Even in Paris, which many hold dear as a world capital of romance, the wrong restaurant choice could scupper a Valentine's celebration. To ensure success, we've cherry-picked our favourite venues in the city for intimate pre-dinner drinks, seductively lavish dining and morning-after brunches. Do remember to book as far in advance as possible – tables are at a premium on February 14.
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For pre-dinner drinks
This speakeasy-style den of sophisticated cocktails, distinguished wines and rare whiskies has a décor inspired by the sensual Joséphine Baker and avant-garde American tattoo artists of the 1940s. The first thing you see when you walk in are the magnificent wooden shelves displaying bottles of wine, Japanese whiskies and apothecaries' phials of strange potions. The big old-fashioned bar is manned by a couple of smiling, relaxed and helpful bar staff, and the front room gives onto a more intimate rear area.
Forget cheap plonk – both drinks and food here are nothing but the best. Behind the big bar of this dimly-lit dive, staff from the Experimental Cocktail Club, the Curio Parlor and Prescription have abandoned their mixers for straightforward bottles of red, white and pink. The result is a lovely, intimate wine bar, dotted with sofas and cosy corners. The wine list has more than 3,000 bottles listed, and to go with the booze, there are some first class things like burrata, prosciutto al tartufo, truffles and fine cheeses.
This unassuming bar in the heart of the Marais wins over romantics every time. Designed over several floors of a town house, you push through the front door into a small reception room with a bar decorated with candles and coloured lanterns, surrounded by comfortable armchairs. There are two further floors, each an intimate small room full of armchairs set in cosy corners, with the electro-pop soundtrack kept at a discreet volume.
Decorated with comfortable armchairs, colourful pattered cushions, coffee tables and low lighting, Le Rosie looks like a stylish ladies' apartment, done out in vintage style by interior architect and set designer Laura Léonard. A magnificent bar in light wood, lit up by designer lighting, is visible from the street.All the young, laid-back waiters are friends of Nicolas Ullmann, a Parisian nightlife guru who had the idea of opening a bar just opposite Maison Muller.
Splash out on dinner
American team Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian started out in Paris running a well-regarded supper club, ‘Hidden Kitchen’, so it's little surprise that Verjus – opened in 2012 after rave reviews paved the way for a full-blown restaurant – hasn’t quite lost its word-of-mouth feel. You reach the small, stylish dining room through an unmarked iron gate on the Rue de Richelieu, up some well-worn steps and through a plain grey-painted door.
Top quality, serious classic French dining should be tried at least once on a trip to Paris. This doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands at big-name restaurants – there’s a new breed of bistros serving some of the best Parisian contemporary cooking at prices that, while not exactly cheap, won’t make you retreat to the nearest Quick drive-thru. L’Auberge du 15 is a little off the beaten track on a quiet street.
This listed dining room – with vintage frescoes and big oak benches – exudes a pleasant air of expectation. Don't expect cutting-edge cooking, but rather fine renderings of French classics. Lobster served on walnut oil-dressed salad leaves is a generous, beautifully prepared starter, as is the pistachio-studded saucisson de Lyon with a warm salad of small ratte potatoes. Mains of veal chop topped with a cap of cheese, and sandre (pike-perch) with a 'risotto' of crozettes are also pleasant.
You’d expect the cooking of France’s only Japanese chef with a Michelin star (two, to be precise) to be something a little out of the ordinary. But it’s not just what’s on the plate at Passage 53 that holds the attention. Shinichi Sato, who trained at l’Astrance in Paris and Mugaritz in Spain, has found the ideal space in which to showcase his talents, with this tiny space in one of Paris’s most charming locations – the eighteenth century glass-covered shopping mall Passage des Panoramas.
In a modern-day gastronomic and architectural fairy tale, avant-garde Spanish designer Jaime Hayón and chef Antonin Bonnet, formerly of Mayfair’s The Greenhouse, have rescued a former pub on the Ile St Louis from a future of tourists and bad beer and turned it into a princess among restaurants. Stone walls and a medieval-inspired décor are finished with modern white and green touches that work with the changes in daylight, bright and clean during the day and romantic and sophisticated in the evening.
The area around the Marché d’Aligre hosts well-heeled young families, well-to-do professionals and the restaurants they like to eat in. Perhaps the proximity to the market also plays a part, encouraging restaurants (like Table) that source the produce for their menus on a daily basis. The result, anyway, is a concentration of understated bistros serving notably good food, of which Le Chardenoux is a sterling example (it has a sister venue, Le Chardenoux-des-Prés, in Saint-Germain).
Ease into the morning after
A seriously swanky address facing the Champs-Elysées complete with an Eiffel Tower view – NoLita restaurant goes full throttle for its upscale status. Fiat has lavished cash on its new Motor Village, installing this ultra-contemporary fine dining Italian restaurant on the second floor to keep visitors close. It works. Chic black and white interiors with big, beautiful curves give NoLita a trendy minimalist atmosphere favoured by a fashion crowd.
L’Echappée is primarily a lovely spa, whose stark modern façade stands out amid the dishevelled grandeur of the Rue de la Folie Méricourt. But regulars know you can also come here for brunch on weekends from noon to 3pm in the bright upstairs rooms. Make sure you arrive early to grab the armchairs at one of the big coffee tables – they’re criminally comfy. Once you’re settled in, for €25 per person you can have a buffet of your choice.
Les Enfants Perdus is a discreet and really rather chic fine-dining restaurant frequented by the bobos of the Canal Saint-Martin, and overspill from the bars L’Atmosphère and Café Bonnie. The interior is sombre but at the back, a light and airy room has been kitted out with comfortable benches strewn with white cushions – ideal for plonking yourself down on a Saturday or Sunday morning at brunch hour. And the dishes are exceptional.
A vegetarian restaurant with an excellent and well-deserved reputation, Soya Cantine Bio offers a fantastic salad bar (tabbouleh, humus, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, beetroot) and hot dishes including things like vegetarian lasagna, Lebanese-style chickpeas, warm spring rolls, seaweed dumplings, potatoes with vanilla and cakes in small ramekins. Some of the flavour combinations may seem a bit strange, but it all works on the plate.