Date restaurants in London

Impress your date and discover restaurants in the capital where the romance is unavoidable…

Michelle Grant / Time Out

Looking to impress on a first date? Want to celebrate an anniversary in style? Or do you simply want to dine in stunning surroundings? Look no further as we round up some of the capital's most striking and exciting restaurants. Plus, check out our romantic restaurants in London for more restaurant ideas. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.

Balthazar

Rarely has a new London restaurant been so anticipated – or so hyped. Stories about Keith McNally’s London branch of his New York restaurant have been trumpeted by glossy magazines and newspaper supplements since the rumour began, more than three years ago. Breathless speculation anticipated this Manhattan interpretation of a French brasserie becoming the hottest destination for London dining of 2011... then 2012... and now, in 2013, it’s actually opened. Balthazar London’s reservation lines opened for dinner bookings at 9am on a Saturday. I rang them at 9.01am to an engaged tone, then spent the next three hours hitting redial before getting through to one of the 20 phone operators. Balthazar was, of course, already ‘fully booked’ for dinner many weeks ahead. I’ve visited Balthazar in New York a couple of times, most recently last autumn. It’s a good-looking, perfectly adequate faux-French brasserie in Downtown Manhattan that attracts a lot of dressed-up metropolitans. Balthazar is a reverie of France, as imagined by Americans, that removes any items that might stick in the throat – the offal eviscerated, nothing too weird, nothing too European – and repackages it beautifully. it’s a homage to Paris – but the Paris of Disney, not Orwell. Balthazar London mimics the New York original perfectly, with red awnings, plush red leather banquettes, giant antiqued mirrored walls, beautiful mosaic floors. Chef Robert Reid has tinkered little with the brilliantly nostalgic trans-Atlanti

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Aldwych

Berners Tavern

Restaurateur Jason Atherton has had a great year. Berners Tavern is the third restaurant he’s opened in the West End this year; the other two, Little Social and Social Eating House, were very well received for their playful and appealing dishes. This new venture is more of the same, but in a much grander setting. It’s housed in the new Edition hotel in Fitzrovia, which looks like the older, more sophisticated sister of the Sanderson hotel just down the road. Both places were given makeovers by hotelier Ian Schrager, but Edition is an exercise in slick metropolitan taste, with opulent chandeliers, framed art-by-the-yard covering entire walls, and improbably elegant staff. The huge lobby bar looks fabulous; but the vast dining room, with its ornate plasterwork ceiling, very low lighting and lively bar area, looks even better. The menu’s prices are alarmingly high – but most of the dishes we tried were very good. Head chef Phil Carmichael turns out tender pork belly with a sauce of sharp capers, golden raisins and apple coleslaw to cut through the fat. The flavours of this and a pan-braised halibut (perfectly cooked) with a little saucepan of savoury squid ink risotto were sublime. A starter of ‘egg, ham and peas’ updates a signature Atherton recipe; a breadcrumbed duck egg is held upright by a purée of fresh peas, the crisp Cumbrian ham almost a garnish. The only culinary disappointment was a chocolate éclair dessert, as the pastry – which should be very slightly stale – was ov

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Soho

China Tang

Critics' choice

Sir David Tang’s slinky dining room in the Dorchester’s basement successfully manages to banish all thoughts of hotel restaurants from diners’ minds. The separate Park Lane entrance helps, as do art deco furnishings evoking 1930s Shanghai. Only the moneyed, multinational clientele remind you of the locality. China Tang has formidable kitchen resources, so it would be a shame to stick to the western-oriented set meals (where cheung fun is renamed cannelloni) – though à la carte prices can intimidate. Despite the setting, Shanghainese cuisine is little in evidence, with Cantonese dominating. Hence, dim sum is a good choice, with most dishes costing around a fiver. Mango spring rolls with gai lan is among several vegetarian choices, and glutinous rice comes packed with seductive titbits for meat-eaters. Main course red-cooked lamb in clay pot is a marvellously savoury northern Chinese dish, the meat tender, the gravy profoundly flavoured, the texture enhanced by strips of resilient beancurd skin. Service was proper and polite, yet we noted some frayed edges: no one stationed at the ground-floor ‘greeter’s counter’; shouting in the kitchen drowning out diners’ conversation; and Hugh Grant reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 stuck on a loop in the toilets. Enough ‘darling buds’, Hugh.

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Mayfair

Dinings

Critics' choice

Once one of Marylebone’s best-kept secrets, Dinings now has a reputation larger than its compact, converted-townhouse setting. Getting a table in the basement is unlikely without a booking, but if you’re lucky there may be a spare stool at the street-level sushi counter. If you’re not keen on small spaces, then you may just like the ground floor better – it’s brighter with more windows. Whatever your thoughts on the venue itself, the food is indisputably excellent (make sure you’re packing plastic, as costs do mount up). Conceived by Nobu alumni Masaki Sugisaki and Keiji Fuku, it displays plenty of Latin flair along with other innovative flourishes. Nobu-esque curved potato ‘tar-tar’ chips filled with minced fatty tuna, avocado and wasabi/jalapeño sauce offered an inviting taster of the style. The much-celebrated seared wagyu beef nigiri garnished with cubes of ponzu jelly and minced truffle was also a triumph. Presented on a long platter, a lunchtime sushi selection (good value at £23) tasted every bit as good as it looked. Another lunch dish of pork ‘shabu shabu’ saw ready-cooked slices of tender pork balanced atop a heap of sticky rice and dressed with spicy fermented Korean sauce gochujang – despite the pungent mix, it wasn’t overpowering. With polite, efficient chefs and waiters too, Dinings is a top performer.

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Baker Street

Exhibition Rooms

The Exhibition Rooms continues to offer a winning combination bang in the heart of the Crystal Palace triangle. It’s a venue that can satisfy a number of criteria depending on when you go. For lunch, this leafy brasserie with lime green walls and light streaming in through sash windows is a relaxed choice for a smart yet unpretentious meal. In the evening, with large glittering chandeliers and soft lighting, it takes on a cosy, intimate feel. The downstairs bar, all leather and velvet in reds and purples, has a DJ at the weekends and a decked beer garden. On our lunchtime visit, the food was as reliable as ever, with a menu offering smart brasserie dishes alongside gastro favourites. Tender duck with a rich jus and crisp rösti was skilfully prepared and well presented. No less effort was given to the ‘signature’ burger, a satisfying stack laden with quality beef and accompanied by a tangy onion chutney. Sticky toffee pudding, complete with retro spun-sugar basket, was equally competent. Service was friendly and prompt, and the comprehensive drinks list runs from great cocktails to a global choice of wines, with plenty by the glass. It’s not the place for cutting-edge cuisine, but it’s a reliable choice for well prepared meals with classic flavour combinations.

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Gipsy Hill

Le Gavroche

Critics' choice

This restaurant colossus offers unapologetically old-school fine dining. First opened in Chelsea in 1967 by the Roux brothers, Albert and Michel, it’s now run by Michel Roux Jr who took the reins in 1991. Le Gavroche continues to be the go-to haute cuisine establishment for a dignified, extremely wealthy crowd (our reservation took three months to secure). While it may bear the name of the street urchin from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, there’s nothing scruffy about the club-like decor. Naturally, prices are high, although the set lunch for £52.60 (including half of a bottle of wine) is great value. Our eight-course ‘menu exceptionnel’ started with soufflé suissesse, an exquisitely light and fluffy gruyère soufflé cooked on double cream: an old recipe from the original restaurant. Next, the sourness of an aigre-doux vinaigrette sidelined a salad of braised octopus and soft-shell crab, but happiness was soon restored by a boudin noir served with a runny scotch egg and wicked piece of pork crackling. Roast squab arrived with the perfect degree of rareness, along with braised peas and a jus of haunting intensity. Millefeuille of raspberries and gianduja made a pleasurable finale. The food is matched by an imperious wine list, with 50 wines offered by the glass. Service was gracious throughout our stay, helping us enjoy the prosperous buzz of the place even more.

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Marble Arch

Lobby Lounge at the Corinthia

Critics' choice

The Corinthia Hotel is the best new five-star hotel you’ve probably never heard of. Between Trafalgar Square and Embankment, the building looks Orwellian from the outside, but inside is all sweetness and light. In the Lobby Lounge, smiling waitresses glide around like air hostesses from 1960s adverts. Under glass cloches, killer Battenbergs await your bite. Consultant Claire Clark is the Corinthia’s cake guru. She has quite a following among the cognoscenti: for a time she was the pastry chef at The Wolseley; she then worked at the French Laundry in California, one of the world’s best restaurants. And now she makes her living advising top tea rooms how to bake their cakes. The finger sandwiches and tiny scones, although present and correct, are not the point of the afternoon tea. It is the Clark-perfected cakes that make the Lobby Lounge a destination. For example, the gateau opera, a traditional French confection made from layered almond sponge cake and soft chocolate ganache, was so perfect and petite it might have been assembled by elves. An éclair was the size of a ring finger, with suspiciously lavender-coloured icing, but it melted in the mouth with the flavour of violets. Even a millefeuille – a confection bastardised in tea rooms from Salford to Oban – had been restored to the delicate French fancy it truly is. The afternoon tea costs a lofty £35 per person, but this is now the going price in London’s many hotel tourist traps where you will get an inferior afternoon t

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Trafalgar Square

Royal China Club

Critics' choice

The ‘club’ in the name makes RCC sound like a members-only section of the Royal China Group, which isn’t far from the truth. This, the premier link in the chain, has an air of quiet elegance found in five-star hotels, right down to the faint tinkling of a piano. The kitchen turns out consummate Cantonese cooking, using prized ingredients (abalone, lobster, veal) at every opportunity. At lunchtime, dim sum includes the signature cheung fun, which here comes filled with velvety dover sole and smooth pieces of scallop – all sitting in a puddle of sweet, smoky sauce. A quartet of siu mai (steamed pork dumplings) are topped not with a dice of carrot (as they would be in Chinatown), but with pearls of salmon roe, as you’d expect at the banqueting table. Even simple noodle dishes are elevated to premium status: our steak ho fun noodles were smothered in a dark, soy-laced sauce full of umami savouriness, heaped with expertly judged slices of medium-rare sirloin, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Wherever possible, the polished, softly spoken staff employ silver-service methods, making everyone feel like a visiting dignitary.

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Baker Street

Sketch: Lecture Room & Library

The arresting entrance hall, with its high-impact artworks and greeters who are part-cast and part-personal assistant, are cues that you are entering not just a building of dizzying grandeur, but a designed world with a playful, theatrical bent. Sketch’s Lecture Room & Library is up a very fine staircase. Flooded with light from a glass ceiling dome, and governed by immaculately tailored staff, it’s the most classical space in the complex, with the food providing the trademark fantastical note. It’s a positive procession of the pretty, witty and gay, from the first amuse-bouche to the last pink petit four. Our set lunch comprised 15 or so different dishes, using a gazetteer of ingredients and a battery of techniques: highly accomplished cooking whose dainty presentation belies its seriousness. There’s so much going on – within dishes and in the combination of dishes served as one course – that you surrender yourself to the cumulative experience. Just a few examples from one meal: bream sashimi; langoustine consommé with wild garlic, kaffir and dill, blood-orange jelly and spring cabbage; pork belly confit with tamarillo purée, celery, Japanese medlar, celery stick and potato foam with comté cheese; lemon and beer ice-cream with raspberries. It’s quite a trip, as is the wine list, which isn’t all at fantasy prices. The sommelier clearly loves his work, and is as happy to recommend beer as he is to favour a prestige claret if the dish demands it.

The arresting entrance hall, with its high-impact artworks and greeters who are part-cast and part-personal assistant, are cues that you are entering not just a building of dizzying grandeur, but a designed world with a playful, theatrical bent. Sketch’s Lecture Room & Library is up a very fine staircase. Flooded with light from a glass ceiling dome, and governed by immaculately tailored staff, it’s the most classical space in the complex, with the food providing the trademark fantastical note. It’s a positive procession of the pretty, witty and gay, from the first amuse-bouche to the last pink petit four. Our set lunch comprised 15 or so different dishes, using a gazetteer of ingredients and a battery of techniques: highly accomplished cooking whose dainty presentation belies its seriousness. There’s so much going on – within dishes and in the combination of dishes served as one course – that you surrender yourself to the cumulative experience. Just a few examples from one meal: bream sashimi; langoustine consommé with wild garlic, kaffir and dill, blood-orange jelly and spring cabbage; pork belly confit with tamarillo purée, celery, Japanese medlar, celery stick and potato foam with comté cheese; lemon and beer ice-cream with raspberries. It’s quite a trip, as is the wine list, which isn’t all at fantasy prices. The sommelier clearly loves his work, and is as happy to recommend beer as he is to favour a prestige claret if the dish demands it.

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Mayfair

Yauatcha

Critics' choice

Such acutely stylish venues rarely last, but after a decade Yauatcha can add longevity to its enviable list of attributes. So why do people still glide down the stairs of this self-styled Taipai tea house into its sensual basement? The design helps: the long bar, spot-lit black tables and illuminated fish tank still have allure, and the nightclub vibe is boosted by beautiful staff and bass-heavy beats. Even being shunted away to seats behind the staircase has benefits (privacy). And there’s substance behind the style. Day-and-night dim sum was a Yauatcha innovation, and a special of scallop and edamame crystal dumplings produced three delicate, pendulous sacs filled with a textural mix of resilient beans, crunchy carrot morsels, flavourful fragments of scallop and juicy sweetcorn. Gai lan came with just enough salted fish sauce to pique the palate, and fragrant lotus leaf rice held moist treats of egg, chicken and dried shrimps. Exotic teas and East-West fusion desserts (yuzu brûlée tart) are highlights too (sample them in the ground-floor tea room), and main courses hold interest (sea bass with shiitake and wolf berry, say), but grazing on exquisite snacks is the primary culinary draw – though prices might make you wince.

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Soho
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