Gin & Jazz, Intercontinental Hotel, Park Lane

2 years ago

The Vibe

Oh this is a real gem, a hidden treasure in the crown of the frantic search for a novel yet fun-yet-romantic-but-not-too-much, date. Any evening in a luxury Park Lane hotel is going to be a little special, yet the fancy free element of a night of live jazz music fuelled with gin cocktails is almost fool proof – no pressure. With a pre-set schedule with roughly monthly shows, you’ll be able to book in ahead of time and wow your date with your forethought and imagination.

The Order

Hotel bars are ace at snacks – you’ll find olives, crisps and nuts on your table – a little touch, yet it makes all the difference. The main game however is the cocktails (served by glamorous waitresses who glide about in dresses and perfect lipstick) – it’s testament to the fact that you’re in a five star hotel that the ‘Poor Man’s Punch’ is served with Hendricks gin. Those who like clean fresh tastes will love the Prudence made with Sipsmith Gin, basil and citrus – or perhaps mix things up with the Black ‘Berry’ Market which provocatively mixes Whitley Neil with Sipsmith Sloe Gin. Eeeek.

The Game

Once you are sure that they’re worthy of this special night, arrange a quick, early dinner somewhere close by to line your stomachs. The shows don’t start until 9pm so get something inside you before you head over and take your seats. Bar snacks are available and the Tuna Tartare is a winner so you won’t go hungry however make sure you focus on several rounds of cocktails as the music whisks you both away. There’s usually a brief interval, an excellent time to make your move, then sit holding hands for the entire second half – old fashioned romance done well.

The Faults

If you wanted to go gung ho on the conversation, the music is a bit of a distraction. But really?!

Sex Factor

4.

Spring, Somerset House

2 years ago

The Vibe

Where better to head, when days are getting brighter, night falls later and winter is out the back door, than a restaurant called Spring. One of the most beautiful rooms in recent restaurant design – a 19th century room, brightly lit –  this ethereal place is located in the New Wing at Somerset House. It’s breathtaking – the food, the waiters, the vast marble bar….Go there now.

The Order

If you can sneak away at lunchtime, the set menu (£27.50) with a few glasses of the Riesling is fantastic, and the room alive and bright during the day. Highlights include a sea bream with aubergine, curry leaves and sambal.  If you’re going for the evening, you’ll find a sumptuous room and indulgent feasting awaiting you. Produce is seasonal and of such high quality that recommendations are simply not needed here. Sommeliers will match wines for you, just let them.

The Game

Oh the options! You’ve got Waterloo Bridge right outside with stunning views of London from either side – walk over this before or after to set the tone or seal the deal. On a Saturday, you can see if there’s a show at Somerset House to warm up for a long and tipsy lunch. Wander the courtyard, soak in the rays and wait for your date to arrive, bathed in flattering sunlight. Then walk in together and get ordering. The restaurant itself requires no game (besides an advised reservation) – it’ll work it’s magic for you.

The Faults

 

Dinner a la carte won’t be cheap.

Sex Factor

4.

Elysee, Fitzrovia

2 years ago

The Vibe

Wow.  Just wow. Elysee is a sight to behold.  When you first arrive, it’s a little quiet (unless you hail from the Southern Mediterranean and you got the memo to arrive at 10pm) and mildly resembling an empty hotel restaurant.  However, time it better than we did, and you can have a delicious meal then watch as the evening builds to a crescendo and finally descends into pure madness.  It’s raucous, full of life, a little touristy, yet charming and completely off the wall.  London in a nutshell, then.

The Order

In typical Greek fashion, Elysee are very proud of their food, and rightly so because it’s simple, delicious and hearty.  There’s nothing groundbreaking here but sure, the Greeks did all of that thousands of years ago… If it ain’t broke etc.  So, you can count on the food being well prepared and moreish.  We tried a range of mezedes including the tzatziki, courgette fritters with mint, grilled halloumi and spanakopita. We opted for classic Kleftiko (slow cooked knuckle of lamb) served with vegetables and potatoes and Souvla for mains (lamb best end or slow spit roasted boned chicken leg) served with aromatic rice and salad  The wine list is classic: lots of French and a couple of Greek wines on there to try too.

The Game

Crikey, where to start.  Well, as I said before, arriving before 9pm is a no-no in terms of atmos so gauge that well to get off to a flying start.  In summer, the rooftop bar is well worth a look so pop up there for an aperitif al fresco.  Once the meal is underway, you will then find that your date has been thrown wide open to the inimitable tune of Zorba the Greek being belted out by the live band and a man dancing around balancing glasses on his bonce, followed by a couple of rounds of plate smashing (you can join in!), some Greek folk singing and rounded off nicely with some belly dancing.  I didn’t stay longer than this point in the evening but I’d say that it turns into a veritable disco once everyone is suitably sozzled.  It’s a great way to find out what mettle your date is made from.  Once you’re a few dates in with someone who has a good sense of humour, this could be great for a laugh.

The Faults

Bit of a head melting experience for a normal Friday evening supper.  Save it, as I say, for special occasions or crew dates.

Sex Factor

3.

Love Die Late, Great Portland Street

2 years ago

The Vibe

Love Die Late is safely seductive. With its central location and dimly lit 1950s style decor, it’s a solid first date choice. Game on.

The Order

The strong drinks and quick service will loosen you up in no time. The cocktail menu is a conversation starter – featuring ‘scent of bread crust’ and ‘white flowers’ as key ingredients. The (C)lover club was heavenly and fruity, but opt for the Moonwalker if you’re after some strong Dutch courage. Go with a full stomach as the only nibbles on offer are slightly less than sexy cheese and meat platters, unless you have a penchant for blue cheese breath on your date.

The Game

Post-work attire is ideal for this place. It’s not a trainer sporting venue by any stretch but your best pearls would definitely look out of place.  Perhaps start on one of the sofas upstairs facing the window so you can spot your date and do a bit of people watching to get things going. Once warmed up, consider moving to one of the spots downstairs to watch the screened black and white films and have a cheeky snog.  If you can’t get down for a boogie, head to the London Edition basement if you’re feeling flush, student dive Roxy for a laugh or the Social’s hip hop karaoke if it’s a Thursday and you’re feeling ghetto.

The Faults

Whilst the cocktails are not your average espresso martini and the service attentive, there’s nothing edgy about this place, so if you’re trying to impress an East London beanie wearing hottie, this is not the place.

Sex Factor

4.  These guys definitely want you to get laid, and seem to not-so-subconsciously try and get the message across from their website, to their staff’s chat and dark corners for you to occupy. As soon as I walked in I saw a couple snogging on one of the sofas.

68 and Boston, Soho

2 years ago

The Vibe

When I read that 68 and Boston was the brainchild of three big dogs in the bar world, I worried that it might have a ‘designed by committee’, slightly soulless vibe.  I needn’t have worried.  Eric Yu (Breakfast Group), Martin Malley (Planet of the Grapes) and Luca Cordiglieri (China Tang) are at the top of their game, and Greek Street’s latest arrival reflects their years of experience and flair for innovation.  On entering the foyer you are greeted by a swish chick who ushers you to your table, either in the ground floor wine bar, or the upstairs cocktail bar.  The lighting is just-so, the wood is dark and shiny, the glasses are lovely, and maybe I’m ancient saying this, but the music is at a nice low hum!

The Order

The ground floor bar menu is an absolute godsend on a first date.  Every bottle of wine is priced at £20, carafes at £14 and glasses at £5.50.  This means you can be adventurous and order something you wouldn’t usually go for safe in the knowledge you won’t look like an idiot and there won’t be any awkwardness when it comes to the bill.  Order a carafe to share, The Paparuda Pinot Grigio was delicious and hails from Transylvania – cue Dracula joke.  They also have a selection of very decent prosecco if you’re in the mood for fizz.  The cosier cocktail bar upstairs serves up faultless classics and daring originals – such as the Squid Ink Martini, Gin, sherry and…yup.  Soak up the booze with a toasted sandwich, N’duja & burrata or halloumi & red pepper.

The Game

This really is a game of two halves, start off on the ground floor with a civilised catch up and as the evening draws in head upstairs and hunker down.  Let the ‘after-work’ formalities melt away and keep the house punch coming.  Make sure you chat to the beautifully attired bar staff, they know their stuff, can advise on the menu and will help you out if conversation is flagging.  If you can’t be sustained by toasties alone, escort your date a couple of doors down to the excellent 10 Greek Street for supper, and then around the corner to Ronnie Scott’s.  A perfect Soho evening.

The Faults

I could see this place getting seriously busy, so make sure you book.

Sex Factor

3 on the ground floor, rising to a heady 4.5 as you ascend the stairs…

Reverend JW Simpson, Fitrovia

2 years ago

The Vibe

Nestled away in Fitzrovia, beyond a nondescript black door and a few candles on the pavement lies the former home of Reverend JW Simpson. Walk through the doorway, pass a beautiful stained glass window that’s sure to catch your date’s eye and you’re immediately in a cute, shabby-chic date spot perfect for an after work cocktail or two.  The bar is purposefully understated – peeling wallpaper, wall tiles, old light fixtures and a tiled floor that all hail from a time when the bar was home to the eponymous Reverend, providing the perfect conversation starter in those initial awkward moments.

The mood lighting, soft tub chairs and comfy sofas make Reverend JW Simpson the perfect intimate spot. Try and get a seat as you come down the stairs, it feels more homely than at the back – the sort of ambience where you can fire off the “getting to know each other” mandatory date questions without much interruption. The 90s indie music isn’t too loud so you can hear yourselves think, making it a cool yet cosy place to spend an evening sipping cocktails in new company.

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The Order

An experimental bar menu adds a touch of the unknown, a subtle way of working out your date’s likes and dislikes. The usual suspects feature also, should you not feel too daring on your first encounter, but why hold back when there are delights such as red pepper liqueur, squid ink, tomato and cucumber consommé and rose vermouth mixed with tequila on offer? Order different cocktails and try a bit of each other’s, sharing the same straw is practically kissing, right?

The cocktails are pretty colourful – but they also serve beer by the bottle. Don’t arrive expecting pints, come here for a few cheeky post-office cocktails in a relaxed atmosphere and let the date flow. If you’re attending a Spirited Sermon (more on this later), you’ve both got to like/at least try the chosen spirit otherwise your date may go down like a lead balloon.

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The Game 

Tuesday nights are reserved for Spirited Sermon masterclasses.  Masterclasses vary week by week with sessions at 6:30pm and 9:00pm where an expert takes you through the origins of your chosen tipple via a tasting session.  Ours was a Day of The Dead themed evening based around tequila. If you’re looking for a bar date with difference then this is perfect, although be prepared to go to work with a hangover the following morning, especially if you skipped dinner.  Neat tequila you say? Gotcha.

The masterclasses come with their own bespoke cocktail menus and after three of those bad boys, any pre-date jitters you may have had are sure to have dissipated. A ‘Dam Son!’ from the tequila menu is a particular favourite, it may look like an off mug of beer but it tastes delicious and is potent to boot – watch out for that apple and citrus foam top! Yum-my. You also receive three neat spirit tasters when participating in the masterclass, so buyer beware – choose your session wisely! Masterclasses are more of a second or third date idea, when you’ve got to know what kind of spirits your date drinks, (and more importantly what they don’t drink!). Throw in some additional useless information you may have, ask the expert some intelligent questions and you’re onto a winner.

If you’re attending a masterclass, you’re going to be doing shots of alcohol so you’ll need the stomach for it.  Even though you’ll be with other guests and an expert during this session, rest assured there are many opportunities for flirting and hand holding under the high table should you wish.

After the date, depending on how it goes, you may feel you want to go out out, or if you’ve just partaken in the masterclass, the NY bagel shop next door can provide immediate carbs one might be needing for alcohol soakage. They also make a ’carbless’ option should one be watching their bread intake!

The Faults

Reverend JW Simpson is a charming little place, but it’s a bit tame so if you’re after somewhere that provides hours of dancing and a judgment free location for a bit of grinding then this isn’t the spot.  Also – going to the toilet at the same time is not recommended, unless you want to bump into your date sorting out their teeth in the mirror – it’s a unisex bathroom so choose to break the seal wisely.

Sex Factor

3.  Confess your sins at Reverend JW Simpson: perfect for a first date on any evening, or attend a Spirited Sermon on a Tuesday night for a second or third date with a difference.

Cocktail Trading Co, Smithfield

2 years ago

The Vibe

Ladies and gentlemen come this way, we have some treats  in store for you this evening. A drink you say? I’ll make you the best damn drink you’ve ever seen!

One cannot help thinking that male competitive spirit has fueled the ideas of The Cocktail Trading Co’s founders. Three men with a lifelong passion for bar tending and numerous mixology awards in the bag, Andy Milz, Olly Brading and Elliot Ball have outdone each other to create elaborate concept drinks, each one more individual than the last.  Their playground is a cosy 50-seater basement bar, sprinkled with a titillating taste for Victoriana. Relaxed drinkers lean conspiratorially over candlelight, deciphering the menu’s fantastical tipples. Churchill beams smugly from his portrait on the wall, yet the soundtrack is pleasingly on-point: sexy old school and hip hop classics. This bar puts fun first, and if you want ice-breaker drinks in an unpretentious setting, you’d do well to book a spot.

 The Order

This is the Bake Off of drinks. An edible tray of gherkin, fries and ketchup houses a smoky Jim Beam mix with ginger, lemon and chilli & peach jam – handy if you’re peckish as I was. The bestseller, ‘Brasso’, blends Stoli Vodka with lime and ginger & orange brew – promising to “shine your soul” it comes in a real tin of polish (clean). Charming details like custom-made labels on tequila bottles that you squeeze into your own Sunrise, a Sesame Street-inspired drink in a trash can and a cocktail in a snow globe make these drinks a real talking-point. Yes, those ornaments that you shake to make it snow. Seeing is believing.

 For those who prefer their cocktails classic, firm favorites like Old Fashioned, Pina Colada and French 75 prop up the whimsical menu.

The Game

For a fuss-free first date, meet at Barbican or Farringdon and stroll through Clerkenwell to Smithfields Market. Impress your date with your insider knowledge as you lead them through Ask for Janice (the trendy eatery upstairs) into the den of debauchery below.

Choose flirty bar stools or low tables to work your way through the menu, swapping sips with your invité. Confident daters can bring something to trade – in the spirit of the market opposite, on some nights the owners will swap drinks for your trinkets – though they better be good.

Once suitably pickled, soldier on to a late night supper.  Hop round the market to Iberico for greed-inducing tapas in a sexy setting. Or take a 15 minute stroll to Exmouth Market, where Moro, Blackfoot and Bourne & Hollingsworth provide ample options to gaze over delicious plates.

The Faults

You’ll be so eager to see if the cocktails are as elaborate as their illustrations in the menu (a pamphlet of fun) that you’ll want to try everything. Good job that alcohol and dating get on like a house on fire.

Sex Factor

4. The lighting is low, the soundtrack lilting and the drinks can’t fail to lower your inhibitions. Winner.

Shotgun, Soho

2 years ago

The Vibe
 
Old School simple meets Wild West décor with a touch of pizazz. The elongated design of the space is evocative of a traditional “Shotgun” house from the deep South. Central London feels like thousands of miles away once you are ensconced inside and you get the distinct feeling that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid could walk in at any time. The music is at a low hum and the atmosphere is bubbling away as everybody enjoys the southern vibes. The staff are lovely, helpful and talkative which makes you feel so at home that you hardly want to leave!
 
The Order
 
So on to the main event. Go for the black skin chicken which is amazingly juicy having been smoked for two hours…doesn’t get much sexier. The mixed meats at £19 allows you to choose three meats and two sides so mix it up with the likes of Muscovy Duck Breasts, Middlewhite Boston Beef Butt, and Iberico Baby Back Ribs. You will not be disappointed. We had a selection of all the sides which included BBQ beans, sweet potato fondue (my favourite), potato salad and slaw. This is the ideal place to bring food fans and to share everything. Don’t overlook the starters either, they do sound odd but we really enjoyed the Pimento Cheese dip, and I saw the Broccoli and Cheddar soup going past and I must say that looked delicious too.  Bear in mind that this is meaty, cheesy and carby town so let’s just say this: exercise a little restraint. Ain’t nobody wants to kiss a greasy face.
 
The Game
 
The tables and seats are all quite close together so you don’t have a choice but to be intimate, which after a couple of drinks is a great thing (depending on your date). The cocktails are small and boozy. The location is also perfect for going on elsewhere for “one more” if the date is heading that way. Shotgun is also great for the in-coming long nights when all you want is to sit in a warm, cosy restaurant and chat the night away. It’s a breath of fresh air amongst the other Americana restaurants in London and really does stand out food and décor-wise. There are no brash neon lights to cause you to see stars and there’s just the right touch of understated glamour.
 
The Faults
 
It’s a bit of a squeeze and we thought there was a distinct lack of greens on the menu.
 

Sex Factor

3.  The décor and vibe is great but let’s be honest, who feels that sexy after eating a load of meat? Take it easy.

 

Paternoster Chop House, St Pauls

3 years ago

The Vibe

On the weekends the Square Mile can be a bit of a ghost town, but with St Paul’s Cathedral being the tourist landmark that it is you’re not going to feel too cut off here, slap bang in the middle of that and the London Stock Exchange.

Late for my date by a quarter of an hour (not my fault, I promise), I’m not sure what the preamble commentary on ‘First Dates’ would have been, but he could very well have been having a marvellous time at the bar with a manly pint, chatting to the camera guy about what he looks for in a lady.

For here we are at Paternoster Chop House, the ‘First Dates’ restaurant of Channel 4 fame. I’m unfamiliar with the programme, but – having done my telly homework beforehand – coming here for Sunday lunch seems a much more relaxed affair than many of those poor reality TV guinea pigs have experienced. Fresh, bright, informal. Looking around, it’s tables of friends, families and a few couples. Those in the third classification seem pretty cosy and familiar. Either those first dates went extremely well or these have got off to a flying start.

The Order

Start with a glass of Chapel Down Brut from our very own Garden of England. If you really must err from the best of British, £10 apiece (once you’ve ordered two courses) will get you free-flowing prosecco for the duration of your meal. Take it slow.

Paternoster is a traditional British chop house in the very best sense, buying all their meat on the bone and butchering it themselves on-site (n.b. vegetarians: not quite within sight) to bring out the best of each cut. Dishes are designed according to the best quality ingredients available each day, so if you and your date are foodies, you’ll have plenty to talk about without having to resort to the weather or (gasp!) your exes.

Not to sound like a cheap date, but the set menu here is really very reasonable, at just £20 for two courses and £25 for three. On Sundays, some of the roasts may find their way into that category, so enjoy a leisurely meal and whatever you do, don’t leave before pudding.

Roast black Aberdeen Angus Beef, perfectly medium rare, was coupled with the most ginormous Yorkshire pud, along with the usual trimmings and a red wine gravy which (coming from a man who knows his gravy) ‘could not have been better by being any different, but could have done better by being more of it’. Cod Fillet, served with shredded runner beans, dandelion and red onion dressing was a fuss-free, very British alternative to the ubiquitous bass or bream, neither of which, refreshingly, are on this menu.

And in case you missed the memo, whatever you do, don’t leave before pudding. The sticky toffee pudding was one of the best I’ve tasted, and the truffles divine. But the pièce de résistance (to use the French) has to be the ‘Smoked Ice cream’ (!?), officially paired with the Coffee Millefeuille but also (the two-timing bit on the side) a perfect mate for the Chocolate Torte, silky smooth with its tragic-sounding but simply epic ‘Late Red Berry Heart’.

The Game

1. Book a table 15-30 minutes after you agree to meet your date and have a warm-up Paternoster Martini at the bar.
2. If you can, grab a table by the window or – if the weather’s balmy (not for the next 9 months I imagine) – outside. I rarely recommend this, especially for city dates for fear of colleague onlookers, but if you can snatch a view of St Paul’s and its magnificent dome from your table you’ll be onto a winner.
3. Come with some little-known facts about the Square Mile and impress your date. Here’s one to get you started: Sir Christopher Wren had originally wanted to put a stone pineapple at the top of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. There are, in fact, pineapples on top of the two western towers. He saw them as “a symbol of peace, prosperity and hospitality”.
4. Come with some knowledge about what’s on at the time at Tate Modern. After your meal, take a stroll across Millennium Bridge and absorb some art, completing the equation for a perfect Sunday date. For a first date you may find “The World Goes Pop” is just the right balance of entertaining and discussion worthy.

The Faults

Hmmm…genuinely can’t think of any. How boring.

Sex factor

3 – Paternoster does well to set the scene with a blank canvas. Great food, service and location. But the sex factor is really up to you. On the plus side you can rest assured that anything, good or bad, that happens on this date will be a true reflection of compatibility.

Asia de Cuba Brunch, Covent Garden

3 years ago

The Vibe

The sexy, cool and very ‘Lower West Side’ attuned St Martins Lane is the home of Asia de Cuba, a chic high-design space which specialises in Chino-Latino dishes and drinks. The hotel restaurant has received a makeover transforming it from ‘desolate tourist trap’ into a vibrant, colourful and warm space. It’s in this renewed space that the management have taken their next leap of faith – launching an all-out ‘bottomless brunch’ at weekends.

The Order

The words ‘bottomless brunch’ have lately become something of a rallying call for those looking for a way to liven up the weekend. An activity usually reserved for when the party continues until the next morning, this trend has moved swiftly upmarket with a number of higher end restaurants offering unlimited cocktails and now also champagne brunches.

Having relaunched the restaurant earlier this year, the team, headed up by chef Luis Pous have also recently introduced their very own take on brunch – and yes, it’s bottomless.  Start with some fantastic food. The bottomless option will remove any chance of flavour envy and will soon see you and your partner careening through course after course of Chino-Latino goodness. We loved the balance of lighter dishes along with hearty ones – ceviche and crispy calamari salad are countered by an epic eggs Benedict and a ridiculous Cuban sandwich. Just when you think you’ve reached your limit, they drop another bomb with Mexican doughnuts (unlimited of course), sure to finish you off.

The Game

Weekend brunch outings are fantastic for those early on in the dating arc – there’s no smoke and mirrors here, it’s broad daylight and nowhere to hide. That said, if it goes well, you’ve got the rest of the day ahead of you, if not – then you can part ways leaving that all important evening of socialising / sitting on the couch watching Friends re-runs ahead of you.

The brunch at Asia de Cuba is also helped in no small part by the option to go bottomless – the choice is a hard one though – cocktails or champagne? Choose cocktails and you’ll be serviced with a full choice of house cocktails, including access to their fully featured ‘Bespoke Bloody Mary bar’. This is indeed as incredible as it sounds and involves two skilled barmen creating the Bloody Mary of your dreams with everything from infused vodkas, 10 types of hot sauce, rare garnishes and even sticks of bacon if you want to go that way. Mix it up.

The Faults

The location is a bit of a tricky one, yes it’s in Central London. Yes, bottomless brunchers are offered free parking at the hotel, but where’s the fun in that if you can’t enjoy a few drinks before midday?

Sex Factor

4.

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