It's that time of year again! The one time of year that you can be a bit of a stalker (legally) and tell someone (albeit secretly) that you like them without feeling like an idiot! On the flip side, however long you've been with someone and however regularly you do sporadic romantic things, it's one night when you're expected to do what everyone else does. But better. So this year, why not do something really cool to seal the deal once and for all? Here's our guide to London's top romantic venues.
In a guy's life it all pretty much comes down to one thing. Girls. Yes, yes, I know that there's more to life and there are lots of fun things to do with your mates. And then there's football. But the minute a girl comes along it all changes. Temporarily. It's a common condition known as MBM (which I won't describe here - if you don't know what it means, then you're probably not a boy). We've all done it. The reason I decided to play the guitar (proudly, loudly and breathtakingly badly) at fourteen was girls. The reason I formed a band was girls. The reason I then told our singer to learn guitar was because I wanted to be the singer (when I realised the lead singer got first choice with the girls), was err.....girls. You get the picture.
And bands know best. But there was a problem. As neo-punk rockers Good Charlotte so aptly put it "Girls don't like boys, girls like cars and money" and they go on to remind us that "Girls with good bodies like guys in Ferraris!" Well, the fact is, whether we like it or not, they do. But that's because, more often than not, if you have a Ferrari you're pretty successful and successful is interesting because it just is. Incidentally, the (not very good looking) singer/guitarist of that band is now dating Cameron Diaz! Hmmm....
It's not all one way traffic though. In a girls life it's similar, but not quite the same. It all pretty much comes down to two things, rather than one. Bags and shoes. Closely followed by boys who, in the old days, used to be able to impress girls by buying them bags and shoes. "If women didn't exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning" quipped Aristotle Onassis some time last Century (which wasn't all that long ago).Fortunately (and mildly unfortunately) girls now mostly buy their own bags and shoes and drive Porsches and things so the traditional route of impressing them no longer works. It's not about the money, money, money...! Nowadays, money still talks but it tends to talk in a language that only really annoying (though often good looking) girls understand. No, these days you have to take a different path. Natural charm, genuine interest in the person you're interested in and confidence in your own ability to be charming, interesting and, above all else, interested are the key attributes you'll need to display. Without being creepy. Don’t spend all your spare time looking at their holiday (bikini) pics on Facebook. Oh come on, we've all done it. Haven't we?! Ok, I haven't then, but many have! ;-)
However, there is still one last bastion of hope for the charmless, the boring and even the grotesquely ugly - a great (dimly lit) restaurant (if you're really ugly you could go to Dans Le Noir which is a 'dining in complete darkness' (so almost entirely personality based) experience but beware, you do have to come out......eventually, so you can't hide forever!). In truth though, sometimes all the attributes of a truly inspiring gentleman aren't enough on their own - you need to make a real effort and one such effort worth investing in is the all time classic, wining and dining. It's always worked and it always will work. Even if you look like David Gandy, there will inevitably come a point when you really, really like someone, where you'll need to take them for a fabulous and romantic meal in a fabulous and romantic venue, especially if you want them to feel really wanted. The trick is to enjoy it yourself and not do it just for show. Hmmm...a stunning environment, sumptuous surroundings, a spectacular view, delectable cuisine, great wine and a beautiful woman who you actually enjoy talking to? What's not to like? So the best advice I can give (and I genuinely believe I am super qualified to give it!) is immerse yourself in the moment as if it's the last night in the world and, above all else, be yourself and enjoy it because boredom is infectious and that's the one infection you want to avoid above all others! (Erm....). Of course, there is the fact that Nandos with someone good looking and funny is better than Le Gavroche with a dick, but this is a good place to start nevertheless.
With all that (dubious) advice in mind, here are my top ten destination venues in London for a romantic evening out (to help you get in the end zone, not stuck in the friend zone) with someone you really fancy (in no particular order).
1. Le Gavroche. If it's French and creamy, then it's lovely and dreamy in my book! Le Gavroche has long been my favourite London restaurant, ever since my second visit where the iconic front of house Director remembered me (that is a top restaurant's single greatest attribute) and Michel Roux came out to say "Hi" between courses as if I was an important customer (I wasn't). The food is simply world class and reassuringly expensive (ensuring its a coveted once in a while treat rather than a regular haunt), whilst the Mayfair location is suitably fitting. Oh, and they have silver cutlery bent into weird sculptures like cockerels. The French may have a few faults but haut cuisine isn't one of them. Needless to say, Je suis un massive fan!
2. Momo. A timeless classic tucked away on Heddon St, Momo is a beautiful and authentically themed Moroccan Mecca of magical mystery. The sumptuous surroundings and open kitchen mean that the air is filled with the scintillating scents of spices whilst the cosmopolitan and contemporary atmosphere means this iconic place is both cosy and kicking, all at the same time. What's more, their private dining area (up a few steps with natural daylight from the glass roof above and an optional curtain for ultimate privacy) is a regular haunt of people like Indiana Jones and Captain Jack Sparrow (because I can't use their actual names for confidentiality reasons!)
3. Duck and Waffle. Perched high above the City on top of the Heron Tower and, more immediately, Sushi Samba on the floor below (which is a must for pre dinner drinks), this place still reaches for the stars in a way that other rooftop Restaurants can't quite grasp. Their duck and waffle signature dish is delectable (and affordable) and their cocktails are both pungently perfumed and potent. I recommend this place to everyone, regardless of the occasion or their intentions. For instance, my father in law literally takes Russian girls here for lunch and the odd French girl for dinner (presuming my mother in law doesn't read this!) and it works for him, every time! (allegedly!).
4. A little French place in Knightsbridge that a (male) florist once took me to! Annoyingly, no matter how hard I try, I simply can't find this magical little rustic tavern which I'm convinced still exists. It's down a little alley between Harrods and One Hyde Park and has red and white checked table cloths. That's all I've got. Oh, and the knives are great big wooden handled rural French peasant-crafted contraptions which somehow authenticate the whole experience. And then there's the food. Simple French magnificence from snails to bone marrow (which you hue out of an actual bone with a spoon). It's salty, it's creamy, it's somehow both decadent and delicate all the the same time. But, above all, it's tantalisingly adventurous. Bone marrow? Snails? Frog’s legs? Anywhere else I wouldn't even contemplate them (and I'll eat anything!) but here, with an actual beret wearing rural French connoisseur pulling the strings...it doesn't get much more romantic than that. I suppose the moral of this story is go to Knightsbridge, wander down some alleys without any particular plan and see where it takes you....
5. Babylon @ The Roof Gardens. Love is in the air. A hundred feet in the air to be precise! Start by enjoying roasted quail in a hazelnut granola with maple syrup and artichoke velouté followed by lamb rump served with gruyere & garlic gnocchi and vegetable seedlings. What better way to finish the meal than Babylon’s chocolate ganache and delicious caramel bavarois whilst being serenaded by a Live Jazz band? Well, you had me at 'velouté'!
6. Bodo's Schloss. Ok, so what's more cosy than uber apre ski? Well, Bodo's recreates the best of the best - think Zermatt or Gstaad and then add a flurry of London panache and you've got the snuggliest (and most rocking) log cabin a few hundred miles off piste. It's fun, it's immersive (especially if you get stuck into the ski boot or, even better, the big dog!) and it's an experience all of its own. You can even get the house band to play your special song at your table, which will probably embarrass your date into bed – Try it, you might be surprised!
7. Clos Maggiore. Ok, so this is my only cliche in the list. But, a cliche is only a cliche because it's true and this restaurant has been voted 'London's most romantic restaurant' by, well, just about everybody. It's intimate, it's smart, it's lavish and, above all, it's French. The real piece de resistance here though (excuse my French) is the retractable glass roof, which means that starlit dinners (weather permitting) are on the unique and uber romantic menu...
8. Berner's Tavern. It's always a good sign if it's hard for even the most experienced blaggers (or, bloggers as autocorrect so helpfully suggested!) to get a table at short notice! Housed in the West End's coveted new London Edition hotel, you might have noticed this contemporary British restaurant has made it onto my list, even though it isn't French! The decor is awesome - really smart and sophisticated and peppered with quirky pictures in contemporary frames - in fact, it's so cool that it won the interior design award at the European Hotel Awards last year and with it's breathtakingly beautiful and sumptuous setting, you can see exactly why! With London's cosiest and most canoodle-inducing banquette seating coupled with London's most palatial contemporary dining room, Berner's Tavern is undoubtedly an impressive destination for a decidedly delightful date. If you can get that table...Good luck with that!
9. Hakkasan Mayfair. A classic which has now become a global icon. Like so many cool things these days, it's Cantonese, and there's none of this politically correct 'local produce' for-the-sake-of-it sentiment here. If there's someone really special in your life then why not show it by ordering the best travelled lobster in the whole world - all the way from the pure waters of New Zealand (well, it's only a day away and the A380 was coming to London anyway, right?). Plus, it probably tastes better than steamed Thames lobster? The best way I can summarise this awesome restaurant is 'contemporary Cantonese cool', and with its back lit wine cellar and dark wood furnishings it's certainly a romantic destination of a contemporary kind...
10. Beach Blanket Babylon. There's only one way to describe the atmosphere here and it's "fairytale-istic" and that's not even a word! This Notting Hill (and now Shoreditch too) classic is intriguingly weird and curiously wonderful. Incorporating sumptuous Roccoco style interiors throughout a wide variety of spaces including the Ballroom, the Chapel, the Drawing Room and The Crypt, BBB is always impressive (and fun) on a grand scale!
11. Steam & Rye. Steam and why? Because sometimes a quiet, retiring one-on-one isn't as romantic as a big, brash, loud and explosive retro American themed bonanza, that's why! And you know what? If you have the balls, you know you should, cos fun is fun and fun is good!
12. Altitude. It turns out that heaven is a place on top of the Millbank Tower, especially on the 14th February where you'll be able to enjoy Champagne Cocktails followed by a romantic three course fine dining experience, all accompanied by seductive live Jazz! And it doesn't end there! After dinner you'll be able to enjoy a private screening of a romantic comedy in their spectacular in-house cinema! And if that doesn't work you're destined to be single for the rest of your miserable, loveless life…!
And, just for the record...
13. Nandos. Because wherever you are with the right person, you're in the right place. And vice versa.
Oh, and shhhh....but have you heard about the 'Secret Rose Petal' pop up valentines event? After all, the ultimate goal is a 'pop up' on Valentine's Day, surely!? This one, on the 13th February (Friday 13th no less!) and the provocatively named 'Naked Truffle' on the 14th promise unrivalled decadence (Spearmint Rhino probably have something to say about that though!), flirty cocktails and even a real life growing rose herb garden! Pop-Up queen, Christabel, is the mastermind behind these unique and memorable events and she never fails to serve up a treat...!
But remember this - love is like a deck of cards. When you get married all you need are two hearts and a diamond......After ten years, all you'll want is a club and a spade! You have been warned ;-)
For a voracious variety of valentines venues, check out these great value and volumous valentines packages...