, head for a table in the far corner so you have a little dark spot to yourselves. You have to order at the bar so negotiate that between the two of you. Once the evening is well underway, if you feel like things are heating up, undertake a sake bomb challenge on one of the barrels. Things will probably escalate from here. Don’t forget at the end of the date to emblazon you and your date’s names onto the walls of the bar, a real sign of true love.

The Faults

Sometimes the music is a bit loud and your sweet nothings can get lost in the lyrics, but that just gives you an excuse to get a little closer now doesn’t it?

Sex Factor

2. Initially this venue may seem pretty casual but the vibes and yummy alcohol lay the groundwork for things to heat up later in the night.

House of Ho, Soho

3 years ago

The Vibe

When you name a restaurant House of Ho, you’re giving the nervous dater immediate fodder for some rather unfunny banter. The awkward phone call ended with ‘Oh it’s not what you think Petra’ (pause) ‘unless you want it to be…’. The night before text with ‘Well I thought you were into that sort of thing’ (smiley face wink). Or the classic in person train crash of a slapped knee and a shouted ‘hell yeah it is!’. The Soho location and the neon sign don’t help your unwitty smokescreen but thankfully once you enter HOH you’re presented with a casual and mood lit room, with a very long bar and 2-man tables with tea candles and decadently large wine glasses. The food is modern Vietnamese and the restaurateur behind it is TV personality and chef Bobby Chinn, a man whose flitting between edginess and intense charm only adds to the media buzz about to descend on this place. The layout actually couldn’t be more perfect for dating; it manages to be casual while bathing you in a flattering light and enticing you to work away at the cocktails. The charming and slick staff class itup even further and, although primarily a restaurant, talk you through the cocktail list, encouraging you to order ‘to your taste’. And unlike Soho’s date magnet Yauatcha, with its infallible small plate and cocktail combo, the prices are goddamn reasonable. Sold.

The Order

If Chinn is in the building he’ll guide you to an ‘off menu’ item involving an egg in rice paper with mushrooms and a light but sweet sauce. It wasn’t my favourite thing on the table but if the big man offers you a speciality in full view of your date you say hell yes and ask for more suggestions. Politely decline and you look like an ungrateful pansy. The food comes in small plated portions so the best way to work is to order in two rounds and see how you feel. Start with cocktails – a Hogroni and a variation on a Whiskey Sour. Then order the unbelievably moreish sweet Lemongrass Monkfish (actually order two), apple smoked Pork Belly and smokey aubergine. Now pause, have another round of cocktails and re-enter the fray with their popular chicken wings (delicate and not sloppy to eat) plus whatever Bobby tells you to.

The Game

It’s ideal for an enjoyable Thursday night double date or an extremely relaxed second date. You can either book or walk in so this could be a good option for carrying on a drinks date in Soho that seems to be going well. There’s very little game that’s required here, other than maintaining a calm and relaxed vibe – it’s not the place for pedants or peacocks. Stick to spirits, getting giddy and stopping after two rounds. Wrap it up after 90 minutes and suggest continuing the cocktail vibe in the basement at Bodega Negra or at the champagne bar at Kettners. All going well, this is the sort of place you’ll return to the next week with another couple, and perhaps next month for your birthday meal. Whether you get action depends on whether you can pepper the informal vibe with the odd spark of smut.

The Faults

Minimal. It’s just opened so there are bound to be a few teething issues. Some dishes are pretty sweet but that’s down to taste.

Sex Factor

3. Fun and casual, could go either way.

Honky Tonk, Clapham

3 years ago

The Vibe

‘I like a girl who can drink me under the table’, says the rosy cheeked boarding school boy as he rationalises last night’s raucous date. Honky Tonk is playful, extremely fun and the right sort of place for eating and drinking yourself silly on a Thursday night. Elegant it is not. The blaring positives are: it’s relaxed and unpretentious, it’s unashamedly focused on cocktail swilling and carb loading, and there’s enough exposed brick and low slung lighting to give it the character of a downtown New York feeding hole, thus rescuing it from the brink of tack. Although it sadly doesn’t attract the jovial pink shirt sporting LADS and Sandro-wearing young’uns that the Chelsea branch does, it’s still steadfastly committed to attracting a twentysomething crowd that likes to extend their meals well into the night by ordering bottles of wine on the half hour, for 3 hours, until midnight. This is perfect for a third date with someone who is a laugh a minute, a group date for 6 or a fuss free place to nurse a hangover and indulge in every American Diner dish there is, from sludge-thick milkshakes to burgers that refuse to be reined in by their buns.

The Order

Let’s not dwell on a conscientious food critique here; it’s American fare, well done, with enough cheese, chili and chocolate  sauce for you to exclaim ‘oh this is indulgent’ as you subtly loosen your waistband and heckle your date to order another round of Mai Tais. The sticky pork ribs are bang on, accompanied by cheesy potato skins with beans (not mince pal, take it easy).  For mains, go for two Honky Tonk burgers and be done with it. With salsa, guac, cheese, bacon, caramelised onions, lettuce, tomato and burger sauce, it’s a ballsy little fella and bloody good. Whatever you do, don’t order dessert.  Although the Key Lime Pie is buttery and rich, it will kill the date as it sends you rocketing into a coma. Come back with friends for that, and the mud pie. And to drink? Well it’s Thirsty Thursday so start with a round of Marmalade Margaritas and then bottles of wine ad infinitum.

The Game

You live in Clapham, she lives in Battersea, it is a relationship of convenience as much as passion. The first two dates went very well indeed, with an East London speakeasy, then a Soho canteen. You had fun, you clearly get on, but from stories that slipped out about university days you suspect they have a propensity for juvenile drinking, and you’d like to see it. Schedule this for the end of the week and eat a tiny lunch. No need to meet at the station, it’s directly opposite. Get there and don’t wait drinking at the bar, you need to pace yourself.  Once you’re seated, set the tone by oversharing an inappropriate story – you’re making sure your date knows that tonight is no holds barred. Order the drinks and flirt aggressively. Tell your date you’ll just order a bunch of stuff for both, then get back to the chat. Drink wine, go to town on the innuendo and stay till close. Then catch a cab to one of yours and make spoons.

The Faults

It’s like an up-market university flashback, certainly not the place for a princess.

Sex Factor

2. You overdid it.

Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden

3 years ago

The Vibe

You can forget Oliver Dabbous or Tom Sellers*, the chef that hungry Londoners should be most thankful for is Ross Shonhan. First he brought us Bones Daddies, with its hearty, rich and fat-spiked ramen noodles, a Soho joint that we’ll queue outside of for a full hour with not a whisper of complaint. And then he added Flesh & Buns to the mix, a Taiwanese fast-food joint in a Covent Garden basement, with the same Rock n’ Roll inspired deco, the same good-looking punters and the same Big Apple buzz. But it’s bigger and it’s about the buns, sweet and fluffy hirata filled with slow-cooked, well marinated, grilled to perfection meats. There’s no such thing as an awkward date here. The communal tables keep it informal, the food keeps it exciting, the work on your part is minimal.

The Order

Buns, you fool. The top flesh picks are pork belly with mustard miso, crispy duck with sour plum sauce and grilled sea bass with coriander miso. It’s quite a lot of food for one each but then you don’t want to miss out so order two different ones to share anyway. Accompany that with the softshell crab and some edamame to start. Drink pomegranate martinis or white wine. The famous house dessert is the S’More – marshmallows, chocolate, matcha and biscuits- a traditional US campfire treat that arrives with its very own stone hearth.  It’s fun to play with and tasty to eat but you’re sadly likely to be a bit full by the time you get to it. Don’t force yourself, it’s a date dude.

The Game

Covent Garden dating can be started early and dragged out far into the night.  Tonight’s theme is New York livin’.  Meet straight after work and head to Mischkin’s Jewish deli for a Cucumber Martini or Gin Sour in an artificially informal, but nevertheless charming, setting. Then head to F&B for an 8pm sitting and prepare to be welcomed by staff who are all grins and Yank enthusiasm. Position yourself at a sharing table and take stock of the couples either side of you – hopefully they are loud and funny enough to provide eavesdropping fodder for any silences. If you picked the restaurant, you do the ordering, both the cocktails and the drinks. Natter away about the concept until you’re relaxed, then enter into a warm phase of conversation, unpretentious and a little silly, peppered with gags and rolled eyes about your neighbours. One cocktail will suffice, this isn’t a drinking marathon. Then pay up after less than two hours and welcome the cool outside air. Stand around for a bit and suggest a coffee for the road, leading them to transatlantic Balthazar for a decaf Americano. Sit on a snug, crazy-romantic two-man table near the window, vibe off the setting, and chat till you’re tired. Then walk them to the last tube, kiss merely on the lips outside and part ways. Text to see if they got home OK and suggest you try Bone Daddies next week ‘just to balance things out’.

The Faults

The booths could be cosier.

Sex Factor

2. It’s about food and camaraderie. However, if you switch that post-meal coffee for some beakers of wine at Pix you’re sure to change the direction of things.

*26 year old superchef behind Story

Photo credits: @wilkes888, wilkes888.wordpress.com

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