Whether you’re married with kids, or swiping left and right, looking for the one, there are few questions more enduring and important than: Where to go for a date?
Maybe the two of you want to keep it low-key, in which case, Quality Wines would be nice. Or you’re craving pasta and a bottle of something delicious? There’s always Rita’s. Whatever your preference, we’ve helpfully broken out our guide to London’s best restaurants and bars for a date by category, to help you fine-tune to suit your mood. Right this way to an evening out of the house — because goodness knows, we could all use one.
Introduce your new love to your true love at Hacha, the dedicated tequila and mezcal bar in Brixton. The crystal-clear Mirror Margarita, as at the Dalston original, is the signature tipple, with stiff competition in the form of the salted pomegranate and ginger marg, horchata colada slushy and a rotating list of 25 agave spirits. Superior snacking in the form of tiger prawn tacos, chiles rellenos and potato-stuffed cheese flautas comes from resident Mexican kitchen Maiz Azul.
If bars are reflections of their owners, it’s clear that this Shoreditch wine bar and bistro has plenty of co-owner Ed Thaw’s influence. A slinky dining room with red leather-clad booths and a gleaming bar (the pro move) make quite the impression, before factoring in a superb wine list. Excellent bistro-plus dishes like French charcuterie and cheese, steak tartare, and a chicory and walnut salad reminiscent of New York’s Estela – but better.
Popular with trendy Peckhamites without veering into seriousness, this buzzy neighbourhood wine bar and bistro is superb for knocking back a bottle or two while sharing a few snacks. Wines range from on-trend low-intervention, classic, and obscure – ask co-owners Luke, Ben, or Helen what’s good, and they won’t steer you wrong. Equally good for the get-to-know-each-other phase, or more involved conversations.
Modelled on Taipei’s late night drinking dens, this brooding Soho bar excels after dark, with a coolly industrial feel punctuated by flashes of neon. Drinks are outstanding, with Taiwanese-inspired cocktails like a salted plum negroni or a melon ‘shake’ with eau de vie, condensed milk, and cardamom. Meanwhile, East Asian inspired snacks are wildly delicious and pair perfectly with the booze – unsurprising when you consider that two of the city’s most creative chefs are behind the menu.
A TOUCH OF SCENE
A Hollywood set designer couldn’t construct an Italian trattoria more tipico, more timeless, than Russell Norman’s new Trattoria Brutto in Farringdon. The red-checked tablecloths, wax-dripped Chianti flasks and mood lighting are note-perfect, but it’s the culinary details that complete the mise-en-scène, from the retro curls of cold unsalted butter with the toast and anchovies to the long, slow-cooking of the beef peposo. The star, however, is the bistecca alla Fiorentina, sourced direct from Smithfield, and available in limited numbers. Already Brutto feels like it’s been here for ever.
Probably your favourite chef or somm’s favourite bar, many of London’s hospitality insiders head for this Parisian cave-style wine bar and bistro on their days off. It’s trendy, yes, but backs it up with no-nonsense bonhomie, superb wines, and creative cooking. Excellent as a standalone date night spot, or for a nightcap.
A magnet for well-heeled millennials, this Chinatown jewel has been a favourite with a glammed-up party crowd since opening in 2018. Cocktails, plush interiors, and chic Aegean-inspired meze and small plates do the trick; meanwhile, DJs spin to glammed-up dancefloor as the clock hits double digits. Occasion-worthy and fabulous.
With an idyllic garden, confident seasonal cooking, and a location hidden away in a Shoreditch square, it’s little wonder that this small-but-perfectly formed restaurant is so popular. As experiences go, summer nights here are bettered by very little in London. The sort of place one takes a keeper.
Let Gabriel Pryce and Missy Flynn of Rita’s (once a Dalston pop-up, now a Soho destination) feed you things you didn’t know you needed. Starting with jalapeño popper gildas, mini Martinis, and hot bean devilled eggs. Pryce’s open-hearted, outward-looking Americana has no match in London. Where else can one find saltfish taquitos, ox cheek and grits, clams with creamed celery and fried Idaho scones, and mezcal-laced Oaxacan affogatos? Ace cocktails and natural wines too.
The epitome of the modern-day Soho eatery, this stylish Sri Lankan restaurant will suit those looking for buzz and looking to expand upon the tried-and-tested date night formula. A minimal, industrial interior with a long bar and intimate booths plays off the kitchen’s exquisitely spiced dishes, prepared using seasonal British produce. Sparklingly fresh seafood, fiery sambols, and flavoursome salads are essential orders.
London Bridge, Borough Market
Few things are more enjoyable than a few rounds of margaritas, platters of crisp tostadas and bright, zingy ceviches, all taken in a bright, effervescent space deep within Borough Market. This taco specialists’ namesake dish is, of course, a highlight, with freshly pressed corn tortillas laden with salsas and crisp battered fish, marinated free-range pork, and more. Relaxed enough for a casual date with someone new, or a long-term squeeze.
Hard by an iconic London landmark, this south-of-the-river outpost of Harneet Baweja’s three-strong Gunpowder group serves modern Indian flavours in cool, contemporary style. Regional and family recipes are styled up into showstoppers like the spicy, spiky venison and vermicelli doughnut, crispy soft shell crab, and blackened lamb chops. Follow with a walk along the Thames.
KEEP IT CASUAL
Multi-dimensional Molly’s Cafe within Hoxton’s new look Museum of the Home is part pub, part bistro, part museum canteen. Whether you linger over a Barnsley chop and bottle of Rioja or pop in for a pint and a pasty, a coffee and a cake, it’s up to you. Molly’s from the folk behind stellar London gastropubs The Anchor and Hope and Clarence Tavern, so seasonal cooking, great wines and good vibes are a given.
At cute, cosy Cinder in pretty Belsize Village, chef Jake Finn (the Ritz, La Petite Maison) cooks over fire. A lick of smoke from his trusty Josper oven works its way into almost every single sunny Med-inspired dishe. Dig into glossy kalamata-glazed mastelo cheese with oregano, a blistered, butterflied whole bream with fennel and radish, or newer creations of seared tuna with black beer ponzu and burnt leeks with pecorino and toasted hazelnuts. The locals love Cinder, and you’ll see why.
Few establishments are better for keeping it casual than a fine neighbourhood restaurant. The cooking and service at this small-but-perfectly formed Notting Hill bistro possesses plenty of finesse (one of the founders was a manager at the legendary Wolseley), plus swoonworthy plates and an intimate vibe – full of discerning locals keen for the good stuff – provide plenty of atmosphere. Don’t miss the tart.
A date night standby for a reason, a good Italian restaurant can please fussy diners while keeping seasoned eaters entertained. Likewise, this slick Shoreditch spot covers an array of bases – smart, yet casual; on trend, but not pretentious; and cosy without feeling stifling. Cocktails and truffled anything are a good shout; pizzette pulled straight from a roaring wood oven and tiramisu are also essential. Good for a first or second date.
One of East London’s most popular Italian restaurants for a reason, this Venetian-inspired spot even has a pretty deck overlooking the Regents Canal, while there’s a proper neighbourhood vibe inside. Most diners come for Mitshel Ibrahim’s standout pastas, antipasti (wild garlic ravioli and Roman-style fried artichoke are stunning), and tiramisu, but in truth, all of his desserts are excellent. A restaurant to put anyone at ease.
‘LADY AND THE TRAMP’-STYLE
At sweet, serene Café Deco in bookish Bloomsbury, Anna Tobias cooks a daily menu drawn from across Europe. Her food is too special to share with just anybody, so choose your partner wisely. Will they split the spätzle and chanterelles? Share the radicchio and farro risotto? Let you you stick a fork in their pheasant and trotter pie? And will they appreciate the beauty of the anchovy-draped egg mayonnaise? The wine list, as you’d expect of a co-production with the 40 Maltby Street team, is enlightened.
This understated Italian (and older sibling to the wildly popular Padella) is about as poised as they come. Tim Siadatan’s food is pared-back, intensely seasonal, and wildly delicious, while an elegant dining room laden with white tablecloths and cosy booths offers romance without hubris. An excellent but unshowy, subtle flex of a restaurant.
In possession of one of the most arresting dining rooms in London, Brunswick House is set within the grandeur of an antique-filled Georgian mansion in Vauxhall, flanked by skyscrapers on all sides. Broadly British plates arrive with playful twists (don’t miss the potato bread), while the room comes alive at night when the dining room’s chandeliers light up like a canopy of fireflies. Grown-up and sophisticated, but fun.
A chic, intimate French bistro with the kitsch dialled down, this restaurant has been a well-kept secret of Bermondsey locals for years. Inside, there’s a stylish interior with acres of marble and wood panelling, while dishes come written up on a chalkboard each day – shared mains (from a signature seabass en croute with lobster sauce, to chateaubriand with ceps) are perfect for leaning into the occasion. Share a bottle of natural fizz and a souffle for dessert, while you’re at it.
As restaurant experiences go, an evening at this cosy Hackney local is about as transportive as it gets. A warren of charming dining rooms – all exposed brick, refurbished furniture, and modern touches – plays against a deceptively sophisticated menu of Southern Italian fare. Pastas and anything slow-cooked is guaranteed excellent, while a room full of regulars and candlelight provide all the atmosphere necessary.
This magnetic, best-in-class tapas bar and restaurant (modelled on Barcelona’s finest) has been a go-to for swish dates for years. Grab a seat at the curved marble counter, order a bottle of cava or Albariño to share, and order from the daily-changing specials board – ingredients are stunningly fresh. Impressive but casual in feel, it wears its glamour lightly.
Named for a prominent 18th century courtesan, this slinky Mayfair restaurant resembles a smart private club in feel – but with much better food. True to its namesake, it’s far from stiff; perfectly-formed British dishes pair well to a good wine list and excellent cocktails – a couple of Bad Kittys has loosened many an evening in the past.
When things are getting serious, Mayfair’s chic Ristorante Frescobaldi from the Tuscan wine dynasty that once traded wine for art with Michelangelo, is the ace up your sleeve. It wears it heritage lightly – with a dash of sprezzatura in the hand-painted tiled murals and engraved wood panels – but it’s there in the cellar where vintages go back decades. The Italian food sets off the wine with choices both haute and homely, such as luxurious beef fillet Rossini, silky lobster tagliolini, comforting aubergine parmigiana, and classic tiramisú.
A love of seafood is a prerequisite for a successful date at this understatedly glamorous Chelsea champagne bar and counter, where Leo Carreira and his team dispense best-in-class hospitality. Outstanding for sashimi and raw or lightly-cooked fish and seafood, the food is often dazzling – and finds a perfect foil in grower champagnes. As with the best places, ask what’s best that day, and take it from there.
Perfect for an occasion while still relaxed enough to actually enjoy, this dreamy Covent Garden restaurant offers a hit of old-world sophistication. Finessed comfort dishes offer thrilling takes on time-honoured combinations, while a beautiful dining room – all crushed velvet banquettes, dark wood, and esoteric artwork – is a fitting place for an evening of amorous banter.
The Soho sibling to Spitalfield’s original Crispin, Bar Crispin is the ultimate ‘there’s this little place I know’. Tucked down Kingly Street, it opens all day, progressing from coffee to natural wine as the day goes by. Small-but-mighty sharing plates such as lamb sweetbreads with Café de Paris butter, burrata with Le Coste olive oil and brown crab toasts, glittering with trout roe, cry out to be paired with rare wines, wild wines, and some particularly impressive bubbles.
About as intimate as it gets, this well-guarded secret also happens to be one of the very best – and most down-to-earth – wine bars in the entire city. Flickering candelight, snug seating, and affable service from a charming chef-sommelier duo will put anyone at ease; generous pours from a diverse list and chef Nick Bramham’s great taste and exceptional cooking helps it stand out amongst its peers.
Friendly and convivial, this Covent Garden wine bar possesses plenty of atmosphere, with a smooth zinc bar, exposed pendant lamps, and shelves of bottles dominating the interior. It can be popular with groups – so perhaps not the best for a high-stakes tryst, but it works well for a casual drink or a second date. Notably, all of the wine on the premises comes from female-owned vineyards and producers.
A beloved Shepherds Bush institution, this wine bar has become a fixture with clued-up locals. Downstairs, candlelight and cosiness is a given, with pretty bunches of flowers, chandeliers and rustic wooden furniture offering a great deal of charm; at the more formal upstairs restaurant, expect white table cloths and a relaxed menu of broadly Mediterranean dishes paired to an egalitarian and openminded wine list.
A French bistro with an English accent, Brixton locals adore this Parisian-style wine bar and bistro with excellent contemporary dishes and knockout natural wines. Perch at the upstairs bar with a date for a casual hang, and retire to the downstairs wine cellar – all atmosphere and candlelight – when the conversation gets interesting. Don’t miss the croquettes.
Perhaps the definitive East London wine bar, this Hackney Road institution continues to pull in industry regulars and locals who come for outstanding wines by the glass and a touch of scene. A long bar dominates the narrow, handsome space, which feels equally cosy and fun. Hungry? Order some charcuterie or a cheese toastie.
The shaking, stirring arm of South London’s Kudu Collective, Smokey Kudu is everything a grown-up cocktail bar should be: good-looking, bookable, and serious about spirits. In keeping with the group’s ethos, drinks have a South African spin. Witness the eponymous Smokey Kudu with whisky, apricot and sweet vermouth, and the Wild Mary with mushroom-infused mezcal, African spices and a bacon salt rim. Inside’s all velvet and marble; outside is heated and covered, with blankets and hot water bottles for chilly nights.
Officially one of the best bars in the world, this intimate cocktail bar on the Kingsland Road proffers old-world style and contemporary know-how in equal amounts. The Martinis here are among London’s best, and the bartenders’ riffs on classics are truly delicious, while the tiny room’s atmosphere is buoyed by a strong local crowd looking to get loose. One for all occasions.
Who knew one of London’s best cocktails bars was in Crouch End? Sister to the award-winning Three Sheets, a sexy, laid-back vibe – think louche leather booths, plenty of foliage, and exposed brick – is backed up by world-class cocktails from clued-up staff. Grab a table by the front, or perch at the gleaming marble bar for an evening to savour.