If you think this post is well-timed ahead of Valentine’s Day, think again. The odds are that at least 90% of the romantic London restaurants mentioned here are already fully booked! However, the good news is that dinner dates don’t only happen once a year. Here are my top picks for taking someone special out in London.
What makes a restaurant… romantic?
It’s a subjective question, and likely depends as much on your date as the venue! However, in a busy cosmopolitan city like London, we can probably all at least agree on a couple of things.
Number one, the place should be special, and not somewhere you’d go every day or casually on a whim. So we can exclude all cheap chain restaurants like Wagamamas, Vapiano,
Number two, it should have an ambiance. Whether that’s an intimate cosy space or a big up-scale venue costing millions in interior design, the venue itself is the first impression and may set the mood or tone of the date. Restaurants with ambiance also tend to be popular, which is important, as there’s nothing more awkward than a ‘romantic’ dinner date in an empty restaurant.
Number three, the food should be excellent. This one is pretty straight-forward because, quite simply, bad food makes for a bad date. They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his belly. But equally for women, if you can get her mouth to orgasm, you may stand a chance elsewhere.
So where in the big beautiful city of London can you find somewhere special with an ambiance and excellent food? As it turns out, a lot of places! To help whittle it down, I’ve picked three of the most romantic London restaurants for each of four categories: Fine Dining, Views, Cosy and New.
Clos Maggiore, French, Covent Garden
Clos Maggiore officially wears the crown of THE most romantic London restaurant. In fact, it caters almost exclusively to the most important of dinner dates, proposals and anniversaries. For a prime weekend slot, expect to book more or less a year in advance. Seriously. Although this Valentine’s will have sold out months ago, now would be the perfect time to book for next year!
The Five Fields, British, Chelsea
If you’re looking for a sophisticated high-class restaurant, this is it. London’s own Taylor Bonnyman used to work at New Yorks’ 2 Michelin star Corton before returning home to open the Five Fields in 2013. It’s his first restaurant as head chef, which deservedly won its first Michelin star in 2017 and is one of my absolute
Dinner by Heston, British, Knightsbridge
Dinner, as it’s colloquially known, is just one of 10 restaurants in London with two Michelin stars and was voted number 5 in the Worlds’ 50 Best Restaurants. A date here is guaranteed to take you on a unique gastronomical journey. The concept is historic British cooking by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, master of molecular gastronomy, although don’t expect to see him there. Fear not though, running the show is executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts, formerly head chef at the highly acclaimed Fat Duck.
The Shard, London Bridge
Inside London’s tallest building there are four different, yet equally romantic restaurants to choose from. Although you should know, they’re also bloody expensive! But can you really put a price on love? Perhaps the most classic and lively choice is Aqua (31st floor), serving modern British food in exquisite lofty surroundings. At the more intimate, New York-inspired Oblix (32nd floor, by the same folks behind Zuma), the restaurant is split into East and West, where you’ll have to pick one of the two. Hutong (33rd floor) is Chinese fine dining at Hong Kong prices, while the Shangri-La’s Ting (35th floor), serves up a British menu with Asian influences.
110 Bishopsgate, Liverpool Street
After you’re catapulted up to the top inside Roald Dahl’s Great Glass Elevator, there are two fantastic restaurants to choose from. Sushisamba (38 and 39th floor) is a fusion between Brazilian, Peruvian and Japanese in a breathtaking setting. One floor up, Duck & Waffle is London’s highest restaurant and open 24/7, where the specialty is, obviously, duck and waffle, and it’s incredible!
Helix at The Gherkin, Aldgate
Nothing says romance like dinner inside the famously phallic-shaped Gherkin, am I right? For years the restaurant, known then as Searcys, was for private members only. However, since the summer of last year, it rebranded as Helix (39th floor restaurant) & Iris (40th floor cocktail bar) and is now open to the public. It’s still a strictly reservations-only place, but of course you booked ahead for your big date. The menu is modern British again, apparently the cuisine of choice for the local money-makers.
Andrew Edmunds, Modern European, Soho
If you’re looking for an intimate and unpretentious restaurant with candle-lit dining, this should be your first choice. Inside this 18th century townhouse, Andrew Edmunds is one of the last bastions of ‘old Soho’ (says their website so eloquently). It could easily be mistaken for a speak-easy, with a washed out sign you’re almost sure to miss. Look-out for a dark vintage shopfront with a small framed hand-written menu outside. The food is seasonal modern European cuisine with an emphasis on superb wines.
Casa Malevo, Argentine, Marble Arch
An alternative to the more glitzy Gaucho is Casa Malevo. While I’m also a fan of their sister restaurant Zoilo, this Argentine on Connaught Street promises a more casual, rustic, yet intimate dinner date experience. Their empanadas, provolone cheese, grilled sausages
Barrafina, Spanish, Soho / Covent Garden
In response to popular demand, there are now several Barrafina’s in London to choose from. However, of all the Spanish tapas restaurants in London, few have a Michelin star. According to the Michelin folks, it’s the best in town. It’s owned by two sibling restauranteurs Sam and Eddie Hart and inspired by the cuisine of Barcelona and Madrid. Ibérico ham, croquetas, crimson-red carabinero prawns and bocadillos de calamares are not to be missed. Fortunately or unfortunately, they don’t take reservations or groups over four, which means that if you didn’t yet make a reservation for this Valentine’s Day, you may try your luck here!
Hide, Modern British, Mayfair
Ollie Dabous’ Mayfair restaurant was the biggest (ahem, £20 million big) new opening of 2018 that has already earned itself one Michelin star. The interiors are as sleek as it gets for fans of the neutral
Sabor, Spanish, Mayfair
Since Sabor opened up last year and won its first Michelin star, it is frequently compared to and measured against Barrafina. That is likely because its founders, (executive chef) Nieves Barragan and (front of house) José Etura, both come from Barrafina, although which is best, I’ll leave to you. Sabor (meaning
Evelyn’s Table, Modern European, Chinatown
Last year saw another new addition to the thriving restaurant scene on Rupert Street between Soho and Chinatown, joining the likes of Palomar, Hovarda and XU. In fact, Evelyn’s Table inside the Blue Posts townhouse is owned by the same people as Palomar and Time Out’s Number One Restaurant The Barbary. It’s a basement speakeasy, accessed through a secret door marked ‘private,’ serving modern European food in general and fish from Cornwall in particular. The layout is couples-friendly counter seating with just 11 seats (an extra seat for a third wheel, perhaps?) around an open kitchen.
For more London Restaurant Recommendations…
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