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.

Anderson and Co, Peckham

1 year ago

The Vibe

Sat along a wooden bench, by a door which opens onto a candlelit, plant strewn garden conservatory, opposite a warming open kitchen, this restaurant is just the sort of place to romance someone on the down low. Enter the casual-looking restaurant, you can either go for a subtle flirt with a bite at the high-bar, or set up a traditional date by taking a table in the back.

The owner, Lisa – an effusive, charming woman who moved to Peckham before the rest of us did – and the staff channel Boho vibes with none of the snobbery. Menus, wine glasses, and cutlery are handed to you as if a guest at a dinner, encouraged to pass things down, and the whole setting is one of accidental charm. Intimate, cosy and with stonking good food.

The Order

Lisa changes the menu accordingly to whimsy, with staples like the burgers and brunch classics (‘I’ve taken more avocado brunch orders than is possible’), fusing with monthly new players. On this date, we started with small ball crab cakes, fried artichokes (divine) and aranchini balls with pesto mayo– so tasty and great liners for the wine list we were intent on exploring. Which brings me to the date high five here – insanely moreish wine. Lisa went on a ruthless hunt for their house red and the result is a very punchy, utterly quaffable, sweet nectar. It was a Wednesday night and we drank two. For mains, it’s hearty fare from ex Soho Hotel chef Teemu Tovainen, – a slow cooked of lamb shank with mash and jus, a burger with garlic aioli and blue cheese. Then a dessert of banoffee pie, deconstructed in a little pot. So. Much Consumption.

The Game

This place is packed on weekends so aim for a cheeky midweek date. Straight after work gives you enough time to take it slow and settle in as you would a good friend’s dinner party. Except at this one you’re sat opposite a bit of a hottie. At the start, tease Lisa into your conversation – her frivolity should coerce you into a relaxed date. Counterbalance the sheer amount of food by asking for side plates and sharing it all.

Conversation will inevitably lead to property prices, how Peckham is the new wherever, and why you’re tired of Soho joints (despite dating there religiously). Suddenly you imagine a life with this person that’s full of Sunday papers in cafes and ethnic food in new locales. You loosen up, drink up, and light up outside as you wait for Uber. Kiss in the back and get back to The City.

The Faults

The couple next to you may listen in for sport. That’s OK, you’re pretty interesting.

Sex Factor

2. More on the romance, food and fine wine vibes.

 

Three Eight Four, Brixton

2 years ago

The Vibe

The demise of the hipster, hailed in the Guardian last month, has not been much mourned in South London. Why aspire to the specious counter-culture of Shoreditch when you can enjoy the genuine multi-culture of Brixton? The market still bustles despite Tesco’s invasion. The Ritzy still glows. And drugs still flow on street corners from people who look like they need the money – not the armoured vehicles of Hackney dealers, who don’t.

Yet a graveyard for hipsters, South London has become. Here, bearded types are settling to die – or at least grow up – priced out of Hoxton or exhausted from cycling to and from Homerton. Where, oh where can these watered down wastrels find girlfriends to spur on the transition to maturity?

Enter Three Eight Four, a new cocktail bar with exposed brick walls, distressed unisex loos kitted out with self-consciously retro hand-dryers, presumably imported from East London. Small and local (the premises used to purvey horse meat before the supermarkets took that over), the place has a pulse that positions it perfectly as the scene of a first date with a one-time scenester.

The Order

Cocktails frothing with egg-white. Four in the Pink, an unholy Trinity of Campari, Amaretto and Cointreau, topped with a Love Heart to articulate the adoration that will consume you upon first sip. Three Eight Four‘s small plates of food ensure the drink will go your head while supplying something to chew on if the conversation’s found wanting. Sweet potato chips (£2.25) are at the top of their class. Salt and pepper squid with aioli (£6) is plentiful and perfect.

The Game

Go! Eat, drink, be merry and, if you’re still standing at 11pm, hit the Effra Social, opposite, for its Dance Hall or hop on a bus to Peckham or New Cross to crash an art student’s house party.

The Faults

Negligible. An egregious rectangular plate briefly offended an otherwise faultless aesthetic.

Sex Factor

4. How to deny the dying breath of a hipster past his prime?

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.

Zucca, Bermondsey

5 years ago

The Vibe

When Zucca launched in 2010 it was seen as a cross between the River Café and St John, albeit minus the waterfront and without the pungent offal. Two years on and Zucca is still a strong force on the Bermondsey food scene, bravely fighting off the modish José  Pizarro’s attempts to make the area his tapas empire.  A modern and minimalist Italian joint, Zucca is the place to take a date if a) you want to look money without actually having to spend that much, b) you want to casually pretend you’ve been coming to Bermondsey since before it became ‘big’ or c) you’re still excited by a free amuse bouche at the start of a meal. If you can manage to get a table (book well in advance), you’ll be welcomed by a waitress whose haircut and makeup combo is as immaculate as the dining room she marshals. Thanks to an open-plan kitchen, a diverse crowd and an affordable (ish) menu, the formality is taken down a notch. The dishes, particularly the fish, are creative, beautifully flavoured, and delicate, with the thankful inclusion of rich pastas to satisfy the very hungry or very hung over.

The Order

The salted cod to start is a treat. For mains, opt for one pasta and one meat or fish to share. Although the menu changes regularly, look out for the roast cod with borlotti beans, clams and ransom. It’s excellent. And if she happens to ask, ransom is “a wild garlic plant with leaves that give a slightly more delicate taste than normal garlic”, translation “less likely to overpower me when I lunge in for a snog”. Skip dessert and perk up with an espresso and some limoncello before you carry on elsewhere.

The Game

Act au fait when your date gets excited about the surprising delights of Bermondsey, you are so at home here already. Keep the conversation cultured, sip on chilled white and name drop the other good foodie spots in the area.  Educate her, without being an utter twat- a very thin line indeed. Then swing by the White Cube gallery and charmingly poke fun at its pretentiousness, making witty little jokes about the art and proving that, despite what everything up to this point may have proved, you really are rather a laugh. Comparatively.  If it’s looking good at this point, suggest a trip to Vinoteca for some wine tasting and angle for a drunken kiss on the romantic cobbles once night falls. Better yet, take her down one of London Bridge’s many tunnels, either very intimate or slightly creepy.

The Faults

If you’re feeling anything less than perky then the bright, white and clean space is far from the dark cocoon you are most comfortable wooing dates in. That said, man up.

Sex Factor

1. A glorious date in a charming locale but you’re going to really have to drag it out if you’re expecting anything more. My advice is to save your money for the second date and just make sure that it’s in a shameless Shoreditch bar.

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