El Pastor, Borough Market

2 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.

Old Tom and English, Soho

11 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+.

The Cavendish, Marylebone

2 years ago

The Vibe

Approaching The Cavendish on a dark evening, one feels a little like they’ve walked into a Richard Curtis movie. The place is draped with lights, groups of friends sit chatting cosily, and it all colludes to make your heart feel warmed and your soul nostalgic. What initially feels like a gastro pub blossoms into something out of the ordinary when you make your way upstairs and enter an unexpectedly sophisticated dining room with exquisite food, candlelight and beautiful staff.

The Order

Head Chef here is ex-El Bulli (drop this into conversation and you’ll sound like a real foodie – mention that you saw the exhibition at Somerset House and you’re guaranteed a kiss) so the food is on a par with some of the City’s most fancy restaurants. Push the boat out and start with oysters, if only to set your intentions for the night. The Secreto (Iberian pork shoulder) is done brilliantly, and the Vongole Linguine is cooked table-side. Share a bottle of one of their Tuscan reds, and hit the bar downstairs for a nightcap.

The Game

Aforementioned lights make a great impression so approach the venue together. It’s tucked prettily away on an unsuspecting Marylebone street so wander over from Bond Street or arrange to meet near Selfridges. Call ahead and book a spot to pre-drink, waiting a while before you pull out the big gun and surprise your date with what lies above (you get little sense of the restaurants from the bar area downstairs). Chat casually with the staff, they’re discreet and knowledgeable so ask for recommendations to tease subtly away from overt cross table flirtation – then get straight back to it.

The Faults

It’s hard to top this fairy tale.

Sex Factor

5.

Brew, Putney

2 years ago

The Vibe

Brew is South West London at its finest.  A vast canopied outdoor area with seating and a selection of double beds casually draped with Arran rugs and thick woollen blankets. A pizza oven, an upcoming butchery, oars hanging on the walls, cheerful Australian staff – basically it’s the epitome of wholesome leafy London. However, it’s also surprisingly sexy. You can order breakfast and brunch dishes all day long; whatever your reasoning for not making it here until 4pm, we wholeheartedly approve.

The Order

Whilst dinner is excellently done here, date-wise this is a great daytime spot. Give the toddlers and their mothers time to clear out and arrive here mid-afternoon. Go for the brunch menu; sweet corn fritters are divine, as are the pancakes or opt for a full selection of eggs, bacon and juices. The ‘Breakfast Time Martini’  and the ‘Elegantly Wasted’ both speak for themselves, and there’s also a strong wine list with bottles of bubbly if you want to really amp up the outdoor bed experience.

The Game

Don’t pre book this – it’s the type of place you need to rock up to spontaneously, but have up your sleeve for when the right occasion arises. The day beds are ideal for the ‘morning after’ or for leisurely lounging; sharing a bottle of wine in the middle of the day doesn’t feel so elicit when you’re tucked up here. It’s hard to tear yourself away, so if you end up staying until darkness falls you won’t be disappointed. At night the lights dim, candles are lit and the dinner menu is sophisticated and varied.

The Faults

You won’t go here if you live in Shoreditch.

 Sex Factor

4.

The Red Bar, Fitzrovia

2 years ago

The Vibe

Can you keep a secret?  Shhh.  The corner of Percy Street, Rathbone Place and Charlotte Street is one of London’s buzziest night spots, The Red Bar.  Several floors above Bam-Bou Chinese & Thai restaurant on this very corner lies one of London’s sexiest little secrets.  Great for a restorative cocktail post shopping date as well as for an after dinner dram; it’s a versatile mistress and she’s eager to meet you.

The Order

Here’s the deal – a long list of beautiful, layered cocktails and on-it bar staff who can concoct anything your heart desires off-menu, a Japanese whisky list to make Robert Burns cry & tempting little snackettes such as Coconut Prawns and Vegetable Gyoza.  So far, so bar of your dreams. Try the house cocktail: a deliciously feminine confection of Umeshu, dry vermouth and orange bitters. On hot evenings and after something spicy to eat, the Pandan mule (pandan infused Wyborowa, lime juice, lemongrass & ginger syrup, ginger beer and kumquat) is just the tonic. From the Tequila and Mezcal counter, we tried the Mexican Bullet, a gorgeous coupe brimming over with kaffir lime infused Olmeca Altos plata, lemon juice, sugar, Kummel, nebulous egg whites and finished with bitters. Oh it’ll make you so happy you could die.

The Game

Whether it’s a November afternoon in the driving rain or a balmy July evening, Charlotte Street is a wonderful place to be. A mix of old favourites and slinky new hang-outs, this street has everything to offer London’s daterati.  Head for an 8pm sitting at nearby Roka for their scallop skewers and Korean spiced lamb cutlets; try the recommended warm sake to complement the meal but eat light. Link arms and walk out into the night, umbrella pop or fan flutter, and stroll slowly around the block soaking up the heady ‘Main Street’ atmosphere of the avenue. Come back around on yourselves and find No. 1 Percy Street. Don’t turn left into the restaurant but climb the creaky staircase to the third floor where you will find the Red Bar. Elegant, sexy and shabby in equal Oriental measure, this is an intelligent bar which is ready to cater to your every alcoholic whim. Sink into the Laboutin red sofa just long enough before you strategically make a play for the ladies; your exit tempting him with the sight of you in your clingy little black dress. Dazzle with your witty repartee avoiding any chitter chatter about work and soon you’ll be settled in for the night. Boy, do these drinks hold their own. Black cab back for an intoxicating good night kiss and maybe an invite in for coffee.

The Faults

All the slebs nab the prime seats (by the window for the great view) so perhaps go early or go late to avoid any disappointments.

Sex Factor

3.  Low lights, delicious booze, on the fringes of Soho, intense weather….makes a girl feel a little wanton.

Paramount, Bloomsbury

2 years ago

The Vibe

Dizzying heights done well.  Paramount is the big brother to the new crew of spring chicken towers popping up around our city’s skyline. It’s wise and knowing, the staff are slick and the drinks are strong.  The 360 degree viewing gallery upstairs seems wonderfully immune to tourists and the restaurant is much more than a room with a view.  City boys sit with dates or mates, groups of women high-flyers shimmy past en route to the bar, and the general atmosphere is one of slightly smug cosiness, at the top of the Centre Point.

The Order

Portions are generous, as are the wine pours. The menu is that sort of modern British blend that allows you to have anything from sea bass with coco beans and samphire, to venison with ‘dehydrated chervil root’. Seasonal changes are inevitable in a place like this that clearly cares about produce but if possible do try the scallops and pork belly starter, and the duck with celeriac puree. You’ll need to save room for cocktails in the bar so go with a glass of the Sancerre followed by one of the Bordeaux reds to see you sophisticatedly through.

The Game

Meet downstairs and ascend the lift together.  If you meet there, you’ll miss sharing the wow factor as you step out of the lift and share the first glimpse of London by night. Arrive when it’s dark or if you can be sure of timings, coinciding with the sunset is never going to be a downer. Candlelight and dark wood make this as easy venue to steer the evening towards an early kiss so don’t be shy and claim the altitude has got you giddy if it all seems too forward. Start and close the night with cocktails, either in the entrance bar or one floor up in the viewing gallery, and a window table whilst dining will more than seal the deal.

The Faults

The bill will mount up, but divisible by levels above ground and the ice shattering views, it’ll be more than worth it.

Sex Factor 4. This place is oozing in it, and it knows it.

Blackfoot, Exmouth Market, Farringdon

2 years ago

The Vibe

Exmouth Market is a foodie date destination and a half.  Caravan, Moro, The Quality Chop House and Medcalf all occupy units here.  The brainchild of Tom Ward (founder of Leon) and Chef Allegra McEvedy, Blackfoot joined the party last year and has proved itself as yet another capable host.  A former pie and mash shop, the original décor has been retained whilst the wooden booths and wall tiling really add to the eccentric charm.  It’s a cosy diner vibe with a killer menu and comes highly recommended for a casual date with someone who has humour and appetite.

The Order

This is pure unadulterated fun, perfect for those among you for whom eating is a seduction in itself.  Ordering a portion of chilli crackling, eagerly attacking your sticky, aromatic ribs (braised with lemongrass, ginger and lime) or unashamedly mopping up the remainder of your pork and clam soup with your toasted ciabatta is exactly the protocol here.  Don’t be afraid to be yourself.  It’s actively encouraged.  Start with the Lomo (air cured loin from pigs fed on goat’s whey in Dorset) or the Trevelez Jamon (aged for 24 months in Spain).  Fill thy boots pig fans.

The wine list is excellent and varied, the drinks are robust with some tasty British ciders on the roster (apple and piggy being such best friends) and every taste is catered for; you can have fizz, a spritzer or a long drink.

The Game

Having recently visited the newly opened Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings just around the corner on Northampton Road, I would suggest meeting there and having a couple of cheeky pre-dinner cocktails.  A short walk around the corner and along the atmospheric market, you’ll soon be greeted by the glowing neon sign declaring PORK.  Bundle inside and nestle into your booth for the evening.  Let the drinks flow and order whatever you fancy from the menu, giving absolutely eff all thought to what is more ladylike or gentlemanly to eat.  If you make the cardinal mistake of turning up wearing white, ask for a bib and roll your sleeves up.  Enjoy.  Depending on how you feel after your meal, you could always hop across the market to have a few final jars at the excellent Café Kick or the Exmouth Arms before stumbling home suitably satisfied and relaxed.

The Faults

Service can be a bit intermittent but on the whole the staff are keen to make recommendations and bring you pig in all its wonderful forms.  It will be easy to eat too much so just bear that in mind when deciding what the postprandial plan is.

Sex Factor – 3.  A down to earth treat.

Gremio de Brixton, Brixton

2 years ago

The Vibe

Along with the new Dalston-esque night market and the perpetual hope/fear that you may bump into Jay Rayner, there is now another acceptable reason to visit Brixton: Gremio de Brixton.

In fact, it’s not even that new; the restaurant inexplicably chose to launch without publicity two years ago. Given the entrance is in a churchyard, so passing trade is a few tramps and the verger, it’s been a slow-burn. But within a few minutes of arriving I wanted to grab a pile of flyers and head straight into town to promote for them.  It’s ace.

Not only is this place under the radar, it’s also under the church, in the crypt of St Matthew’s. Cue the set of a Hammer Horror film, yet no, Gremio de Brixton is warm, inviting and romantic. Rather than Transylvania it feels more like Andalusia, which bodes well given that this is a Spanish Tapas restaurant.

The ceilings are low and vaulted in red brick, the lighting is candle-y but you don’t get that dreaded subterranean Gordon’s Wine Bar drip drip from the ceiling into your drink. I mentioned this to my date, who unexpectedly, is highly knowledgeable in the field of damp-proof-coursing.  Apparently the damp-proof-coursing at Gremio de Brixton is of a superior finish. Egon Ronay doesn’t even have a star rating for that.  Amateur.

The Order

Neither I nor my date-who’s-actually-not-a-date-at-all (my other half is working late so I’ve borrowed someone else’s) are big fish eaters, a concept I suspect the waiter is still scratching his head over, so we asked him to ‘bring us some meat’.

This he did in the form of Croquetas de Jamón (ham, er, croquettes) which were delicious, accompanied by Huevos Rotos Con Txistorra, which is essentially duck egg with Txistorra sausage. If I ever find myself chained to a radiator in the Middle East, this will be the dish I remember, just to keep me going.

All this along with Patatas Bravas, which they’d done in a sort of curry sauce, controversial but brilliant and Padron peppers, which deserve note too, properly tasty, though perhaps £4.50 is perhaps a lot to pay for them. Whatever; we were very happy indeed.

Content to trust the waiter, we asked what wine he’d recommend and, in a victory for popular wisdom, he chose us the second from the top, a red which went down quickly and well.

“Is the veal ethical?” didn’t faze him either. “Why of course!”  It comes specifically from Spain, the gist of his answer being that the Madrid branch of PETA eats it for breakfast, lunch and tea. This satisfied my date and I was too gentlemanly to point out that, as the home of bullfighting, I’m not sure I’ll take any lessons on bovine husbandry from the Spanish. But I will eat all the grilled veal sirloin steak Gremio de Brixton can serve.  It melted in our mouths.

We topped it off with Chocolate Coulant – cake and strawberry ice cream – which pretty much saw that we would need rolling from the premises.

The Game

My date’s opening gambit was, “did you know that dogs always shit in the same direction?” “Say what??” “Yeah, something to do with magnets.”  This is kooky date territory, if actually quite interesting (get this: apparently dogs have inbuilt GPS that makes them always do their business facing Mecca.  Actually, I’m now questioning this…) but as I pushed my Txistorra sausage away it did make me realise how at home we obviously felt that this was an acceptable conversation to be having.  All those folks in Novikov and Nobu discussing Knightsbridge penthouse prices or haggling with high class escorts: more fool them; if you want to feel genuinely at ease, head to Gremio de Brixton.

The Faults

You know those girls who think they’re fat when really they’re stunningly beautiful, yet one mention of their sticky-out ears could send them lurching toward the sleeping pills? Gremio de Brixton seems to have worked so hard to get here yet I feel they need an esteem boost, and given it was such a good evening I’d feel cruel pointing out that they aren’t brilliant at answering the phone, that it’s annoyingly shut on Mondays or the wine is a teeny bit expensive. So I shan’t, y’know, just in case.

Sex Factor

5.  With notable exceptions (tea round Joseph Fritzl’s house and the entire Northern Line) anything underground is sexy, right?  We both left feeling warm and fuzzy and vowing to bring our respective partners back in the near future. I recommend you do the same.

Bourne and Hollingsworth Buildings, Clerkenwell

2 years ago

The Vibe

The Bourne & Hollingsworth Group are a creative bunch.  When I first moved to London, one of my first finds was their Prohibition themed bar in Fitzrovia.  They were busy serving up Gin cocktails in a tiny dive bar space bedecked in chintzy wallpaper that wouldn’t look out of place at your grandparents’ and tunes would bang out until the wee hours from a DJ station atop an ironing board.  Next came the famous and very fun Blitz and Prohibition parties.  Now Bourne & Hollingsworth Group have turned their hand to an all-day brasserie and bar just off Farringdon Road in a very up and coming area; ahead of the curve as usual.  The vibe at Bourne and Hollingsworth Buildings is boozy, botanical and post-colonial chic – the elegant bar is stocked up with just about every libation known to man, propped up with intellectual types (is that a copy of The Great Gatsby in that man’s back pocket?  Yes, I do believe it is). Branches, vines, plants and leaves hang, twist and gild around the two rooms; the parlour at the front with the sprawling bar and relaxed lounge with its mismatched vintage furniture and the restaurant room at the back; a charming conservatory with some plush velvet banquettes and a selection of garden tables and chairs.  The English Garden doggone went and got its hair did.

The Order

We began the evening with a cocktail apiece.  Please note that this man generally does not ‘do’ cocktails.  For him, the ‘West Indian Gimlet’, consisting of ultra- manly (it was the only way I could get him to try it) Navy Strength Gin, Steve’s Falernum #7 (whatever that is – who cares? It’s delicious), fresh lime juice & House Bitters served in the most beautiful antique glass. He loved it.  For me, a very ladylike ‘Cider Rose’, which was Apple & Blackberry shrub stirred with Somerset Cider Brandy, topped with Fizz and it came served with a large rose petal in the flute.  Classy.

We ate a pleasing meal here with some lovely flourishes of excellence.  Scallops with parsnip puree and hazelnut gravy was light and tasty and the pork belly on sweet potato puree and plantain fritters satiated my guy’s desire for a flavoursome and full meal.  Desserts were yummy; caramel fondant perfectly oozy and his lime and olive cheesecake thrillingly umami.  I’ve been telling EVERYONE I know about that cheesecake.

The Game

Arrive early and try to nab one of the banquettes otherwise one or both of you is in for a slightly sore bottom on the garden furniture.  Order a cocktail.  Cue: mood lights.  Oh yes, the lights are dimmed and romance is ushered in.  Decide on your wine (nice wine list).  Peruse the cheeky little menu and see what you fancy.  Hopefully, conversation is in full flow by the time your meal arrives and you can play a flirty game over the dessert and coffee or shall we have another drink conundrum.  Dessert is recommended as is having a night cap.  Perch on the comfy bar stools and choose something to suit your mood.  Whisper in each other’s ear.  Get a cab on order…

A great spot for an early evening bite to eat or a perfect luncheon on a cold, bright weekend day.  Alternatively, just the location for a few cocktails before or after having a wander around Exmouth Market.

The Faults

It’s a little hidden away.  Then again, we all like to find something that others don’t know about.

Sex Factor – 3.  When spring returns, this little lady will be blushing beautifully in all the right places but until then, hot toddies all round.

Chelsea Prayer Room, GOAT, Chelsea

2 years ago

The Vibe

In a City obsessed with hidden gems, where every fridge, nook and cranny seems to be home to a sneaky watering hole, I’ve taken to whispering passwords at pretty much anything these days – toilet seats included, and knocking for hollow walls. So the Chelsea Prayer Room upstairs at The Goat has a tough act to follow, but holds its own against fierce competition. Say you’re there to “repent for your sins” and get a secret code that opens a hidden door into a den of opulence. Inside, it more than meets expectations; reaffirming why the speakeasy is such a popular first date choice: flattering candlelight, sofas to sink into side-by-side, vintage charm aplenty and dare I say it – jazz. There are plenty of conversation pieces around to help with general ice-breaking; the menu comes in an old hymn book, cocktails arrive in beautiful crystal glasses – even the shot (on the house no less) came in an antique shot glass, not to mention the potency of the beverages themselves. We are not breaking any new ground here, but the formula ain’t broke. Anyway, it’s about time that Chelsea caught up with some of the Hackney staples (vintages touches and tattooed staff). The only giveaway that you’re still in the Royal Borough is the well-heeled crowd. Famously, the artist George Morland had to pay his bar bill here with a painting.  Today’s drinkers don’t look like bills are a problem.

The Order

The drinks have as much substance as style. Get the Little Tokyo (plum wine and egg white), which is different and effective. Tread carefully with Death in the Afternoon (champagne, absinthe, lemon). The food hails from the pub downstairs.  This is New York diner fare with a gourmet flourish – fries here are made from polenta and drizzled in truffle oil and are delicious. The burgers are a safe bet, though not the easiest first date fodder, but perhaps wise if you favour the Dutch courage approach to dating. The best thing we had was the ‘Nduja (spicy pork) pizza, which I’ve been craving ever since.

The Game

Get the timing right as you don’t want to arrive too early. Start the night with dinner downstairs (or outside if it’s still warm) and then head here for a more intimate drink if things are going well.  You leave by the back stairs so you needn’t worry about staggering a little after the absinthe-laced cocktails – or getting a little frisky. It’s perfect for a cosy winter date with extra cachet, and a welcome addition to the repertoire of the West.

The Faults

The Chelsea crowd, though great for people watching, do clash a bit with the trendy, shabby atmosphere.

Sex Factor

4 – Unique, potent cocktails in a brooding environment will leave you repenting for another day and it is absolutely worth it.

 

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