olive tip: Close Maggiore is in the heart of the West End, so book the pre-theatre menu (two courses for £25, including a glass of bubbles) before treating your loved one to a West End show. closmaggiore.com
“mu”, Dalston – for a date-night dinner with jazz and cocktails
Treat your date to an evening of jazz, Japanese food and innovative cocktails at this trendy Dalston hotspot. Drop into the buzzy bar for drinks, or book a sought-after spot in the restaurant proper, where a handful of tables with atmospheric lamp lighting provide front-row seats to the weekly jazz sets courtesy of Cuban group, Conjunto Cubano. Dishes are reasonably priced. Start with charred, skin-on pumpkin skewers, silky salmon tartare to scoop into nori sheets and plump prawns in tempura batter served with sweet and spicy nori-flecked mayo. Follow with the tonkotsu – a generous pork chop, trimmed with melting fat, crusted in panko breadcrumbs, served with shredded cabbage and tonkatsu sauce – and umami-rich nikiri-glazed tofu with Japanese salad. A side of oyster mushrooms has an udon noodle slurpiness, coated in a glossy soy and garlic glaze. The only dessert, a seasonal crème brûlée, is ideal for sharing before another round of cocktails and the second Cuban jazz set. mu-ldn.com
Isabel, Mayfair – for wow-factor and late-night dancing
From its lux grill dishes, including a Galician ex-dairy côte de boeuf or a sharing Cornish dover sole with creamed spinach, preserved lemon and brown butter, to its silk jacquard wall coverings, golden ceiling and bar, this glamorous Mayfair restaurant is guaranteed to wow any date. After dinner, the beats purr, as DJs take guests through until 3am, both in the restaurant and the Dragon Room bar, downstairs. Isabel’s innovative cocktail list includes the Rosetta, a take on the French 75, garnished with a rose petal and dehydrated lychee. isabelw1.london
Kitty Fisher’s, Mayfair – for an intimate romantic dinner
Red velvet curtains welcome diners into this intimate bistro. A handful of tables sit snugly beside a bar, behind which jars of home-made rhubarb gin, turmeric syrup and fig leaf vodka nestle in amongst trinkets. A creaky wooden staircase in the back corner takes you down past the kitchen into the intimate basement dining room, where dusty-pink banquettes line walls decorated with antique paintings.
Start with a round of cocktails. A boozy hanky panky is a more delicate and floral twist on the negroni, while the restaurant’s signature Bad Kitty has a subtle sparkle and a syrupy sloe gin edge. Order all the bite-sized snacks. A smoky stack of Welsh rarebit is finished on the open grill to make Montgomery’s cheddar cheese extra golden; crisp ham hock and jowl croquettes melt in the mouth; and a silky-smooth splodge of chicken liver parfait comes with pieces of quince on a seeded cracker.
Mains are cooked on a wood-fired grill so take 20-25 minutes to arrive, but it’s worth the wait. Pork presa is soft and pink with charred edges, accompanied by a pig-cheek sausage, candied heritage carrots and plums, while meaty monkfish comes on a rich bed of aubergines and tomatoes. Get involved with the sides, too – crunchy layers of deep-fried pressed potatoes or wood-fired Hispi cabbage lifted with mustard seeds, described correctly by the owner as “buttery wonderfulness”. For pudding, try the hazelnut and chocolate ganache with brown butter ice cream, covered in a dome of fluffy hazelnut mousse and dusted in cocoa powder.
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olive tip: If you want a more affordable romantic evening, pop in for a glass of wine and a couple of snacks to enjoy perched at the table in the window, perfect people-watching opportunities for first dates. kittyfishers.com
Brutto, Farringdon — for Tuscan-Florentine dishes for sharing
Refreshingly, this new Tuscan-Florentine restaurant isn’t one that values style over substance. Recently opened by Polpo’s Russell Norman, the relaxed, no-frills interior is reminiscent of more old-school Italian establishments, with red gingham tablecloths, walls lined with framed pictures and a wine menu that’s modestly stapled together, emphasising good Tuscan bottles. The menu is particularly good for sharing, with four small pasta plates that include a delicate rabbit pappardelle, and tagliatelle with a nostalgically rich, meaty ragu-style sauce. Start with the deep-fried dough ball ‘cuddles’ antipasti, paired well with thin slices of salty prosciutto and creamy stracchino. The mains, or secondi, are quite beef-focused, with a blackboard of perfectly cooked T-bone steaks to be ordered per 100g, and a hearty Tuscan beef shin stew. Alternatively, you can try the juicy pork and fennel sausages with lentils and a big dollop of dijon mustard. Leave room for a slice of the light, layered apple tart, or the ‘ugly but good’ cookies — these crisp hazelnut meringues originate from Tuscany, served here with smooth vanilla ice cream. Despite ‘brutto’ translating to ‘ugly’ in Italian, the food here is far from it. It’s simple, but it proves that good food doesn’t have to be stylish. msha.ke/brutto
Ekstedt, Great Scotland Yard – for a romantic 7-course tasting menu
Tables are like gold dust at the leading Swedish chef’s new London outpost. Niklas Ekstedt’s tasting menus (three or seven courses) team British produce such as hay-smoked mallard, Cornish oysters and Sussex truffle with traditional Nordic ingredients including pine, venison and lingonberries. A wood-fired oven and open flame give dishes a delicious smokiness and create both warmth and theatre. ekstedtattheyard.com
144 on the Hill, Richmond – for a cosy alpine-like experience
144 on the Hill is an imposing Georgian Hotel just a stone’s throw from Richmond Park. While the interiors are opulent, the atmosphere is warm and relaxed. An outdoor terrace has been transformed with thick blankets, fairly lights and outdoor heaters to make for a cosy, alpine-like experience.
The fondue menu is £80 for two people and includes a warming glass of mulled wine to get you started. The artisan cheese fondue is incredibly generous and almost impossible to stop eating. It comes served with Parisian potato salad, steamed broccoli, a charcuterie board and bread. It’s easy to while away a few hours as the menu is so plentiful and the setting so comfortable. If you’re feeling up to it, you can finish with a rich Belgian chocolate fondue served with strawberries and marshmallows. Imagine the snow and you can pretend you’re just back from a day on the slopes. 144onthehill.co.uk/winter-wonderlounge
Manthan, Mayfair — for quality Indian street food in a romantic setting
With a pedigree like chef Rohit Ghai’s, expectations of the food at his new Mayfair restaurant are high — and it doesn’t disappoint. Rohit led the kitchens at Gymkhana and Trishna before opening his first venue, Kutir, in Chelsea. At Manthan — the Hindi word meaning to churn and reflect — Rohit takes inspiration from his mother’s cooking and the street food of India. The Maddox Street dining room is long and wood-panelled, adorned with beautiful paintings of exotic flowers. Even at lunchtime it feels romantic, and the sharing dishes reflect that vibe. If you’re here for the first time, have an overview experience and choose two dishes from the Gali ka khana (street food) section, one from Rassedar (curries), one from Chapata Chops & Tikka, plus a couple of sides. To start, ghati masala prawns are plump and tender, coated with sesame, peanut and coconut for a satisfying crispy crunch. Jackfruit tacos are a revelation — almost meaty in texture, stuffed into fluffy rice lentil pancakes with southern spice and chutney. Fall-off-the-bone lamb ossobuco sits in a silky, satirsfying sauce flavoured with jaffa spices and curry leaf, while sarson chicken, tangy and hot with mustard and chilli, is as soft as butter. If you have room for dessert, opt for the Classic Trip of sweet laddoo, sticky gulab jamun and creamy srikhand. manthanmayfair.co.uk
Trullo, Higbury – for a romantic Italian restaurant
Older sister to Borough Market’s Padella, Trullo serves perfect pasta, antipasti and larger charcoal grill dishes in a romantic yet relaxed environment. Upstairs, wooden tables – simply laid with white paper tablecloths and flickering tea lights – are huddled together, while downstairs, dark booths are perfect for a longer, more intimate dinner.
The menu changes twice daily, depending on seasonal produce, but if there’s two of you we’d recommend a couple of antipasti, a couple of plates of pasta and one larger oven dish. Rich beef shin ragu coats slippery ribbons of pappardelle, while sweet squash ravioli gets a richness from the olive oil. Meat and fish are simply cooked over coals, served with the likes of soft polenta and salsa verde or baby beetroot. As with the food, wines change regularly but there are always a few available by the glass. The natural Puglia Miro is bursting with ripe cherries, or sip on a punchy coffee negroni as a nightcap.
olive tip: Impress your date with the promise of Padella’s famous pasta dishes without the long wait. If it’s on the menu, order Padella’s iconic pici cacio e pepe for a cheesy hit. trullorestaurant.com
Rondo La Cave, Holborn — for on-trend wines
The team behind The Hoxton hotels is very much alive to trends across the world and always brings something new and exciting to London’s restaurant scene. Cue this gorgeous little basement bar in the Hoxton Holborn, with a regularly changing rota of world-class chefs, focus on natural wines, and commitment to careful sourcing. First in residence is chef Adam Rawson’ postcard from Peru. Cantina Valentina has a short and punchy menu of must-tries starting with a peach and pine pisco cocktail paired with the deep-fried cheese wonton loveliness of El tequeño and dipping sauces. Weighty pork belly chicharones, grilled duck skewers and coal-baked lamb neck are balanced by lighter dishes such as sea trout ceviche with passionfruit and turmeric tiger’s milk. Clued-up staff can recommend low-intervention wines from British vineyards and beyond and if you want to stray from the concise wine list, visit the in-house shop (£20 corkage). Keep an eye on the website or @rondolacave Instagram for the next residency. rondolacave.com
Fenchurch restaurant at Sky Garden, The City – for a romantic dinner with a view
If you’re on the right side of the room, there’s no view finer than that from Fenchurch. It’s the highest – and most expensive – restaurant at Sky Garden, the three-storey high oasis at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street (better known as the walkie-talkie building).
Wherever you’re sat, a meal here is a luxurious experience. Staff are experts; our crumpled napkins were twice replaced with ninja-like stealth, and at night the room transforms into a glamorous, flatteringly-lit space designed to make everyone feel like a million dollars. We were here for the tasting menu, and began in style with a well-made old fashioned and a signature gin and St Germain cocktail. The latter was a little too sweet, but the giant spherical ice cube it came with was transfixing.
olive tip: Make sure you ask for a table ‘on the view side’, and ideally one that’s away from the private dining room, rammed as it sometimes is with rowdy business-types.
Gold, Notting Hill – for a secret indoor terrace
Gold is a buzzing restaurant and late-night bar on London’s Portobello Road which puts cooking over coals at its heart. Split into raw, charcuterie and cheese, salads, vegetables and plates, all the dishes are designed to share. Portions are hearty though, so start off steady and see how things go. Charred pears with burrata welcome the salty tang of Tuscan ham, while a bouncy farro salad with sweet peas, broad beans and Berkswell cheese steals the show with its fresh flavours. Indulge in desserts – honey rum babas arrive as boozy as they should be, with plenty of lemon verbena cream, while buttery sable biscuits layered with raspberry and mascarpone are lifted further with the crunch of praline.
olive tip: You can dine in two rooms, but head to the covered terrace on the ground floor for romantic Moroccan rooftop vibes.
Lyon’s Seafood and Wine Bar, Crouch End – for a romantic seafood dinner
The vibe at this neighbourhood spot is unfussy yet classily comfortable, with muted green banquettes, wooden floors and a white marble bar, while pretty traces of the room’s original cream and green Victorian tiling can be spotted on the walls.
Seafood fans will love the kitchen’s offbeat and creative approach to ingredients. Oysters – sourced from Wright Brothers – come with garnishes designed to complement each variety: we try Carlingfords delicately matched with a melon and cucumber salsa. Toasted, treacly rye bread comes piled with fat, sweet, pickled mussels and a delicate curry-tinged sauce, while a classic caesar salad gets a successful maritime twist thanks to smoked sardines.
The wine list focusses on sustainable, organic and low-intervention bottles, and there’s also a pithy cocktail list – a super-dry, briny martini made with seaweed-infused Irish An Dúlamán gin and manzanilla sherry is the perfect start to a seafood feast.
olive tip: Finish the evening with a night cap at another excellent neighbourhood outfit in Crouch End, Little Mercies. Stripped-back cocktails include the likes of strawberry negronis made with homemade vermouth and silky caramelised white chocolate old fashioneds.
Frog by Adam Handling, Covent Garden – for an elegant tasting menu
Five-course menus (£65) at this elegant restaurant in Covent Garden start with a succession of stunning, theatrical snacks (razor clams are served on dry ice) prepared in the large open kitchen. Starters may by kingfish ceviche and salt-baked celeriac with sous-vide eggs, before mains of crisp-skinned roast halibut and pink ibérico pork with pork belly croquettes, and posh puds such as velvety chocolate mousse with creamy almond ice cream.
Pair you dinner with matching cocktails. Mixologists conjure up pre-bottled cocktails to match each course, with separate spritzes from aromatisers to bring out the desired flavour of each dish.
olive tip: Descend into Adam Handling’s seductive cocktail lair, Eve, for digestifs.
The Ivy, Seven Dials – for celeb-spotting
Impeccably drilled, highly trained and ready for any eventuality, The Ivy front of house team is the Special Forces of the restaurant world. Glasses are constantly filled, waiters by your side the moment you contemplate ordering, and even the most obstreperous of clients are dealt with with well-polished grace. In fact, the staff seem to anticipate one’s every demand, and they do all this with charm and warmth. A class act.
The Ivy was never all about the food, even in its pomp. But it did the comfort classics very well. With a sexy new facelift in 2015, standards are high once more. Asparagus is verdantly fresh, and comes with an oozing poached egg; Bang Bang chicken sits in a slick of nutty sauce; crispy duck salad juggles salt, sweet and savoury with luscious aplomb.
Dover sole, grilled on the bone, is every bit as pert and noble as you’d expect. Beautifully cooked too. The shepherd’s pie is back to its glory days, the most intense, slow-cooked lamb, crowned with a burnished mass of buttery potato, and surrounded by a small lake of rich, deep and delightful gravy.
olive tip: Book a spot at the bar to sit beneath elegant martini glasses and chat to the bartenders for a more interactive date experience.
Champagne + Fromage, Brixton – for an affordable first date
Champagne + Fromage does exactly what it says on the tin. It brings an authentic taste of the best that France has to offer to three shops/restaurants in London.
The menu is made up of cheese and charcuterie boards, baked cheeses, salads, tartines, and a small selection of desserts. Everything is designed for sharing. This isn’t a typical sit-down meal; it’s more a place to go if you want to linger over a few glasses of champagne and lighter bites, making it ideal for a first date.
There are over 50 different cheeses on offer, which could be daunting. But the staff are knowledgeable and friendly, and forthcoming in their suggestions. The charcuterie is all high quality so you can’t go wrong – the blueberry saucisson (although it sounds strange) was particularly good…
olive tip: You’re encouraged to go to the counter to taste and build your board, so go and chat to the staff with your date for an interactive ice-breaker to start the evening.
Bob Bob Ricard, Soho – for a blow-out romantic dinner
This Russian-inspired restaurant in Soho that exudes luxury, with ornate interiors loosely based on the Orient Express (train-carriage style booths, brass rails and coat racks) and slick service. It’s all about excess, with hearty portions, theatrical presentation and copious amounts of fizz.
Start things off with a round of oysters baked with parmesan and black truffle, or stunning beetroot and goat’s cheese gateau. Order the beef wellington to impress, presented as a latticed pastry sphere before being taken away and carved into thick slices. Perfectly pink 28-day aged Scotch beef fillet comes wrapped in a layer of finely chopped porcini mushrooms and a thin pancake to soak up the juices with a golden crisp pastry case.
‘Chocolate Glory’ is an instagram-worthy dessert. Hot chocolate sauce is poured over a gold sphere that opens up to reveal a soft chocolate Jivara mousse with brownie pieces, zingy berries and passion fruit and orange jelly. If you’re too full for all that chocolate, order the zesty trio of lime, lemon and pink grapefruit sorbets served with Platinum vodka.
olive tip: Book a private booth for an intimate dinner, complete with iconic ‘press for Champagne’ buttons for a fizz-filled date. bobbobricard.com
Sager + Wilde, Hackney – for drinks with nibbles
Sager + Wilde’s original Hackney Road bar is a romantic, candle-lit neighbourhood spot to enjoy unusual wines with your date. Huddle around a table on little stools and wooden benches, or sit up at the industrial iron grate bar to get a closer look at the rare bottles displayed in the rack along the back wall.
The small but thoughtful wine menu covers lesser-known regions such as Austria, unusual orange wines and twists on classics procured by owners Charlotte and Michael Sager-Wilde. Golden jalapeño and cheddar toasties are served on E5 Bakehouse sourdough and round off the evening perfectly.
olive tip: For a super-cheap date option, head to Sager + Wilde’s Paradise Row restaurant on Monday-Saturday between 5pm and 7pm for the bargain £10 plate of pasta and negroni or glass of wine deal.
Seymour’s Parlour, Marylebone – for a romantic afternoon tea
Inside a Georgian townhouse, just behind Oxford Street, lies a secret drinking den that exuberates the eccentric charm of the Zetter Townhouse’s ficticous owner, wicked Uncle Seymour. Seymour’s Parlour is more front room of curiosities than hotel bar: trinkets clutter a cabinet that spans one side of the room, portraits adorn the wine-red walls and crystal decanters filled with bright orange liquid dress up antique wooden tables.
The room has a hushed atmosphere with intimate lighting that creates secluded corners to settle in to. Dapper Italian waiters take your order, and shake cocktails at a little bar tucked into one corner. Try out the afternoon tea or stick with a round of tea-infused cocktails created by drinks pioneer Tony Conigliaro (try Silk Road Gimlet, a smooth mix of Beefeater gin and delicate Keemun Chinese black tea cordial).
olive tip: If you’re not that hungry and prefer to focus on cocktails, Zetter’s head chef Ben Boeynams has created some pretty sharing snacks. Try pillowy char siu pork bao bun; light-as-air pomme soufflé with smoked herring’s roe; and pickled Porthilly oyster with dill and buttermilk.
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