Ever agonized over the perfect place to go on your first date? The right choice can affect on how well it goes – the wrong choice can end up in tumbleweed silences and a polite handshake goodbye. Well no more, because food writer/single girl and Grazia Daily columnist Tess Ward is on a mission to roadtest the perfect restaurants to take your date to.
Tess Ward is a food writer, Le Cordon Bleu trained chef and host of West London’s exclusive tailor-made cookery programmes. She is also a twenty-something singleton, on the hunt for the best date-night eateries in our new weekly column. We will follow her from her awkward first date icebreakers to the third date clinchers, with a lot of tartare, steak, linguini and cocktails between. If you are looking for a spot to wine, dine, schmooze or snooze, the newest food trends, best rooftops, dark corners and vodka martinis, check here every Thursday for a nibble of the action…
A little observational note:
Even when single we are continually surrounded by the restrictions of relationships and expectation. Without the clear perimeters of a monogamous relationship, the rules of seeing/semi-dating are certainly blurred. As such it is that much easier for us singletons to step onto (and possibly cross over) the lines with less awareness of the consequences.
Once in a blue moon, and I mean a blue moon a good girl like me finds herself on the cusp of such a situation, stepping into the perimeters of the unknown, pushed by the lack of effort on one side of the fence; and not discouraged by the attentiveness and definitively alluring twinkle on the other. Sometimes in the pursuit of a worthy date, the rules get bent, a moment of sobriety might have seen things differently, but it seems a little unfair to me that a girl can be treated poorly, yet still be expected to remain in toe. Clearly all is not fair in love and war.
In light of this week’s misfortunate events, I was more than happy to take the week off men in favour of a no-nonsense single gals date. Where better then Ember Yard, surrounded by impressive hunks of ham, unctuous sausages and really goodlooking waiters. Ember Yard is the newest restaurant in the Salt Yard Group, (they also own Dehasa and Opera Tavern) which serves a selection of Spanish-Italian style little plates. It pretty much encapsulates all that I love about tapas. Lots of things, all edible and everything different. Perfect picky food.
My date for the night was one of my oldest school pals, her too recently single, certainly as much trouble and a terrible influence. She is one of those delightfully refreshing people with a devil may care attitude at just the time when one needs it most. She certainly perked up my Tuesday.
We were sat in the corner of the downstairs section, sandwiched between couples on surrounding tables, slap bang next to a vast leg of jambon iberico on a cute little table for two. The mood lighting, sultry golden hues and heavy wooden interiors all exude sophisticated seduction that I immediately had the hots for. The sharing plates injecting just that little bit more intimacy into the equation, providing you have a date that doesn’t mind sharing food… Luckily my sassy lady did not. The music although subtle was latin and very salsa-esque, not too loud to be intrusive, but loud enough for a bit of a hip wiggle moment on the way to the loos. Luckily that went unnoticed.
If I were to pinpoint the right moment to take your man/woman to Ember Yard, it would be undoubtedly for the third date ‘seal the deal’ clincher. The dark, intimate vibe of the place is certainly not the best spot for distraction in the midst of any first date awkwardness.
I arrived directly from a big press party ataround 9pm, by then all canapés I had munched on whilst chilling amongst Monica Galetti and David Loftus, were long burnt off. Unsurprisingly,I was pretty ravenous. The menu, albeit small sized, was a riot of tantalizing dishes, which made choosing tricky. We were eventually lured in by the smoked bream carpaccio with pomegranate, the chargrilled octopus, the cornish mackerel with warm mussel escabeche, the grilled ibérico with whipped jamón butter, the heirloom tomato and kohlrabi salad, beef bavette with cauliflower puree and finally the chargrilled Wye Valley asparagus with girolles and sliced truffle. Since it is the season for it…
The smoked bream was the first thing out, delicate light and superbly fresh. It had a great balance of smoke and zest, interjected with refreshing pockets of pomegranate. The dish was so good, I ordered another one. Next came the octopus, which was beautifully chargrilled, and served with a slightly over-oniony, tomato-lacking pepperonata and punchy green garlicy sauce. Good but not yet groundbreaking. The mackerel too swam past with plenty more smiles and nods of appreciation, but it wasn't until the acorn-fed, butter soft iberico passed my lips that we had a clincher. The meat was dark and served rare, so it was initially mistaken for the beef. Eaten in conjunction with the heritage tomato salad, with capers, kohlrabi and smoked almonds, it was truly spectacular. The whipped jambon butter too was worthy of plate (or finger) licking. The beef and asparagus were the final two plates out, both were sublime. The cauliflower puree a delight, but the beef a little tough. To be fair, after the iberico and tomato salad even a slice of wagu would have had a tough time hitting the mark.
Caught up in recalling the events from the previous weekend, we nibbled through the meal merrily and rather quickly, thanks to the delightfully prompt service. By the time my date had finished off her rather impressive muscavado panacotta, with milk sorbet and lemon and thyme shortbread, it was nearing eleven and a bath time was certainly calling. We settled up and headed to Oxford Circus, arm in arm, ploughing through puddles and recalling the meal in detail. Sure, single life is exciting and I’ve only been in it six months, but as I got home I couldn’t help think that there is nothing like the stability of a more worthwhile pursuit. I will certainly be coming back to Ember Yard in the future, there is still a whole lot more of delicious things to try next time, but perhaps next time I will be the lucky one on that exciting third-date clincher, with a worthy man to take home instead of a hunk of ham.
Ember Yard, Ember Yard, 60 Berwick Street, London, W1F 8SU. Tel: 0207 439 8057
London Foodies, if you have any suggestions for date hotspots you love in london, please do tweet me @tesswardchef