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.

Below and Hidden, Farringdon

2 years ago

The Vibe

Your 1990’s best friend’s parents have given her the garage to use a den, which she decorates herself. She does so on ACID.  There are ashram-esque wall hangings draped on the walls, a small but perfectly formed corner bar area, just enough room for the DJ to set up a modest station and deep buckets filled with ice on each table.  The super fun lighting will make you grin from ear to ear.  Below and Hidden is the perfect little place to know about for after hours canoodling, boogieing and boozing in London.

The Order

Jim Wrigley’s in charge of the drinks and the cocktails here are artfully conceived, lovingly made and best of all – lethal.  The Banktown Special – Venezuelan light rum, fresh lime, raspberry liqueur, honey and cranberry juice – comes highly recommended!  The white rum makes all the difference.  Also noteworthy The Still Life consisting of Polish vodka, aperitif wine, peach liqueur, fresh lemon, apple and pineapple juice.  Fresh and very drinkable.  My date’s favourite cocktail of the evening – a manly one – was the Diamond Daze (100% Agave tequila, Italian and French vermouth, fortified Peruvian wine, and house bitters).  It blew his mind. Snacks from the bar are served until late.

The Game

So, you arranged a quick drink on a Thursday night after work because you just didn’t want to count your chickens with this one.  Whaddya know?  You’re getting on like a house on fire: dinner at Blackfoot went marvelously because he/she is a devoted carnivore, so you’ve kicked things up a gear and taken your date for an elegant nightcap at B and H Buildings; signs are 100% vital.  But, things have gone from flirty to 60 and you’re all out of ideas: so, why not take it downstairs and make hay while the sun shines we say.  Order a bottle of pre-made Diamond Daze, get it on ice, continue your merry flirtation and make sure you finish off with some dancing – just pretend you don’t have an 830 am meeting.

The Faults

It’s not a huge space but this is actually it’s very charm.

Sex Factor

Solid 3 which could easily rise to 4.

Suvlaki, Soho

2 years ago

The Vibe

Greece might be down but it’s by no means out.  While bankers and lawyers worry about Grexit, the Greeks are – true to form – getting on with their lives and doing what they do best: great hospitality.  Located on Bateman Street in Soho, Suvlaki (an Athenian style grill) has recently been revamped (featuring original, eye-catching design by Afroditi Krassa) and reopened its doors to the hungry British public.

The Order

Greeks like to eat so you can expect good food.  This is Soho though, so you can equally expect quick service, tables to be turned fairly rapidly and the bill to reflect the location.  Suvlaki is a meat skewer grilled over charcoal, can be eaten alone or in pita bread and is Greece’s national street food.  This restaurant has created a fun menu around a simple dish, has great vibes, friendly staff and good service and is therefore perfect for the third or fourth date in.

The Game

You’re thinking Friday night; boozy, casual and hellafun and you’d be right.  Meet at Suvlaki, the artwork on the facade will give you something to chat about immediately.  Dive inside, bag the Naughty Corner table (squeezed in is the name of the game here so you might as well just make like a Borrower and enjoy it) and order a bottle of Greek wine – there’s a concise little menu consisting of two reds and two whites. Next: quickly order something to nibble on while you decide on what you’ll eat – kalamata olives and pita bread with tzatziki will do the trick.  Move on to an assortment of suvlaki wraps or skewers (lamb, sausage, cheese or vegetarian) which are prepared over a robata-style charcoal grill.  The no bun Greek burger stuffed with feta or the pita burger with lemon mustard make very pleasing alternatives.  Add a couple of orders of oregano covered chips and same again for Greek salads.  Feast – for tonight you are Greek! Round off the meal with a delicious coffee to boost you into your next round of drinks elsewhere.  Pick from our Soho favourites such as Milroys of Soho or The Cocktail Trading Co.

The Faults

Suvlaki is teeny so maybe not one for the high people?  Also – they don’t serve milk for their Greek coffee so be warned – but I thought that this was a confident and proudly Greek move rather than a fault.

Sex Factor

3.  It’s one of those little life affirming Soho experiences.

Percy & Founders, Goodge Street

2 years ago

The Vibe

Percy & Founders promises all day dining and all day dining it certainly delivers.  Looks-wise, it’s a bit like a jenga puzzle: from the outside, it looks like it could be an All Bar One given that it is located on the ground floor of a modern apartment block, but once inside you feel like you’ve entered the lobby of a lovely new hotel as it’s all pieces of mismatched art, wooden floors, mirrors and huge vases of flowers. The Dining Bar is directly in front of you as you walk in and the slightly more glamorous looking Cocktail Lounge and bar is on your left. On the other side, there’s the Reading Room and Chapel Room dining rooms with plenty of tables including a very large banquet table laid out beautifully, perfect for a wedding remarked my date (yikes, steady on!  It’s only our second date mate) and lots of comfy seating and nice lighting.  Percy & Founders was in fact built on the former site of the Middlesex Hospital, and the old Chapel (now deconsecrated) remains in situ and can be viewed from the Chapel Room – a real thing of beauty.

The Order

Ex-Murano Head Chef, Diego Cardoso is in charge of the kitchen here at Percy & Founders so foodie credentials are good.  They are serving a new bottomless brunch (£16pp) which offers unlimited prosecco and bloody mary for two hours as well as all your favourite eggs and coffee and so on – what’s not to like? Sunday roasts are served from midday and are reliably good thus taking the pain out of deciding where to have that Sunday brunch/lunch date. Puddings are distinctly delicious so consider the crepe souffle highly recommended.

If bru-lunching, head for the Wallace Collection post-nosh to gaze at Old Masters’ paintings.

The Game

Working late on an urgent brief in Fitzrovia?  Like this guy/girl?  Nonchalantly suggest a debrief over a late supper at Percy & Founders (kitchen closes at 10 o’clock so time it juuuust right so you look like a hero) and swiftly order a bottle of wine to go with.  Eat for your mood but do have a dessert if you can. It’s worth it.  After supper, repair to the lounge for a digestif or cocktail and quite possibly a hand on arm/leg situation.

For special occasions there’s Percy’s Den, which is a swish private dining space below deck, kitted out with lots of the latest technological gadgets i.e. a ginormous telly and a banging sound system.  Bespoke menus have been designed for your dining pleasure.

The Faults

It’s no destination date, save perhaps in the case of Percy’s Den, but it certainly does the job.

Sex Factor

3.  In the world of Uber, London is your Oyster and the drinks list is bob on so I’d say a solid three.

PS. The toilets are nice so check fly/reapply make-up within.

Rök Smokehouse & Bar, Shoreditch

3 years ago

The Vibe

The season’s on the turn and chimneys are starting to fill the London air with smoke and ghosts just as the gluts of late summer are offering themselves up to the gods of pickling and jam making.  Enter Rök Smokehouse & Bar. Here, the Nordics meet East London, so basically off the Richter levels of cool.  Gorgeous staff who are bright eyed and enthusiastic weave their way through the teeny, sparsely decorated room – all white walls, bare wooden tables, stripped back lighting and wooden shelving laden with myriad jars of bepickled produce.  Candles bring the ‘hygge’, the menu is exciting, thanks to chef consultant Matt Young formerly of BarnYard and there is a veritable buzz around the whole place.  It’s unmissable for so many reasons not least of which is it’s romance.

The Order

Sharing plates.  It’s ideal here as you’ll want to try a bit of everything yet not lose all sight of the fact that you’re here to romance and be romanced.  We shared some pickles; cucumber pickled in gin was floral and moreish, a pickled slaw was crunchy, sweet and sour in all the right places.  There’s charcuterie on the menu supplied by Cobble Lane Cured in Islington: we tried the Beer Sticks (Polish kabanos) washed down with an Icelandic pale ale.  Duck leg with bacon and lingonberry jam, Scallop with ‘Nduja and Pork Belly slow cooked for 20 hours with Granny Smith’s were smoky, melt in the mouth delicious: the stuff of dreams.  Ask for bread to mop up the ‘Nduja juice. Don’t miss the cauliflower cheese topped with beef dust and almonds.

Sharing ensures you have room for more to drink and to share the sexiest dessert I’ve come across in a while – wood roasted peach, served with Laphroaig honey, crème fraiche and some nutty dust.  The mix of cream, booze and fleshy fruit is so wanton that if this doesn’t stir something in you, then you’re probably dead inside.  Espresso Martinis sponsor your sweeping first kiss just a street away as your date offers to walk you to the tube with his jacket over your shoulders.

The Game

We know that sharing isn’t everyone’s bag but you know what, turns out it’s a great way to find out rather a lot about your date as a person and can serve as an early indicator of whether or not they are right for you. How comfortable was your date with the concept of sharing plates and did they see it as fun? Did you find it easy to move the plates around and get a mix of everything you ordered? Did your date hog all the best bits or did he or she offer you the last morsel of your favourite dish?

The low lighting and candlelight here adds another layer of romance so try to arrive just before the sun sets, take your seats and order a round of smoke-inspired cocktails, such as the Rökrita (Cointreau, home made orange sherbet, Tequila and smoked salt). Then, boom, when the light starts to fade fast, the candles are lit and you look like the date master.  Perhaps order some charcuterie to nibble on while you have the first drink and get the small talk out of the way.  Move on to a bottle of red, and hunker down for the evening with good food and (hopefully) good conversation all brought together by the pulsating ambience and the bright glow from the candles.

The Faults

Few and far between.

Sex Factor

4.  There’s something life affirming about this place.

Vauxhall Street Food Garden, Vauxhall

3 years ago

The Vibe

The Vauxhall Street Food Garden space has been designed specially to house a rotating roster of street food vendors and happily sits tucked away out of sight from the busy transport hub yet is only a stone’s throw away from the train and bus stations making it a great little lunch venue or after work spot.  It’s a fully self contained area and features Wi-Fi, decking, covered eating areas, dedicated inside and outside bars, comfortable seating areas and greenery, a little hideaway in the heart of the capital.

The Order

There are some super interesting multi cultural street food cuisines on the go here.  What do you fancy?  Whether it’s wood fired pizza, bespoke crepes, spicy Indian and Indonesian food, healthy and tasty Vegan food, exotic meats and burgers, jerk chicken, craft beers, French food or a salad and smoothie, there is something for every taste.  On the night we visited, we ate the ‘Naughty Nigel’ Gujarati wrap, slow cooked lamb and aubergine curry swaddled in a chapati with rice and raita, from Naughty Roti and chicken with charmoula wrap from Harissa and Lemon, a Moroccan food truck.  Both absolutely delectable.  It’s Pimms O’Clock at every hour of the day here and with a bit of sunshine peeking through the clouds, the party fairies will be saying get on it!  There is a happy hour from 5pm-7pm so get involved.

The Game

The street food garden is open from 11.30am until 9.30pm Monday to Friday so is an ideal lunch date location, especially if you happen to work in Vauxhall.  Your date will be impressed by the choice of food stalls on offer and you’ll definitely win brownie points for livening up a lunchtime which would otherwise have featured a Pret sandwich or home made salad.  The food’s so good you might even be tempted to take off your tie, hitch up your skirt, down a jug of Pimms between you and tell Saunders he can shove his 3pm Webex where the sun don’t shine. Trains and buses are unbelievably close which is great for ease of use and of course, should you need to do one in a hurry.

The Faults

Street food vendors are often shutting up shop at around 7.30pm-8.00pm (especially if they’ve run out of food or it’s raining as is wont to happen in London) so do make sure to get in there quick if heading for a post-work date.

Sex Factor

2. This could improve substantially if you get some amazing weather and the stars align to create the perfect atmosphere.

Hook, Pop Brixton, Brixton

3 years ago

The Vibe

South London’s version of Boxpark Shoreditch.

The Order

Panko crumb fishy or tempura batter fishy, house special double cooked chippy chips and a delicious dip to accompany all of the above.  On our visit, we tried the panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) cod with the chips and the home made tartare sauce and the lemon and basil sea bream (sounds like it might be OTT but it isn’t) served with the chips and a garlic truffle mayo that is happiness in dip form. Share and share alike. A small but perfectly formed drinks list of Brixton’s own Reliance pale ale, stout, IPA and favourite soft drinks.

The Game

This really all depends on the kind of date you are after.  I’d suggest hitting up The Shrub and Shutter for a late afternoon or early evening cocktail to soothe any date nerves and then saunter over to Pop Brixton.  Get a table outside and see to it that you time it just right to catch the sight of the sun going down over London.  The fairy lights will have come into their own creating a magical scene.  Take the evening to the next level by instigating a leisurely stroll and maybe indulging in a follow up drink in the beer garden at the Trinity Arms in Trinity Square (it’s just off Brixton High Street but is in a relatively secluded spot so plot your map beforehand so you look like you know what you’re doing).  Alternatively, once you’ve lined your bellies, head over to Beast of Brixton just off Acre Lane for some inventive cocktails and perhaps onward to Fu Manchu in Clapham for a dance…

The Faults

Pop Brixton has proved to be very popular, especially in the balmy weather, so go early to avoid the crowds.

Sex Factor

3.  Sexy brain food.  Also – that garlic truffle mayo is to die for.  If you still get a kiss after that, it’s love.

Dandelyan @ Mondrian London, Southbank

3 years ago

The Vibe

Mondrian London at Sea Containers is a very glamorous addition to the Southbank.  Dandelyan bar, situated on the ground floor level, is the brainchild of Ryan Chetiyawardana aka Mr Lyan, twice named UK Bartender of the year.  A grand green marble bar runs the length of the room with brushed gold and brass accents while the rest of the décor is plush in shades of olive and plum with a clear nod to Art Deco style.

The Order

This is one for the curious cocktail lover.  Mr Lyan has taken his inspiration from the botanical wilds of the British countryside and around the world and the new cocktail list is based on exploration of the flavour profiles of birch, pine and oak.  Try the Sea Mountain Spritz (Ketel One Pine Vodka, elderflower, Kombu apple).  Pure unadulterated alchemy-induced relaxation.  There’s a lovely menu to make your way through so give yourself a couple of hours.  Bar snacks range from blistered padron peppers to charcuterie and cheese boards.  Dandelyan will not fail to impress your date.

The Game

Make a reservation a good week in advance.  Dress up sharp.  Meet on Blackfriars bridge and snake along Upper Ground entering the Mondrian via the back door.  Weave through the lobby until you come to the ‘Den‘ which is the parlour hang out in between Dandelyan and Sea Containers.  From here, step outside to take in the stunning view of the river together. If you are lucky, the sky will have painted a picture over London for your romantic backdrop.  Lead your date back through and take your table or seats at the bar and peruse the menu and make your choices at leisure.  Once your appetites have been suitably whetted, potter over to Sea Containers and order some seasonal oysters and from there, whatever else may take your fancy.

Alternatively, the Southbank is your playground for pre and post Dandelyan game; there are a thousand ways to make this an evening to remember.  Come rain: catch a film at the BFI, an exhibition at Hayward Gallery, or enjoy more drinks and some dinner at Skylon, Royal Festival Hall or the Oxo Tower.  Come shine: stroll along the river to Gabriel’s Wharf for a bite to eat, or if you are a serious romantic and well organised, to unveil your pre-packed picnic blanket and basket. If it’s a slightly more casual affair, perhaps continue the stroll, stopping to enjoy an al fresco craft ale from Understudy at National Theatre and perhaps a kiss on Waterloo bridge.

The Faults

Reservation only but how smug will you feel as others are turned away?  Get organised.

Sex Factor

4.

Pizza Union, Kings Cross

3 years ago

The Vibe

Kings Cross has had a bit of a facelift in the last few years and the effect is starting to spread North, East, South and West of the station.  The area saw the launch of a branch of Honest Burger last year just a couple of minutes’ walk from the station, and smart, independent cafes and bars have sprung up all around.  Pizza Union has taken a large space on the Pentonville Road, which used to be a very non-descript Italian cafe.  It’s got a lot of room inside and there is an industrial feel, in fact the original brickwork and tiles of the building have been retained.  You can either enjoy your pizza sitting atop a stool at lovely high tables covered with vibrant mosaic patterns or you can take it away in a box. You decide.  PS They have banging tunes to soundtrack your date.

The Order

Having established a firm fan base over in their Spitalfields outfit, Pizza Union has branched out to Kings Cross in what is fast becoming London’s top foodie destination. They serve Roman-style thin and crispy pizzas and it’s super fast: on our visit we ate one Funghi and one Reine – literally no waiting.   Sweet little filled donuts are available from the ‘Dolce’ section and come in three flavours: Nutella, Salted Caramel and Coconut.  Oddono’s ice cream is also available in tubs.

The Game

This is fun, flirty, fast and perfect for speed dating.  It is a very casual place to date so nobody has to spend too much money or worry about how they are dressed. It’s also very good value for money with the pizzas coming in at around £4.50. There are plenty of bars in the neighbourhood where you can carry on the evening if you hit it off e.g. The Big Chill, Simmons, The Fellow and The Parcel Yard.  Do not over think this one.

The Faults

It will probably be busy but that adds buzz and, of course, cover in case you need to duck out and run for your life.

Sex Factor

2.

The Providores and Tapa Room, Marylebone

3 years ago

The Vibe

Marylebone High Street is a lovely place to mooch about, people watch and shop.  It’s also home to some of London’s loveliest restaurants but it doesn’t feel the need to shout about it.  The Providores and Tapa Room is a London institution for any self-respecting breakfast or brunch fan, especially if you hail from the Antipodes and can’t live without your coffee but it’s a modest space, not glitzy and focuses on keeping the quality coming and customers happy. Upstairs is the fine dining room known as The Providores and downstairs is the Tapa Room, a more chilled out space and fusion cafe.   On weekends, it is buzzy and so alive and the perfect spot for a coffee or brunch date.

The Order

You will want to order everything on the menu.  Light, fresh options sit next to more sumptuous options so everybody is catered for.   Coffee, a Bloody Mary, fresh OJ.  Moving on to French toast stuffed with banana and pecans, fresh fruit salad and granola or the outstanding Turkish Eggs (get this: two poached eggs on whipped yoghurt with hot chilli butter served with sourdough or granary toast – I was thinking about it for the next WEEK.)  Dinner is just as exciting with options such as Lobster and smoked coconut laksa served with a prawn and lemongrass dumpling and seared yellowfin tuna (papaya, cucumber, spring onion salad, shiitake mushroom, soba noodles, lime yuzu chilli dressing, toasted nori, sesame).  Dont be a chump – ensure you have a reservation at any time of the day – just incase.

The Game

Resist the temptation to go out for those Friday night work drinks. No, you will want to be fully compos mentis for this brunch experience on a buzzing Saturday.  Bring your A Game and dress to impress.  Iron that shirt, go for the classiest dress you own.  Reserve a table for two in the first floor dining room. Start with a refreshing juice or cocktail and then dive into your order.  The Turkish Eggs should feature even if you share it, dipping crispy bread into the oozy egg topped with creamy whipped yoghurt and set alight by chilli butter will add a little sensuousness to proceedings. Round things off with a coffee and perhaps a sweet, if you’re enjoying the atmosphere and want to linger.  Take your date’s hand as you leave the restaurant and suggest a wander around Daunt Books, just a few doors down, or a stroll in search of the nearest green space to lie in the grass.

The Faults

I won’t hear a bad word said about this place. Firm favourite.

Sex Factor

3. Although admittedly, one cannot help but feel frisky after sexy food like this.

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