Going out for dinner on Valentine’s Day was once a sorry affair for those of us who cared about our food.
Overpriced set menus of badly cooked spaghetti and stone hearted chocolate fondants are a sure recipe for a disastrous date night. Thankfully, a lot has changed when it comes to Valentine’s Day menus and with the 14thof February on the horizon we asked Alexandra Dudley to share her top ten most romantic restaurants in London.
Housed within a converted barge on Regent’s Canal, Caravel is a floating restaurant run by brother-duo Fin and Lorcan Spiteri. Soft hued table-lamps and crisp white tablecloths echo the chic eateries of Paris, and were it not for the boat’s charming porthole windows one could easily be forgiven for thinking they’d stepped ‘off-shore’ and into a classic bistro in Le Marais. At a glance, the menu is modern European but there’s a humble playfulness to it too. Sesame prawn toast with chilli jam (a must order) sits alongside plates of beef shin tagliatelle, and devilled crab on toast. It’s excellent food with a strong wine list and the slight hug of the hull brings a relaxed intimacy to the dining room. If the night feels young and it’s too soon to go home, hop over to Caravels sister bar Bruno’s for an after dinner digestif.
With its wine bottle candles and handwritten menus, there is a Dickensian magic to this Soho institution. An 18th Century townhouse, Andrew Edmunds first opened its doors in 1985 and has amassed a loyal family of patrons thanks to its ever reliable plates of brilliant British cooking. It’s a hearty menu and an even heartier wine list but throughout its thirty years of service the prices have remained humble. Much of the wine list is available by the half-bottle too, which is convenient if, like my husband and I, you love each other but not each other’s taste in wine. Cosy up over plates of rock oysters with shallot vinaigrette and lemon followed by porchetta with braised January king cabbage and buttery potatoes, and finish with treacle tart and vanilla ice cream.
The Grand Dame of Dean Street, Quo Vadis has a delicious old school charm guaranteed to bring a bit of magic to date night. It’s no wonder that QV has won the hearts of so many with its stained glass windows, ruby red seats and a menu that invites you to share. Think sumptuous bites of crisp polenta with ricotta and sage, meaty oysters with shallot vinegar and gloriously golden pastry topped pies (best enjoyed with a bowl of pommes frites). Be sure to leave room for pudding here as the QV pudding menu is a love story in itself. Rich sticky toffee pudding with custard and cream, buttery quince, pistachio and almond tart, and Jeremy Lee’s ‘St Emilion au Chocolat’ make it all too impossible to choose just one.
There is an irresistible glitz to this iconic London hotel. One step into its gleaming art deco foyer and you instantly feel as though you’re the belle of the ball. Perhaps the most special thing about Claridge’s is that everyone who walks through its doors is made to feel like a star. If you’re looking for the ultimate place to impress your special someone, this is it. Last year Claridge’s unveiled its brand new restaurant after undergoing a glamorous renovation. Designed by Bryan O’Sullivan Studio, the art deco inspired dining room feels both modern and romantic with forest green booths, Calcutta Viola marble finishes and glittering pendent lamps. As you’d expect the menu is faultless. Buckwheat crumpets are showered with a tumble of fresh black truffle, lobster appears in the beautiful blushing nude (with the Claridge’s chefs doing all the fiddly shell work so that you can keep your manicure intact), and even the butter is dazzling, shaped into the iconic Claridge’s emblem.
The latest addition to London’s fashionable Sloane Street, Azzurra is the place to go if you’re after exceptional fish with a side of La Dolce Vita. The menu is rooted in Italian cuisine but uses British seafood, with the finest catch arriving fresh each morning. The crudo menu is particularly delicious with the red mullet with bagnetto verde and crusco pepper oil, and the oysters being the things to order. The oysters come on a bed of crushed ice alongside wedges of Amalfi lemon and ramekins of pleasingly zingy lemon granita. In true Italian fashion it’s the best ingredients cooked well enough to elevate them but not so much as to overcomplicate them, and the balance of flavour and flair is spot on, with each dish nodding to the elegant ocean-side cooking of the Amalfi coast. Airy and light interiors of nautical blue and sandy wood offer a refreshing contrast to much of the London restaurant scene and it’s a space that is especially lovely for a late lunch.
Sessions Art Club
Be prepared to set your alarms for a table at Sessions Arts Club. Bookings open thirty days ahead at 7.00am with tables usually snapped up by lunch (although it’s always worth going on the notification list). A restaurant that will supersede even the highest expectations, Sessions Arts Club is beautiful across all senses. Set within a stunning Grade II* listed building, the restaurant spans over two floors with the most romantic tables on the balcony overlooking the flickering glow of the main dining room below. Distressed sage green walls act as an ever changing gallery for striking artworks that shift with the seasons and the space feels somewhere between a historic home and a stage designed for the Bolshoi Ballet. The plates are as inspired as the canvases that surround them. Trout gleams under a crown of grapefruit and roe, and a perfect rectangle of buttery soft hake contrasts against piercing green watercress sauce. There is a loving attention to detail but zero fluff and every element seems both essential and enchanted. The food is ingredient-led taking inspiration from French and Italian cooking but with a delicacy that has become synonymous with the restaurant and its former Head Chef, Florence Knight.
The latest opening from the team behind Bar Crispin and Crispin, Bistro Freddie is a French-style bistro serving elevated bistro classics and an all French wine list. Head chef Anna Søgaard trained in Denmark and brings a Nordic finesse to the all-round stellar menu. Start with the eggs mayonnaise and move on to one of the flatbreads. The snail, garlic and tarragon butter and chicken skin flatbread promises a finger licking hot buttery mess that is sure to break any date-night nerves. Depending on your appetite, the chicken and tarragon pie is a masterpiece but there are more delicate plates such as fried plaice with curry sauce and capers or grilled cabbage with celeriac puree and hazelnuts that hit the mark too. Table candles drip heavily with ribbons of wax and most tables are set for two adding to the romantic feel.
A restaurant, cocktail bar and café set within a historic Grade II* Georgian mansion dating back to 1758, there is a fairy-tale quality to Brunswick House. The dining room is a treasure trove of salvaged antiques and vintage art with tables framed by sparkling chandeliers, raspberry red curtains and vivacious hanging pot plants. Chef-patron Jackson Boxer first opened the site as a restaurant in his early twenties. Whilst Boxer has gone on to open multiple successful restaurants (he is behind Notting Hill’s Orasay, Jackson Boxer at The Corner at Selfridges, and Cowley Manor) Brunswick House is still perhaps the beating heart of all his sites.
There is a grace to Boxer’s cooking. The plates are beautiful and yet never overcomplicated. Plump loaves of grilled potato bread come alongside a perfect quenelle of vivid green garlic butter whilst devilled eggs are festooned with trout roe and black sesame seeds that somehow transform them into another thing altogether. The flavours are bold but there is a subtlety to the cooking too. It is the same relaxed and approachable confidence that runs throughout the entire restaurant. A dinner at Brunswick House is a wonderful thing.
Paying homage to the French Riviera, this chic Mayfair bistro is the lovechild of Michelin starred chef Claude Bosi of Bibendum and restaurateur Samyukta Nair of LSL Capital. The dining room is panelled with rich chestnuty wood and the walls are peppered with a spectacular art collection framed by dainty hand-painted blue and white motifs. It feels fresh and French with white tablecloths and elegant crockery paired with playful sky blue and sunny yellow peppermills keeping it refined but inviting. The menu is reminiscent of the sort of food you might enjoy on a summer holiday and Socca is the perfect place for sharing lots of lovely things. The socca (a chickpea flatbread), crispy squid with lime and chilli salt, and the baked Atlantic prawns are a good place to start (the latter coming with a lively harissa kick that balances beautifully against a glass of crisp white). Ordinarily burrata can seem like a bit of a cop-out on a menu but this one is worth investing in and when isn’t a creamy blob of cheese not sexy? Particularly creamy, the burrata at Socca is sourced from Puglia and is adorned with a hefty smattering of fresh truffle.
With its clashing block-print tablecloths and mis-matched cushions, there is a charming homeliness to Jikoni that’s reminiscent of a big warm hug. It’s both cosy and fun and the restaurant manages to pull off a lot of pink with an elevated playfulness that makes it perfect for both a serious Valentine’s date night or more of a Galentine’s/Palentine’s get-together. Cooking across borders is how Jikoni describes it’s cooking style and the food is full of joy with an inspiring fusion of flavours from South East Asia, the Far East, Middle East and East Africa as well as Britain. It’s a fine example of how sometimes breaking the rules is best. Must orders are the prawn toast scotch egg with banana ketchup, the chickpea chips with Bengal Tomato Chutney and the paneer gnudi with saag, preserved lemon and pine nuts. Be sure to leave room for pudding too. The banana cake with miso butterscotch, peanut brittle and Ovaltine Kulfi is a tender thing that is sure to warm your heart.
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Lead image: Andrew Edmunds