London’s Best Restaurants and Bars For a Date
By David Paw and Hilary Armstrong
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 from the Honey Bee Margarita, Chilli Corn and Maple Old Fashioned and a rotating list of 25 agave spirits. Southern Mexican snacking with an LA twist by current kitchen residency Yucatan LDN.
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.
Mr Ji Camden
Mr Ji has returned to Camden after a successful sojourn in Soho that introduced it to a new audience (including some of the best chefs in the world). The pared back eating and drinking den dances to its own tune, slinging ingenious salted plum negronis and lime leaf margaritas with snacks from your wildest dreams. How about fried chicken hearts in a lettuce wrap or currywurst-inspired Asian chorizo?
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.
That a skinny site in central Soho can so somehow capture the feeling of dining beneath the olive trees on a summer’s day is down to the warm-hearted hospitality of St Petersburg restaurateur duo Madina Kazhimova and Anna Dolgushina. They’ve filled the room with plants and terracotta and stocked the cellar with the choice natural wines they love. Cooking is done over open fire, including specials such as T-bone steak and whole plaice.
When you’re in the fireworks stage, you need somewhere you can put on a show. Sette at Bulgari Hotel London is the one, a designer dining room filled with beautiful people – like you! – twirling spaghetti, sipping Champagne, and gazing into each other’s eyes. The London outpost of New York’s Scarpetta group, it majors in dolce vita delights like red prawn carpaccio with sliced kumquat and Szechuan pepper, creamy polenta with truffled mushrooms, and lobster tagliolini with aquapazza.
If you’ve the perseverance to snag a dinner reservation at TikTok star Thomas Straker’s smoking hot debut restaurant, you’re a keeper. It’s notoriously one of the city’s toughest tables, but once you’re in, you can relax. To facilitate relaxation, a clarified margarita while perusing the menu of culinary catnip. The puffed-up flatbread with mussels is a must, the pumpkin fritti also, and the BBQ quail and spiced yoghurt, oh, and definitely the mini doughnuts. We could go on.
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.
Credit its elevator pitch, “Malaysian heat and juicy vibes”, for the buzz that’s building around Abby Lee’s Mambow at Market Peckham. Lee, who grew up in Singapore and Malaysia, cooks a short menu of modern Malaysian with a focus on Nyonya dishes including her bestselling lor bak (pork and prawn rolls in bean curd skin). Don’t miss The M Wing, a deep-fried chicken wing tossed in anchovy sambal, or the chicken curry scented with Sarawak pepper.
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.
This isn’t the number one reason to book Top Cuvée for dinner but it’s worth mentioning that if the date’s a dud, at least the wine will be good. Better reasons to book: the uncomplicated French wine bar tucker (chips, oysters, pâté en croûte), the upbeat vibe, the cool crowd, and the cheery service. Dine before 6.45pm and the prix fixe is just £24. Excellent natty wines from star producers.
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.
El Pastor – Stoney Street
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.
Gunpowder Tower Bridge
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
Keep it casual with pints and pub grub at this cosy and inviting new local from hicce’s Pip Lacey and Gordy McIntyre. hicce hart has everything you’d want from a boozer – great beer, a roaring fire, and a warm welcome – with a few very appealing upgrades like plates of warm cheese gougères and crispy pulled pork croquettes with brown sauce. Head to the upstairs dining room for generous plates of cauliflower and squash curry, spiced pork pie and mash, and custard pavlova with Calvados apples.
Officina 00 Fitzrovia
The Fitzrovia follow up to the original Old Street, Officina 00 is usefully situated slap bang in the centre of Zone 1. It’s as good for a casual first date as it is for an established couple’s weekly treat. Fresh pasta never fails. Try curly pappardelle with beef short rib ragù, fusilli with padrón peppers and almond pesto, or deep-fried ravioli cacio e pepe.
Cinder Belsize Park
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.
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
When it isn’t some flash in the pan thing, make it known at Eline, a cosy and quietly confident new bottle shop and restaurant in Hoxton. Husband and wife team Alex Reynolds and Maria Viviani, who met working at Pophams, pride themselves on an offering that’s simple and approachable but with hidden depths. Here’s a place to return to repeatedly, to discover another new winemaker or to discover the happy marriage of lemon tart and sake ice cream or duck boudin blanc and orange.
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.
Where more intimate, more stylish, and yet more carefree and fun than Quo Vadis? This classic restaurant on Dean Street continues to ascend to greater heights under the care of beloved chef Jeremy Lee. Its latest incarnation, with a clubby, expanded ground floor dining room for trysts of a romantic nature and celebrations, promises to make it better than ever. For those planning a celebration, there’s a special preview on Saturday 11th February for guests booking via Resy, with a stellar prix-fixe, Champagne and smoked eel toasts all around. Each guest will receive a copy of Lee’s hit cookbook. with the chef present on the evening. Book here.
Barrafina Adelaide Street
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.
NoMad London Restaurant
Woo them like you mean it with a magical night at The NoMad Restaurant. The atrium setting, tasselled velvet cushions and tumbling foliage everywhere, makes it one of London’s most dramatic dining rooms. There’s drama tableside too, in the theatrical presentation of the signature roast chicken with black truffle and foie gras; in the towering fruits de mer platters; and luxurious truffle risotto. Taking advantage of the option to add on a “Night at the Nomad. Price Upon Request” is a flex.
A shiny Michelin star is the nearest you’ll get to bling in this elegantly appointed Chelsea restaurant from acclaimed chef Philip Howard and restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas. It’s a fine art, balancing the needs of the locals with those of destination diners, but Elystan Street manages it with an astute offering of seasonal flavours, first class wines, and life’s little luxuries. The hand cut strozzapreti with black truffle, chicken stock, and parmesan with a glass of fine Valpolicella gives you the flavour.
It’s not a bateau mouche on the Seine, but it is twice as romantic and half as corny aboard this vintage barge moored on the Regent’s Canal. The Spiteri brothers are London restaurant royalty (their mum co-founded Rochelle Canteen; their dad, Sessions Arts Club) and they’ve brought all their chops to this floating project. Crisp white tablecloths and cute brass lamps set the scene for a special night of Fin’s cocktails and Lorcan’s modern British cookery. Start with a Paper Plane then swoop down on onglet with pickled walnut and watercress or Cornish mussel tagliatelle.
City of London
Hidden amidst the bustle of Eataly, this intimate Italian restaurant is known for a show-stopping artisanal grill at its heart, with seasonal plates designed to pair with botanical cocktails and one of the largest selections of Italian wines and spirits in town. On February 14th, Terra will host an elevated four-course menu — expect outstanding plates like Jerusalem artichokes with truffled crisps, or silky burrata with crab and avocado — with live music and an optional wine flight.
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.
Lady of the Grapes
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.
Behind the blue shopfront lies a labyrinthine world of wine, helmed by impassioned Italian wine buff Luca Dusi. It’s a quirky place to uncork a bottle, adding a few Italian plates such as deep-fried Venetian meatballs with mustard mayonnaise or fresh casarecce with rabbit ragù when hunger strikes. There’s no list as such, so leave it to Luca who’ll introduce you to your new favourite wine.
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.
Sager + Wilde Wine Bar
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 slinky subterranean bar beneath NoMad London has the smarts of a New York bar and the swagger of a London one. And the drinks are out of this world, from the disco lights of Taste The Rainbow and the good looks of Cool as a Cuke to a Szechuan Gibson that will make you go all tingly. Don’t forget to eat: the bar menu’s an epicurean’s edit of sumptuous snacks like potato rösti with caviar and chicken croquettes with black truffle aioli. Last call midnight.
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.