Vapiano, Soho

3 years ago

The Vibe

Summer is all about boozing and soaking up the sun and food can often get in the way. Armed only with Oyster cards and your own initiative prepare for a bum-fight for the best seats in the house. There is a sense of urgency in Vapiano with people buzzing around you in every direction as they go back and forth between the high seating and the food kiosks. Everyone is in a rush to get fed and get back outside into lovely Soho. Once the food is collected, head downstairs for a more relaxed and calm environment.

The Order

Leave your date to guard your seats and order for the pair of you so as to avoid unnecessary queuing time. Share a grande antipasti replete with beautiful Italian meats, roasted vegetables, the best mozzarella this side of Little Venice and garlicky token bruschetta. The Pasta is prepared to order and the scrumptious Pesto Basilico makes the Dolmio Family look like the Manson Family. Recreate the feel of a 1990’s Doctor and take your pizza-pager as you wait for your expertly crafted pie to be made and enjoy the thrill of being buzzed over to pick up your order. If you still have room, the Tiramisu is better than Nigella’s.

The Game

Don’t expect to spend too much time here so plan your evening with Vapiano as the comma rather than the exclamation mark of the evening. Grab some quick food and then if you can’t score tickets for the hot West End show then head to the Curzon Soho to enjoy a film and let your food go down. After catching the latest documentary you read about in TimeOut that morning, head to Milroy’s of Soho, and order an ‘Unagi’ to discuss at which point you lost interest and started thinking about how hot your date is.
The Faults

Don’t get comfortable as you are just there for some tasty, authentic food.

Sex Factor

Vapiano is all about the in and out.

Spiaggia, Fulham

3 years ago

The Vibe

“When you’re on the beach, anything goes” or so says the suave Italian owner of this new Fulham hotspot, Spiaggia. Book in advance and you’ll find a beach towel marking your table, super-sized sunglasses adorn one of the walls, and downstairs there’s a sunken cove waiting to be discovered with private cinema space and beach styled bar. Newly opened, this place is set to sizzle well before the sunshine arrives.

The Order

It’s small plates so ideal date food. You’ll feel a little as though you’re having a beach picnic, or are perched in the shade avoiding the Mediterranean sun. Go for the fresh Calamari from the Piattini, before sharing a selection of Italian flatbreads, and the chargrilled skewers. The Frutti di Mare pasta is divine, as is the chargrilled Spring Chicken – but sharing is caring so split them up. The wine list here is adventurous and bold so ask for recommendations and try some of their new Sicilian labels.

The Game

The perfect after work spot if you both live near Fulham. It’s minutes from the tube station so meet for an early drink and then totally play this one by ear. First dates work brilliantly here – the design is an immediate talking point and the food doesn’t mean you need to commit to a full on dinner. If, however, a “little plate of Arancini to keep you going” turns into three bottles down, there are cosy spots downstairs and the music vamps up to create a buzz that’ll welcome you to stay the evening. Let yourself escape to the long days of summer and forget about the fact that you’re not returning to your villa later.

The Faults

Too gimmicky for some?  Oh come on, lighten up.

Sex Factor.

3.

Ember Yard, Soho

4 years ago

The Vibe

Ember Yard lives up to its name. A Spanish/Italian inspired smokery, the theme of warmth runs through the entire restaurant: think bronze tinted wallpaper, brown leather banquette seating and rich autumnal coloured paintings. The Mamas and Papas – Dream a Little Dream of Me – accompanies the clinking of goldfish bowl wine glasses and the chatter of corporate diners unwinding after a hard day’s work. Emitting an inviting glow onto Berwick Street, Ember Yard is almost impossible to resist in the wake of the rainy weather which has recently covered London in a dreary blanket.

There’s a refined luxuriousness here; an attractively understated feel with a touch of the blazé: “Yes, I am slicing wafer thin pieces of Jamón ibérico from an impressively sized, hoof adorned haunch – and what of it?”. Windowed doors allow a glimpse into the wine cellar, which harbours a fine selection of Italian and Spanish wines as well as a few enticing magnums awaiting a grand event.

The Order

It’s tapas sized portions, so the best approach is to order a few dishes, have a cocktail, then go in for round two. The Smoked Bream Carpaccio accompanied with vibrant slices of blood orange is the perfect way to start. Add the special: on this occasion, perfectly char-grilled Gressingham Duck with smoked polenta. The crispy Chiporones, scattered with fried capers and sage, can be popped in the mouth far too easily.

Round two: the Quince Glazed Ibérico Pork Ribs are a must; the meat falls off the bone practically of its own accord. Have alongside the Cornish Mackerel, which is served on a bed of pickled crunchy vegetables and plump mussels. The Parsnip-Buttermilk Chips with Manchego, a creative and sophisticated take on cheesy chips, shows that yes, vegetables can still be exciting. All served on wooden boards, thin slate and blocks of charcoal, the pastoral touches lend the dishes sophistication without pretension.

Finish on a sweet note with the Bitter Chocolate Ganacha or the Lemon Tart cocktail – dessert and booze in one!

The Game

Arrive ten minutes early and await your date in the downstairs bar. Order an Italian draught beer, or a glass of lively Barbera, and get the lowdown from the knowledgeable and friendly staff on the specialities – hold back on the cocktails, this’ll be an experience you want to share.

Once your date arrives, mildly flustered and weather-beaten by this persistent rain of ours, adorn each rosy cheek with a light kiss, point to the available seat at the bar and lovingly slide over the cocktail list. Ignore the classics and embark together on a voyage of alcoholic exploration through Ember Yard’s own smoky creations. Why visit the well-traversed lands of the Martini when you can dwell among the untrodden ways of the adventurous Ember & Ash (Raisin-infused rum, PX, Bourbon Smoke)?

If in a first date scenario, and feeling rather nervous about it, remain at the bar for the rest of the evening. Take a tour of the cocktail list and exchange compliments whilst the preparatory show of smoking, slicing and caramelising takes place. Stick to plates and light snacks: the Spanish charcuterie sliced before your very eyes, stuffed gordal olives, grilled flatbread and an Italian selection of cheeses.

Or, if you want the full tapas experience, move to a table and order at will.

The Faults

It’s quality not quantity, so expect the occasional dainty dish at a healthy cost.

Sex Factor

4. Ideal as a first time encounter or a long and luxurious anniversary meal.

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