Wright Brothers, South Kensington
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.
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.
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.
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.
4. Serious credentials.