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. 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…
I remember so well, from school, that there was a time when dating your best friend brother was just not done, however tempting it was. They were the boys often two/ three years above that were untouchable and very cool, all the more so because they were off limits. But this rule seems to fade out, like nose piercings and doc martins, in your mid-twenties, (I nod to the former is because I have just committed to the full removal of my nose piercing, after 6 years). In fact it seems almost a no brainer that the bro of a best friend might be a good option, being a different apple from the same tree and all so this week I put that theory to the test.
My date for the night was a slick talking, eloquent charmer with wit and banter worthy only of a smooth Italian. For the sake of anonymity let’s call him ‘Guido,’ no other name would be quite so appropriate. It is all the more fitting that he is known to his family as this too. Coincidence, I think not. Our dinner spot for the night was an unusual, but somewhat wise choice, Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant in the Capital hotel (Knightsbridge).
The Capital Hotel is one of those old-timer establishments, which might not first pop to mind when you think of dining spots in London. It is a place that exudes old style glamour and hardcore nostalgia. You need only take a glance at the chintz, ornate gilding and florals of the bathroom to feel transported to the inside of Barbara Windsor’s barnet. Although this was something, in my own house I would scorn at all costs, somehow the granny-esque vibe was partly what endeared me to the place.
The clientele was certainly a mix of hotel stayers and diners, almost all of which were solely over 50. The sort of loyal customers that come back time and time again for the convivial familiarity and guaranteed good food. Anyone who knows me knows what a fan I am of Mr Outlaw’s cooking. His new fish book currently takes pride of place in my kitchen, sandwiched between Elizabeth David and Nigel Slater. So I was certainly looking forward to trying it at the hand of his own chefs.
The thing that struck me the most about the restaurant was for all its glamour and prestige there wasn’t a hint of anything ‘scenester’ about it. There was nothing to distract from the date, the food and the impeccable service. I could imagine being holed up there for a winter date, when it is snowing outside. Whiling away the hours nattering with a good bottle of wine with a fire roaring in the corner.
We began, as always with vodka martinis... the cocktail, which I benchmark all dining establishments against. Guido went for an Old fashioned. Top marks to begin. In this instance I decided to opt out of starters and go straight for the mains. I chose the sea bass, served with chargrilled octopus legs, a fried octopus fritter and an avocado, tomato and lime concass, with a side of new pots and salad leaves. The fish was perfectly cooked, well seasoned light and delicate a good complement to the more robust flavours of chargrilled octopus. The avocado packed a fresh limey punch and fresh green beans added texture and crunch. The croquette was another nice addition to the plate, although beyond the crunchy golden shell, it lacked substance. No appearance of octopus was present, just a soft mushy seafood tasting filling. It could quite easily have passed itself off as crab. I would certainly have liked a little more octopus in there. Guido’s choice was the cod on a bed of samphire, decorated with slithers of chorizo and swimming in a golden saffron sauce. Despite the chorizo looking a little reminiscent of the packets of pre-cut deli meat, that don many a supermarket shelf, the dish was pretty and contained a suitable sized hunk of cod. The sauce was well flavoured and balanced, strong enough not to let the chorizo dominate the plate (as often happens with the addition of chorizo to dishes) there was also enough sauce to make it thoroughly chip dunking worthy. You can’t go wrong with a creamy seafood sauce and skinny fries. We finished off the meal with a chocolate fondant worthy of swooning over, with fresh passionfruit sorbet and a plate smearing of coulis. I blinked and it was gone. The only evidence of its existence was a chocolate smear on my top lip, which I wore well all through my younger years.
We settled up and left full and happy. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Outlaw’s food, although I’d wait for the colder, cozy-making weather to come back again and possibly for a 5th date, or an overnight stay in the hotel. Regardless the date was, as I expected, successful, fun and not an awkward moment throughout. Suffice to say I was right about the brother of a friend theory. These apples must have fallen from a mighty fine tree, to be so unique and yet both so fun, I would certainly take Guido out for dinner again! Let me just take a moment to dish out a high five to the parents.
The Capital, 22-24 Basil Street, London, SW3 1AT, 0207 589 5171
London Foodies, if you have a suggestion for a perfect first date restaurant, please tweet me @TessWardchef