El Pastor, Borough Market

9 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.

Padella, Borough

1 year ago

The Vibe

This is the most exciting restaurant to open in 2016, from the restauranteurs behind Islington’s popular date spot Trullo. Lip-smacking fresh pasta dishes in a covetable, over-popular small restaurant by London Bridge.

This is perfect for a mid-week date with someone who doesn’t mind a little queue – and isn’t carb dodging. Seats can be up at the counter (pretty hot), side by side in the window or on small snug tables downstairs. Waiters are clipped and to the point, service is speedy and you can be in and out within 60mins.

The Order

The Pici Cacio e Pepe is the star dish – a butter, cheesey, peppery melting pasta. Pick a second main to share, like a rich ragu, and start with burrata and bruschetta with borlotti beans. You can take or leave the wine as the focus is the food, and move on to a nearby bar afterwards to reflect on the feast.

The Game

Meet at London Grind for a Tommy’s Margarita and then head down to the queue, tipsy and relaxed. Once you’re in, order quick and share everything. Sop up juices with extra bread and joke about who’s getting the bigger share. Then pay up and head to Bedales wine for romantic reds and your first kiss.

The Faults

The line outside.

Sex Factor

2. It’s a foodie factor really.

Hixter, Bankside

1 year ago

The Vibe

Any serial dater worth their salt has been to Mark’s Bar in Soho. Sitting underneath Hix restaurant on Brewer Street, it’s a dark cocktail den that balances between playful and romantic; not too much for a first date, just enough for a first kiss.

Hixter, another Mark Hix joint on Bankside, has a very similar basement bar but with less of a couples-only vibe. Post-work groups fuse with casual twosomes on third, fourth and 21st dates to create a very relaxed atmosphere. Grab a quick beer while standing, or perch on black cinema-style chairs at a low semi-circular bar necking cocktails. Then, if they’re worth it, sit down to steak upstairs.

The Order

First, red wine or Negronis at the bar. There’s a decent red around the £6 mark but on a date you should hover around the £9ers. Even if eating dinner upstairs, share a snack like chicken popcorn to line the stomach. Once in the restaurant, it’s giant Yorkshire pudding with whipped, buttery chicken livers to start. Then either a roast chicken for two or sirloin steaks, bernaise, chips and token greens. Dessert? I couldn’t possibly.

The Game

A 6pm seating in the bar followed by a 8pm restaurant session. Yes, that’s two hours of pre-drinking but, yes, you can get away with it here. Hobble upstairs, be bolshy with the fun waiting staff and sit at a table for four, side by side. Start on the tap water and food. Squeeze their hand conspiratorially under the table and drop a line. Then crack on with the meal and chat only about the trivial. Snog at the table but don’t go home together – you want to be messy in public, not private.

The Faults

The restaurant isn’t always that full mid-week so you need to bring the noise (or apologise for it).

Sex Factor

3. Probably not tonight but it’s brownie point central.

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.

 

Rivington, Greenwich

1 year ago

The Vibe

Peaceful first / twentieth date venue away from the hustle and bustle of…the rest of London.

Snuggled away in Greenwich, you might see the Rivington by default as a ‘destination restaurant’. But, just a short walk from the river and minutes from some stunning views of the city juxtaposed with the magnificence of the Old Royal Naval College (a tip for the for the post-dinner stroll), it’s a destination worth heading for.

Clientele is an equal combination of blissful couples and happy families, and the layout is ‘just so’ – as my date called it, ‘as a restaurant should be’. I imagine that even on the busiest of nights you wouldn’t be distracted by any other table than the one at which you are sat. Assuming your date is a hottie, that has to be a good thing.

The Order

Start with some bubbly, some oysters and some chat before perusing the menu and enlisting your charming waiter Oliver to advise on the extensive wine list.

My date’s devilled lamb’s kidneys were gorgeous and full of flavour, while I opted for the mixed beetroot, pickled walnuts & goat’s cheese salad. To follow: seared Isle of Mull scallops, Old Spot bacon and black pudding – the biggest, sweetest scallops I have ever had, on a satisfying bed of potato puree. If you’re after a steak, I’d recommend going for the best on the menu here, a 32 day aged Hereford rib eye steak with chips and Bearnaise.

You probably won’t need a dessert, but there’s never any harm in sharing an apple & blackberry crumble or honeycomb ice cream with hot toffee sauce.

The real way to finish off: a G&T, expertly selected from Rivington’s extensive four-page gin menu.

The Game

If you’re a city worker, getting to Greenwich is a doddle. If you’re really wanting to make an impression, though, meet at a bar around Docklands (we like The Oiler Bar) before whisking them off on the Emirates Cable Car to soak up the London skyline.

Once you’re at the restaurant, aim for a table upstairs on the edge of the balcony for some date night seclusion with a view.

If the night has been a success, the Picturehouse next door is currently doing a 9pm showing of Lobster. Alternatively, that walk by the Cutty Sark will have your date truly disarmed.

The Faults

Sadly not quite close enough to home to become a regular.

 Sex factor

4.  By the time that first oyster had slipped down, he’d lost his head and I went weak at the knees. (“Poor little oysters.”) This is the place for a romantic night with your other half / soon-to-be other half.

Arabica Bar and Kitchen, London Bridge

2 years ago

The Vibe

Arabica is the sort of date restaurant you go to once, love, then go again and again with the same person until something happens, or you grow bored. The simplicity of the offering –punchy red wine, morsels of Middle Eastern meze, outdoor seating, a cosy Victorian arch in Borough market – makes this a date for someone you want to kick back with and get to know. If you want belly dancers and flickering lights, go to Marylebone’s Levant. If you want a relaxed three hour date, pull up a steel chair on the pavement and soak it up.

The Order

You order differently on a date here to how you would with friends. From experience, too many meat plates are libido killers. Instead, order plates in pairs with hefty wine breaks. Start with hummus and halloumi cheese, then chicken and pistachio shish with cardamom, honey and green chilli, add a tabouleh and end the meal with two portions of batata hara (thrice cooked potatoes with peppers and chilli). In fact, scrap the rest, you could live off the batata plus their Montepulciano for months.

The Game

For the best atmosphere, date here on Friday or Saturday nights, for the late sitting. Meet at Dandelyan bar at the Mondrian for a 6pm drink, then head to the hotel basement for a film in the Curzon. Order wine as you watch and stumble into the night ravenous. Wander through cobbled streets to Arabica, beg for an outside table to counteract your flush, then order some water with that wine. Move your seats side by side, observe the crowd, witter on about summer nights and grand plans, then walk towards Tower Bridge and tash on.

The Faults

It’s not as fun inside as it is out.

Sex Factor

4. Light food, spicy wine.

 

Wonderland bar, The Vaults, Waterloo

2 years ago

The Vibe

Themed bars tend to walk the fine line between tolerably cheesy and horrifyingly cheesy. Wonderland Bar is an exception to the rule. It’s popped up until late August as part of interactive theatre performance Alice’s Adventures Underground.

Located in The Vaults art space beneath Waterloo Station (which you probably hadn’t heard of until now), Wonderland’s über-cool kitsch décor provides the most awesome backdrop to a first date. Playing cards and flamingos everywhere, candles at the bar, and disco lights on the dance floor. This is somewhere Carroll would be proud of.

Plus, the live music is amazing. I was fortunate enough to see South London-based indie rockers, The Thirst, who brought an edgy Brixton feel to an otherwise playful hangout.

New Orleans inspired jazz ensemble The Dixie Ticklers is next on the line up. Yes, it’s that kind of place.

The Order

In terms of food, it’s pies, pies and more pies (courtesy of Pieminister). “Real British stodge,” says the bubbly waitress at the counter. Each costs a modest £4.50 with a mash or coleslaw side at an extra £1.50.

A traditional Steak and Ale is first on the menu, but there’s a more adventurous Cook’s Boozy Stag Pie with venison, bacon, red wine and lentils. Mr. W Rabbit’s Rabbit Food Pie containing goat’s cheese, sweet potato, spinach and red onion makes a perfect veggie option. But let’s not pretend you came here to eat, okay?

I suggest starting with the £8 Royal Rose cocktail, a sparkling blend of gin, lemon and rosehip syrup (adorned with a rose leaf, of course). It’s sweet, but my favourite has to be the mysterious Drink Me, also £8. A strong blue concoction with a slice of lemon. The bartenders wouldn’t tell me what was in it, so I’ll guess you’ll have to discover that for yourself.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t make me bigger like it made Alice in the book. But it definitely had me grinning like a Cheshire Cat by the end of the night.  Smith and Sinclair liquor sweets come out at about 9.30pm. Flavours include berry daiquiri, gin and tonic and spiced rum. Why not mix and match with your SO?

The Game

This joint is the smooth arm-around-the-shoulder of date venues. A subtle ice-breaker, there’s no worrying about awkward small talk when the night involves posing for funny gifs at the photobooth and being approached by hilarious Wonderland characters. And if you’re lucky, Alice herself will make an appearance.  Oh, and you can reserve a table if you’re up for discreet chatter.

The Faults

If you’ve planned on being wined and dined, you’ve come to the wrong place. Not for the refined, I’m afraid.

Sex Factor

2.  Won’t get you in the mood for anything other than a movie at theirs and a walk to the taxi.

Craft London, Greenwich

2 years ago

The Vibe

Greenwich Peninsula might not be the first place you would seize upon for a hot date, but this new opening by Stevie Parle (Dock Kitchen, Rotorino) has brought Soho style to a location clamouring for attention. Tom Dixon is behind the interior, a seductive palette of electric blues, aubergine leather and brushed copper tables that mirrors the expansive views with a sleek, modern feel. Curl into inviting velvet booths in the restaurant downstairs or choose retro armchairs in the upstairs bar to enjoy a 360 vista of the 02 and Canary Wharf. As stylish as Shoreditch House, but without the hipsters.

The Order

Everything at Craft London has either been baked, smoked or churned in-house or painstakingly sourced from equally fanatical British producers. Honey from their own beehives makes the cocktails silky and sweet, while meat and fish get a seeing to in an on-site smokery and cure house. There are a la carte, taster or pre-show menus to choose from, but the dish making waves here is Craft’s clay-baked duck with honey, broad bean and barley miso. Tucked tenderly into leaves of Savoy cabbage, a whole duck is baked in hay and a coating of river clay. Hammer, crack, slice and share to devour the tender flesh inside.

The Game

Greenwich has a calling card that trumps all others: the cable car. Meet at Royal Victoria docks around nine to fly across the river as the sun is setting. Lock eyes in the swinging cabin, swap skiing stories and regale each other with tales of bygone gigs at the 02. Cosy into a booth at Craft London, treat yourselves to the duck or share titbits from the tasting menu. Finish off upstairs with some carefully curated cocktails; try Tate Pink Suit for creamy, raspberry-tinged indulgence, Gin Hinny for a ginger refresher or Spurious Barrel for a whisky-based punch.

This is also a great spot for Saturday lunch followed by a daytime flight across the cable car. On July 1st a state of the art driving range is opening next door, so why not show off your ball skills before sinking some cocktails?

The Faults

The cocktail ingredients are almost entirely British-sourced too, so the pared-down list of Gin and Whisky based tipples might not cater to all taste buds.

Sex Factor

3.

Union Street Bar and Cafe, Southwark

2 years ago

The Vibe

The first thing to notice about the Union Street Bar and Cafe is how incredibly friendly and welcoming the staff are. I stumbled in from the rain with a scarf over my head, my glasses steamed up, and wrestling several bags, out of which were spilling my flask and Tupperware lunchbox. Thank goodness my date was waiting deep down underground at the bar and unable to see my incredibly unglamorous entrance. Thank goodness, too, that as soon as I stepped inside the manager smiled kindly, took my sodden coat, and calmly directed me downstairs – making me feel that perhaps I didn’t look like a totally unacceptable date companion. So if, like me, you have a tendency of doing your make-up on the tube straight from work and carrying your life around London in a tote bag, The Bar at the Union Street Cafe is a good place to make your end destination.

Situated underneath the main restaurant, this is a high-ceilinged affair with steel pipes lining the walls and a vaguely speakeasy vibe. Dark red couches line the room, while bold Banksy-esque art hangs overhead. The sofas give excellent canoodling potential – wrap your lips around one of the delicious cocktails while wrapping yourself around your date. This level of intimacy might admittedly, for the more conservative among us, be a little premature for an introductory meeting. Along with the fact that it was rather quiet for a Thursday night, this makes it more of a third/fourth date venue than a first.

The Order

To expertly guide you through the labyrinth of drinks choices are, once again, the excellent staff. Menus listing the ingredients in a cocktail have always sounded to me about as appealing as sex would were it explained point-by-point by a biologist. Luckily, the barman sold me a Sweet Godmother (Bacardi, limoncello, raspberry & vanilla syrup, passion fruit puree and egg white – see what I mean?) like a boss and it was a dream. If your date has a penchant for spirits then they’ll be happy even if you get too drunk to do anything fun once you get back home – the list of whiskies, gins, vodkas, rums and cognacs is eye-popping. However, if wine is your thing, this is not the place for you: the list is tinier than my ideal waist size. That, and the average bar snacks, mean that this should really be a straight-from-work cocktail destination.

The Game

Worry not about the lack of food and wine, if that’s a must for the evening head upstairs to the main restaurant. Or stroll hand-in-hand a few minutes down the road to The Cut and grab dinner and a play at the Young Vic. But better to just stay until closing, work your way through the entire cocktail list, and nurse each other’s hangovers under a duvet the next day.

The Faults

Given I went on a Thursday night and it was by no means full, this could be a bit quiet to give you good date cover. Also the aforementioned average bar snacks.

Sex factor

3 – Union Street Bar is what you make of it, but the sofas do give it a sexy edge.

Brooklyn Bowl, O2

2 years ago

The Vibe

If you’ve never seen it then you should YouTube the video to ‘Hungry Heart’ by Bruce Springsteen. Look at how much fun everyone is having. I bet you’re thinking ‘I’d love to experience something as fun as that’ aren’t you? Well, head down to the newly opened Brooklyn Bowl and you’ll be having more fun than ‘The Boss’ at a Flag Party on 4th July.  Located inside the O2, past the 3 stages of tourist food hell (Garfunkels, Frankie and Benny’s and TGI Fridays) Brooklyn Bowl is all corrugated iron, distressed wooden floors and is lit to feel like 1am at all times. With access to the backstage of the main arena, live bands play most nights and the music is complimented by the roar of an energetic audience, which gives the venue a real buzz. Add to this the sound of pins being knocked down (weirdly satisfying), strangers smiling, cheering and high-fiving one another as they eat, drink and bowl and you can’t help but be caught up in the excitement.

The Order

Food comes courtesy of Americana-food experts ‘Blue Ribbon’ and is far superior from the usual O2 chains. Staples such as Pork Ribs, Po’Boys and Mac’n’Cheese all make an appearance and their fried chicken makes Colonel Sanders look like Colonel Klink, sitting perfectly in the middle of the moist/crispy Venn diagram. Order the Rock and Roll Fries as a side, smothered in gravy, Cajun spice, provolone and cheddar and make no apologies for stuffing your face. An extensive drinks menu ranges from American craft beers by the likes of Kelso Brewing Co. and Brooklyn Brewery to strong spirits in the form of Bourbons, Gins and Whiskey. The diet can resume tomorrow.

The Game

Bowling is ace. The feeling of hitting a strike (‘it wasn’t a fluke, what are you talking about!?’) followed by the lows of four gutter-balls in a row (‘the girl on the next lane is using my ball!’) makes for a great evening. Invite a couple of couples to join you to play a few games and you can sit on the leather Chesterfields at the end of each lane to share a fried chicken platter and down some pitchers of beer and margaritas. Keep an eye out for their gigs listings as the sound system is top quality and the view of the stage from the bowling lanes is much preferable to the mosh pit in front of the stage. Brooklyn Bowl brings a slice of New York hipster to North Greenwich Dome.

The Faults

The O2 isn’t the best area so have a few drinks somewhere else prior to hitting the Jubilee Line.

Sex Factor

2.

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