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.

Bar Tozino, Bermondsey

2 years ago

The Vibe

If you’re anything like me, you like to truly discover the City that you live in and love.  Bar Tozino is an unpretentious, charming bodega hidden under the railway arches worth taking a detour for.  Whether food shopping at Maltby Street market or antique hunting at Lassco, this little jamon bar is a reliable old friend in the neighbourhood serving trusty wares guaranteed to provide an instant pick me up.  Perfect for dates or even a catch up with a friend, it’s the kind of place you’ll keep coming back to.

The Order

The menu consists mainly of quality hams, cheeses, wine, sherry and cava.  It’s a small but well-formed menu and you will be very happy with everything that is bestowed upon you.  Pan con tomate – bread with a little garlic and tomato – accompanies some Spanish cheeses, some quince jelly and some glorious slices of ham. Take a glass of sherry or a glass of cava to wash it down with.  A specials board of some delicious hot tapas will not disappoint you either nor break the bank.

The Game

There’s nothing quite like working up an appetite with a great walk.  Surprise your date post-work with an impromptu romantic tour around the decaying marvel that is Shad Thames. Immortalised in Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist as the waterside home of the shady Bill Sykes, this atmospheric area of South East London makes for a wonderful moonlit stroll.  If these lanes could talk, they’d tell stories galore.  As you walk the Thames path, it’s hard not to be struck by the juxtaposition of the well-worn cobbled streets and the once thriving with industry warehouse buildings turned modern apartments inhabited with City slickers who work in skyscrapers and watch TV on their iPads.  London never fails to surprise and delight.

Plan out a route to amble along the river, arm in arm and be sure to mark out some landmarks to signpost your journey.  Don’t walk for too long though because the nights are drawing in and your destination for the evening awaits you.  X marks the spot – treasure hunt dating – modern day pirates of the Thames.  Enter via historic Ropewalk, itself brimming with history, swish through the velvet curtain keeping the draft out and settle in to nibble on nutty, buttery ham, sip on your favourite heady tipple and discuss your favourite things about London.

Emerge into the misty night huddling close on account of the cold and gentlemen, now might be a good time to offer her your coat.  Catch a cab on Tower Bridge Road and head home to make your own history.

The Faults

Un peu damp on those cold nights but the alcohol soon makes up for that.  Oh and a little out of the way of civilisation in terms of London transport but again, get out of your routine a little and you might surprise yourself.  Big red London buses serve the area quite well, don’t panic.

Sex Factor

4.  Down to earth and sensuous in a bread, meat and wine kind of way.  Simple pleasures in an unaffected setting. Nothing sexier if you ask me.

Casse-Croûte, Bermondsey

4 years ago

The Vibe

This place is adorkable. On a street full of widely applauded restaurants – from Jose Pizzaro’s tapas bar to the damn near perfect ZuccaCasse Croûte managed to bustle its way into Bermondsey, all diminutive proportions and solitary chalked menu, and make a gigantic impression. Enter the tiny restaurant, pushing through a split door that broader people may need to enter sideways, and you’re greeted by rather handsome Frenchmen, shabby chic, beardy and accented. Accost the kitchen helper by accident and you’ll be forced to pull out your crumbly French to be understood. Pull that off and you’re seated at a table with your name reservation scrawled in marker, and immediately offered drinks. The two person tables are so close together that you have to decide whether you want to lean over neighbours’ food as you slide through, or jiggle their water jug with your ass as you pass. Either way, it makes for very friendly dining indeed and, vitally, allows you to ogle the food before you order. Like the tourist in town, it is wholly permissible to just point at your neighbour’s plate and say ‘we’d like that one’. Twenty minutes into your date, it will be impossible to imagine you’re in London, let alone hip-to-be-square Bermondsey. It’s pure Paris, scrap that, tiny village in Toulouse, and you’ll love it.

The Order

Can I get an orange juice to sooth my beating head, please? Take an Orangina, Madame. My God it’s like a holiday; I think I bloody will. The menus on the table only advertise drinks so, after this fruity nonsense, you had better get stuck in.  Since everything feels so celebratory here, go for one of ‘Les Petillants’ (dry sparkling white wines), poured into those terribly bijoux, shallow, bowl-like champagne glasses, famously modeled on Marie Antoinette’s breasts. At Casse-Croûte the menu veers between reasonable, with some mains around £15, and slightly out there, with a sharing plate of beef at £69. However, they undercut any murmurs of dissent with insanely expert cooking, down to the buttery gratin sides, as well as lots of free sparkling water. Classy. Accompany your drinks at the start of the meal with a plate of thinly sliced charcuterie and then pick from four main courses, all rich, meaty and covered in excellent sauces. The most envy inducing is bound to be the pricey filet de boeuf, piles and piles of rare and tender steak for the table to share, with peppercorn sauce and gratin dauphinoise. For two people, you can downgrade to the £59 plate and you’ll have more than enough to fill yourself. Start simple and next visit you can take down other delights like the tender pork and mash. Finish with a light and puffy dessert.

The Game

Romantic cliché dictates that you visit this place on a very rainy day, either a stormy Friday night or a grey and drizzly Sunday. Meet your date there and arrive 15 minutes early to dry off, catch japes with the manager and ask for a quick menu translation. Watch your date arrive a little damp and frazzled, stand to attention, offer to take their coat and present them immediately with a poured glass of fizz. They’ll settle down sharpish. Go in strong with some old school flattery, joking about their charming flush or immediately zoning in on an attractive item of clothing. Make contact within ten minutes, swiping their hand playfully from the bottle with a ‘no, please, let me’. Smile a lot, whimsically order the big don of dishes and get back to the flirt. Don’t get too drunk as, even on a cold day, it gets a little warm in here. The food will take a while to arrive, which gives you plenty of time to relax before you have to masticate meat in front of each other. When it does, gobble up enthusiastically, chat with your mouth fit to burst and imagine this is your first minibreak. Then leave while it’s still raining, huddle under your umbrella and walk them to London Bridge station where you’ll part. If this goes well, you’ll be returning together very soon.

The Faults

Rien (nothing).

Sex Factor

3. It’s higher on the charm factor but this will make impression enough to guarantee at least a second date.

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