Dating is a tricky business, especially in a city as large as London. On the surface you would think it must be easy as there are so many people, so much choice, but that just makes it harder. Try Tinder you say? That just makes it worse! I fully believe Tinder to be the root of most of my dating problems over the last year or so. Men appear to think that women are now dispensable. You’ve had a disagreement? Oh well, I can get someone else. I have sex in my pocket, let me have a look on Tinder and see who I can go out with tonight.
I can’t begin to tell you how many guys now pre-empt that first date with “I’m after fun”. Now, I like ‘fun’ as much as the next person but it starts to feel a little empty after a while. Its pretty much like saying “Yeah I’m going to shag you a few times but then I’ll move onto the next girl, but hey…I did warn you!” And yes, they do warn you, but if EVERY guy warns you, you don’t really have any other option. Its not like there are the same numbers of guys messaging you saying they’re looking for something meaningful. Then you can make a decision depending on what you’re looking for.
Aaaaanyway, that aside, I am always on the lookout for good date spots. I rather stupidly arranged a first date at Meat Liquor a while ago. Big mistake. We had to queue for ages outside, then when we finally got inside we had to wait in another queue. The music was so loud we had to shout our first date chat across the table to each other. When we finally got our burgers, although they were damn tasty, they were just a little too ‘dirty’ and messy for first date politeness. Not a great start. So now I pick my first date places a little more carefully.
For that first Tinder date, you just want to see if that right swipe is as nice in person as they are in their photo, and this usually takes under 30 seconds. So don’t go arranging/agreeing to any dinner dates. You don’t want to be stuck wading your way through course after course when all you want to do is get the hell out of there and message your mates, so here are some of my favourite places for a few drinks after work…
Gordon’s Wine Bar, Embankment
This 19th-century candlelit wine bar is one of my favourite places in London. Its dark, its intimate, they have a cheese buffet to snack on while you drink fabulous wine…what’s not to like? I have lost days in Gordons. Seriously. I’ve gone in at lunchtime and come out 12 hours later! Its a magical little place and always one of the first places I tell people to do when they visit London. Unfortunately many other people are of the same opinion and its therefore constantly rammed. They do have an outside area now but its not the same as being holed up under the arches with water dripping on you from the ceiling above.
Damson & Co, Soho
I have had many good dates here. Based in the heart of Soho, its a fab little place with a buzzing atmosphere, great wine and good gin. Also, the bar staff are just delightful.
Ape & Bird, Shaftesbury Avenue
This ‘pub for people who don’t like pubs’ is perfect for a first date. They have a good selection of craft beers, fab cocktails, you can sit at the bar, grab a table or head down to the dive bar downstairs. If you get hungry, they have great food too.
Ronnie’s Bar at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho is another favourite of mine. Situated above the main club, this bar is a great little spot for a few drinks after work. The walls are dark red, the seating is leopard print, its open until 3am…I have lost many hours in here!
Also great are: Wright Brothers, Soho | Mark’s Bar at Hix, Soho | WC, Clapham | Trailer Happiness, Notting Hill | Peckham Refreshment Rooms, Peckham | Commercial Tavern, Shoreditch | Plum & Spilt Milk, Kings Cross | Dandelyan at the Mondrian | The Shrub & Shutter, Brixton | Scarfes Bar at Rosewood | Dean Street Townhouse, Soho | Villiers, Embankment
Now, if the person you meet actually looks like their photo and the two of you have a spark, you may want to carry on and get some food (lets face it, its wise to line your stomach, I have made many mistakes by ignoring food and forging ahead with the gin!). London has a wealth of small sharing plate restaurants which are perfect for dates, so here are some of my favourite places for drinks and small sharing plates…
Basically, any of Russell Norman’s places are excellent places for dates. I mentioned Ape & Bird above but also try Polpo, Polpetto and Spuntino. They’re all non-fussy, relaxed and laid back, with great lighting (very important!), delicious small plates for sharing and a great selection of drinks. I have had many great dates in all these places. Unfortunately I’ve tended to enjoy the place more than the company!
Also great are my Soho favourites Ducksoup, Blanchette, Barrafina, Copita and La Bodega Negra. Each of them have incredible food, great wine, a buzzy atmosphere and good lighting. Worth noting that the only ones you can make a reservation with are Blanchette and La Bodega Negra.
Its not necessarily a ‘romantic’ destination, but I love Shackfuyu on Old Compton Street. Its the perfect place to grab a bite to eat when you’ve been out drinking in Soho. Its fun, its loud, its buzzing and the food is ridiculously good.
If you’re South of the river, check out the amazing 40 Maltby Street and Jose’s in Bermondsey, WC in Clapham for fantastic cheese, charcuterie and wine, and Three Eight Four in Brixton.
If you are planning a ‘proper’ dinner date, maybe for a second or third date, my favourite dinner date restaurants are…
Maggie Jones, Kensington
I love this cosy farmhouse-style restaurant. It’s dark and romantic and you feel like you’re in an old barn with baskets hanging from the ceiling. With mis-matched furniture and crockery, its full of romantic nooks and crannies, perfect for whispering sweet (or dirty) nothings to your date. Plus the food is hearty, rich and indulgent. I just love it.
Brunswick House, Vauxhall
Another favourite of mine, Brunswick House is easy to miss as its stuck on that horrible one-way system at Vauxhall bridge, opposite Vauxhall tube and bus station. As unexciting as it may look on the outside, its beautiful inside, stuffed full of amazing furniture, mirrors, lights, chandeliers, posters, stuffed animals and all sorts of nik naks, all with price tags attached. (It is home to the architectural salvage company Lassco, afterall). Its quirky and chaotic and I love it.
I also love Sushi Samba and Duck & Waffle up the Heron Tower in The City which give you fabulous views of this amazing city. Bob Bob Ricard in Soho has beautiful 1920s style decor and ‘Press For Champagne’ buttons. Down the road on Lexington St is Andrew Edmunds, a Soho stalwart with old school charm, lots of candles and a great wine list. Downstairs in Mayfair’s intimate Kitty Fishers is a lovely spot. Lots of candles and fantastic food. Brawn on Columbia Road is a great understated place with fantastic food and Metro in Clapham has a gorgeous garden decorated with fairy lights out the back.
Now, if you really like someone and you want to show them you’ve put a little thought into the date, these are my favourite quirky date spots…
Evans & Peel Detective Agency, Earls Court
Be prepared to have a puzzle to solve when you arrive at this prohibition-style 1920s speakeasy. Once you get past the detective on the door, you will be led through a door hidden within an old dusty book shelf. Once you’re in, you can flirt away to your hearts content with fantastic cocktails and bottles of booze out of paper bags. (Make sure you book first!)
The Mayor Of Scardey Cat Town, Spitalfields
You enter this speakeasy through a Smeg fridge in The Breakfast Club. Again, make sure to book first. Once you’re in, its dark and cosy, weird and wonderful. A few strong cocktails will get the date hitting the right notes. Just remember….NEVER exit through the fridge door!
69 Colebrook Row (The Bar With No Name), Islington
Located on a backstreet in Islington and only identifiable by an outdoor lantern, this little cocktail bar has a sultry Film Noir feel about it. Dark wood, flattering lighting, low seating and amazing cocktails make this an ideal date destination. Another bonus is you can book.
Happiness Forgets, Hoxton
Its intimate, dark and seductive atmosphere is the ideal setting for a date. Combine this with excellent cocktails and you’re onto a winner!
Experimental Cocktail Club, Chinatown
This speakeasy-style basement club, hidden behind a Chinatown door is a great little find in the middle of tourist-central. Expect delicious, inventive cocktails in a low-key, quirky and intimate bar.
Callooh Callay, Shoreditch
Located just off Curtain Road, you enter the back bar through a mirrored wardrobe door at the back of the room. Once inside you’ll see walls made from 80s cassette tapes and a mishmash of memorabilia. Its fun and not pretentious which is a pleasant change in Shoreditch. The bar staff are knowledgeable and sure do know how to make a cracking cocktail.
Nightjar, Shoreditch – This speakeasy-style bar has a great cocktail menu and live blues and jazz bands Wednesday to Saturday. It is always busy so make sure you book!
I hope this list helps you out a bit. If you have any favourite places you can recommend to me, I’m always on the lookout!
These are great, thanks. I love Callooh Callay and the ECC in Chinatown too, little hidden gems. Swift is a new cocktail bar in Soho that’s great for a date night drink. There’s a cute little website I use sometimes (www.dateknights.co.uk) that organises and books quirky date nights for special occasions and saved me when I needed something special 🙂 they give you an itinerary that’s basically a surprise which is fun
Oooh thanks! That’s good to know. I’ll definitely check out Swift in Soho too. 🙂