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.

Nam Long Le Shaker, Chelsea

2 years ago

The Vibe

Nestled at the far end of the Old Brompton Road, far from the ostentatious eateries of Knightsbridge or the pretentious members clubs of Mayfair, Nam Long Le Shaker just gets on and does it’s thing. That ‘thing’ involves providing excellent Asian fusion food, serving infamous ‘Flaming Ferrari’ cocktails to bankers, celebrities and royalty, and generally offering you the opportunity to seriously let loose, but only if you’re in the know.

The Order

Eating? Go for the Nam Long Summer rolls and be utterly blown away by the Siu Yuk Bao – crispy pork belly is always a winner. Go for a mix of large plates and Dim Sum – all perfect to share. This isn’t a sober night however – pretend to be civilised by starting with Martinis or even a cold bottled beer, yet realise you won’t leave here without throwing caution to the wind and ordering Flaming Ferraris all round.

The Game

The place hots up late. It’s open until 2.30am so pace yourself and aim for a late dinner. Book a corner table and meet there. Share food, build up your momentum and watch and learn as people start streaming in. The bar downstairs is newly refurbished and the ideal setting for cosying up with cocktails afterwards – replace talking with kissing as the music amps up.

The Faults

Shots will be done, things can get messy/super fun.

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.

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…

Rivington, Greenwich

2 years 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.

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.

Manhattans Project, POND, Dalston

2 years ago

The Vibe

I have to confess I was very unsure of what to expect from a cocktail residency in an East London Hawaiian restaurant… I had visions of hipsters shivering in a Tiki hut, downing sugary cocktails garnished with pineapple slices. I soon gave myself a sharp slap on the wrist for my nasty preconceptions. The vibe here is chilled, fun, authentic (without being overly earnest) and refreshingly laid back.

Housed in an airy Victorian warehouse in a secluded courtyard, POND serves great food and The Manhattans Project provides absolutely banging drinks. If I’d done my homework properly I would’ve read that the owners – Byron Knight and Felix Cohen are the brains behind Duke’s Brew and Que and the basement bar in Off Broadway respectively. Some serious credentials right there.

The Order

Dive straight in with a Manhattan, it would be rude not to and you won’t be disappointed. The menu promises ‘classic cocktails, done right’, and Felix stays true to his word. My favourite was the American Gothic, rye whiskey and Calvados with a little sugar and bitters, smoked with apple wood. Yum. The menu suggests you ‘Drink in silence then fuck on a bearskin rug.’ Well alright then. Spicy salmon maki rolls were fresh as could be and absolutely delicious, as was the Poke of ahi’ tuna & salmon with thai basil oil and coconut lime. Spam is apparently hugely popular in Hawaii, but here it comes all dressed up so it sounds and looks real purty – teriyaki glazed, or coated in dried shrimp with yuzu mayo. Still, for me spam is spam, and that’s one preconception I’m holding onto.

The Game

It’s a little tricky to find, so arrange to meet your date at Dalston Kingsland Station. Lead them onto Gillett Street which opens out into a square bustling with skateboarders, domino players and street dancers. Sit at the bar, peruse the witty menu and get stuck into the cocktails. The bar staff will merrily chat away so you need not fear any awkward silences. This place has good vibes, perfect for a first date.
The Faults

The secluded location means it’s less busy than it should be, but that’s sure to change. Go now before everyone else catches on.

Sex Factor

4.

Asia de Cuba Brunch, Covent Garden

2 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.

Egg Break, Notting Hill

2 years ago

The Vibe

Notting Hill is in short supply when it comes to fun, casual dining restaurants. Egg Break, a clever concept hatched by the team behind the Hoxton Hotel and Soho House aims to change all this. Taking the site of an old Thai restaurant on Uxbridge Street, they’ve introduced an entirely egg-based menu whilst keeping the laid back and casual charm of the original site.

The Order

There’s no need to labour over a long menu, here it’s all broken into simple sections: buns, sides, sweets and drinks. Bun choices include fried chicken, brisket, pork belly and even rib-eye steak – all optionally served with an egg if you like. If you’re feeling hungry then fill up on sides – hash browns, fennel sausage and avocado all stack well in the aforementioned buns. You’ll find a short and simple selection of wines on the back of the menu and there’s also cocktails – more on those below.

The Game

The short menu and zippy service makes Egg Break a great spot to grab a quick meal before catching a film, or an excellent week night date – you’ll be in, fed, and watered within the hour. Of course, if you’re planning to linger then don’t miss getting stuck into a few drinks. Yes, they’ve also got an egg theme to them. The ‘sour’ cocktails (the Clover Club, Pisco Sour and Bourbon Sour) are fortified with lime and made velvety with a touch of egg white. At £7 a pop, you’ll definitely fly through a few of these.

The Faults

You might want to check that your date is a real egg fan before committing to an evening here. That aside, it’s hard to fault what we think is one of West London’s most brilliant openings of the year.

Sex Factor

4. Is there anything much sexier than an oozy egg? Play your cards right and you might even get laid.

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