Nothing says romance like delicious food, touching knees, and the electrifying deadline of a legally binding government-enforced 10pm curfew. See romance isn’t dead, it just needs to be tucked up before midnight. With that in mind, it’s worth knowing where’s good for an early date night dinner. Atmosphere-wise, food-wise, and attractive-looking deal-wise. So the next time you’re booking and also looking to be home in time for Bake Off, consider one of these spots for the best of both worlds.
Turn your camera off and take that 5pm Zoom call on your phone, because Quality Wines is somewhere worth getting to early. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that all bottles bought pre-6pm are charged at shelf price. That’s good. The second is that with things like focaccia and gildas and cavatelli with rabbit ragu and pig fat cannolo on the menu, you don’t really want to rush. Thirdly, and most importantly, is that you won’t want to leave. So it’s best to maximise your time.
Forever low-lit and always fooling you into a false sense of holiday-like relaxation, Campania is a perma date ~mood~ whether for weekend brunch or early evening dinner. The rust-chic Italian off Columbia Road is primed for couples wherever you sit, but the backroom is our favourite: all wooden logs and candlelit bowls of pappardelle or tortelli.
Zeret’s enormous shared platters of injera, misir wot, azura (and more), is some of the best communal eating you can do around Camberwell. The Ethiopian restaurant also does a £26 sharing platter for two, featuring beef wot, chicken tibs, atkilt alecha, misir wot, azefa, shuro wot, and salad. Which is more than enough to keep you both happy for a few hours.
40 Maltby St
An old, dimly lit Bermondsey railway arch may sound like John Luther’s idea of a good date, but it should really be yours. 40 Maltby Street is easily (and seemingly effortlessly), one of London’s most consistently lovely wine bars and restaurants. At the moment they’re doing a changing £40 set menu, with things like lobster and fennel rice or confit duck, plums and green beans.
A legally imposed GTFO isn’t particularly appealing for many restaurant-goers or restaurant owners, but we will say that Murger Han’s £10 deal is. Every Monday - Wednesday the Xi’anese specialist is doing three courses for a tenner up until 10pm. And frankly, nothing says romance to us like a pork-filled murger bun, a bowl of hand pulled biang biang noodles, and some mochi ice cream to finish. Plus, of course, a person you assumedly quite like sitting opposite.
If you’re confused by tiers and what food-based pubs are, then join us (not literally, we don’t double date) in having a drink and a foie gras toastie at the Canton Arms. The Lambeth pub is split between bar and dining area, though that’s pretty much the same these days, and serves a changing menu of bits like wine braised radicchio and ricotta, or hake with cavolo nero and aioli. Drinks, date, and dinner: it’s perfect for all.
What do you get when you combine soft neon lighting, Szechuan pepper lined cocktails, and sesame noodles so good you may have a problem sharing them? The answer is Lucky & Joy. Perfect for a fun, fried rice-filled date, the Chinese-influenced spot in Clapton is also doing 2-4-1 on cocktails and beer from 5:30pm - 7pm. And if that isn’t enticing enough, then wait until you’re arguing over the last bite of custard tart.
Noble Rot Soho
Soho is an area that was, quite simply, not built for an early watershed curfew. But it was built for dates, and that’s clear to see at Noble Rot’s second location. The wine bar and restaurant is full of the sounds of chatter and clinking glasses, alongside the reassuring glug of glasses being refilled. Add in the Hungarian-leaning menu, featuring duck liver stuffed choux buns, and a shared plate of roast chicken you’ll have adulterous dreams about, and you have the perfect early evening venue.
A combination of candlelight and a wonton soup with pak choi is our kind of romantic evening, and you can get both at My Neighbour The Dumplings. The Victoria Park location's evening ambience is on point, mixing neons with candles, and cosy tables that don’t make you feel like you’re interviewing each other. The food is consistently good too, with the har gau and siu mai dumplings, the chunky prawn toast sandos our go-tos.
The seafood-focused spot in Drayton Park is easily one of north London’s nicest rooms, and their £24 two-course set menu from 5:30pm - 7pm is pretty good too. Expect things like pollock with potatoes and a seafood butter sauce on a classily dressed, candlelit shared (but distanced) table. Their sibling restaurant Primeur, which has a similarly perfect atmosphere, is also doing these set menus.