The food has to be right, the vibe must be informal and relaxed, and the lighting needs to be suitably flattering – and that’s just the start of it! If you’ve ever spent hours agonizing over where to go on that all-important first dinner date, help is now on hand, courtesy of Tess Ward from Yes Chef. Tess has just spent a week on social dating app du jour Tinder, with the aim of picking her six all-time London first-date-friendly restaurants. Here’s what she found...
Tinder is all around us and it’s growing like the plague. Idle moments spent at the desk ‘replying to emails’ have never been so entertaining. In fact, Tinder has gotten so popular that it has led to the rise of Tinder Tourists, people who aren’t even single signing up to the social dating app to ‘peruse the action’. There even reports of couples getting on board for the fear of missing out. But where to go on the all-important first Tinder meeting?
There is always the risk with first dates, especially blind ones, that the evening might be awkward or the conversation stilted. In my experience restaurant choice is key. All you need is to find the right spot, where the wine is fine, the scallops seared and the steak as soft butter. After a week of research and many restaurants reviews, my jeans are tight, my thumb is sore from swiping, but my–oh-my do I have a suggestion or two. Here’s my (slightly tongue-in-cheek) guide to matching the right restaurant to the right man...
1. Hakkasan for the ‘Mogul’
Painfully trendy and mood lit top to bottom. The confidence and elegance of this Mayfair hotspot is as seductive as the kind of guy that would take you there. With lacquered black surfaces and plush comfortable seating, it is the kind of place the oozes sophistication from every pore. Although well known for their jasmine smoked organic pork ribs, stir-fried Australian lobster in spicy black bean and sublime dim sum, the large menu knocked us off track and we ended up spending at lease 20 minutes deliberating, whilst slurping our (suitably dirty) vodka martinis. We settled on an assortment from different menus. Including the Wagu Beef (which was butter soft perfection), the Black Truffle Roast Duck, a selection of Steamed Greens and the Stir-friedLotus Root with Asparagus. The dishes that topped of the meal for me were the Spicy Prawn with Lily Bulb and Almonds and the sublime platter of Mixed Dim Sum.
Hakkassan Mayfair, 17 Bruton St, London, 020 7907 1888. For details click here.
2. Angler for the ‘City Slicker'
Tucked away on the top of the South Place Hotel, right in the heart of the city, is Angler, a seafood restaurant with the best scallops and the happiest waiters in London. A relatively formal white linen tableclothed affair, but without any of the fine-dining pretention, (it is in the trendy Conran hotel after all) this is the perfect late-night supper spot. Light, bright with a great view of the city. All you need is those last few rays of evening sun, whilst you nibble on their caviar-topped Buckwheat Blinis and select your tipple from their impressive wine list.
Although the menu is not huge, choosing from their list of starters was a tough one, so we got a selection. This included the Shellfish Ravioli, the Carpaccio of Octopus (the most beautiful plate) the Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare (my favourite) and Pan-seared Scallops with Slow-cooked Beef, and a Butternut Squash Puree (the most thoughtful dish). For mains my date opted for the boeuf bourgeon-inspired Salmon with Kale, Bacon and Red Wine sauce. A real powerhouse of flavour - it worked. I was happily surprised at how well the bold flavours of a red-based sauce could compliment the delicate pink fish. I also went for the lighter option of the halibut, served with smoked salmon sauce - I kept this on the side to try with both. Both my date and I agreed the fish didn’t need it. The cherry on the top was a selection of delicious Petit Fours. A taste of sweetness to round it off the meal without the extra weight of a pudding. Not that we needed it - we were already going to have to be rolled home!
Angler, 3 South Place, South Pl, London EC2M 2AF, 020 3215 1260. For details click here.
3. Kurobuta For the ‘Chelsea Boy’
Kurobuta is a pop up on the King’s Road, so popular it has now become a permanent fixture. Run by Scott Hallsworth, it’s definitely a cool cat among the pigeons if you are looking for a dinner spot in West London. Nestled in the corner by the window, it was the perfect spot to watch the cast of Made In Chelsea come and go intermittently between dishes of Panko-coated California Rolls.
The food was suitably fusion. Going against the waitresses recommendation we didn’t go for the aubergine dish or the much raved-about ribs, but instead opted for a selection of Sake-flamed Edamame Beans, Mini Wagu Beef Burgers, Beef Tataki, Grains and Greens Salad, Kombu-roasted Sea Bass and both the Salmon and Tuna California rolls. Creative and beautifully presented, the flavours of yuzu (an asian citrus fruit) and soy dominated most dishes. The highlights were the cocktails, the Salmon Cali rolls, which we favoured without the dill mayo which was at risk of overpowering the delicate salmon, and the Wagu Beef Buns, a harmonious balance of Unami mayo. The crunch of Onion Rings was the perfect thing to complement these soft burgers.
Kurobuta, 20 Kendal St, London W2 2YE?, 020 3475 4158. For details click here.
4. Evans and Peel Detective Agency For the ‘Adventurer’
Tucked away down a side street, just off the Earls Court Road, this speakeasy is almost missable in its secrecy. If you manage to find it however, it’s just the ticket for an exciting first date meeting. Upon entering the joint, you are greeted by the dapper detective himself. After a few minutes of roleplay you are whisked through the revolving bookcase into the bar, saddled with menus and set up for ordering.
Although their cocktails are the real crowd pullers, the menu is not to be overlooked. We opted for a selection of their small plates. This included Fried Goats Cheese, which was deliciously crumb coated and oozing soft in the centre, Pulled Pork Sliders and Corn on the Cob with a pleasingly-smokey Tabasco butter. These were washed down a few too many cucumber and green tea tipsy tumblers of I cannot remember what. The cocktail list, although extensive, is not overwhelming. The waitresses also had good suggestions - anything whisky-based with the pork we discovered was triumphant. The mood of the place is speakeasy perfection, with large candles and orange-filliment lightbulbs offering up the only splutter of light. The atmosphere has a wonderful... naughty secret feel to it, so naturally we stayed put all night, and waited for them to kick us out.
Evans and Peel Detective Agency, 310c Earls Court Road W.8, London SW5 9BA, ?020 7373 3573. For details click here.
5. The Chicken Shop For the ‘Southern Boy’
You know the saying, if it’s where the locals eat, then you know it good… well in this case it was damn true. When we arrived, at 7pm, on a Wednesday, the queue already went around the block. Luckily my southern boy called ahead. The decor of the place is very cool, rustic and satisfyingly southern, which a hint of the back garden shed about it. I appreciated a good bit of low-lighting, (girls you know what I’m saying) especially on this particular day when a spot on my nose decided to emerge. A definite nod of appreciation to the simplicity of the menu, it made my life a lot easier. Half Chicken, done. Smokey, yes please, sides, chips salad and coleslaw, done. It’s the simple tickets of doing one thing and doing it jolly well. It also avoids the dreaded issue of food envy.
On a first date it’s probably not advisable to make them swap if you order badly. Those moved get saved for later on down the line. The chicken was reassuringly moderate in size. Clear signs of a good quality chook noted with its hard clean bones and moist flesh. The sides were pleasing, but the sauces stole the show. The moist Meat and Crinkle Chips the perfect vehicle for them to sail up to my mouth on. Coleslaw, I shan't mention, I am not a fan. Period. That was a side for my date to enjoy solo. Smokey corn (a bit of recurrent dish in my recent reviews) was simple, sweet, with a good few scorch marks from the grill.
Chicken Shop, 79 Highgate Rd, London, 020 3310 2020. For details click here.
Tess Ward is chef and host of South Kensington's exclusive cookery classes. She is currently offering 15% off all 10- session programmes this month. For details click here.