The dating game is different these days. What was once a step into the unknown is now, mostly, a step into the pretend unknown. “Oh, where do you work?” you ask, having furiously identified them from 42 LinkedIn profiles of the same name. What’s the point in beating around the bush? You know you like them, and you know more about them than they’ve told you. You can hold a conversation with them over some food as well as a drink. You’re not a social leper. Plus, you know every single holiday they’ve been on since 2014 thanks to Instagram.
All you need to do is let us guide you to the ideal places for a first date. Each of our choices is cool, casual, and capable of making you seem like something you’re not.
So you went out to the Bussey Building once, met someone, and now you’re pretending you live around there because the possible love of your life ‘never goes north, ugh’. Don’t worry, we got you. Book a table at Kudu, the neighbourhood restaurant in your newly adopted neighbourhood. This trendy South African spot is very cool and is bound to make a very good first impression. Come for the bread and stay for the rest.
If you take your date to Lina Stores, they’ll definitely never guess that you once used a four month old ryvita to shovel cold beans into your mouth on a particularly sad Sunday morning. No, this handmade pasta spot in Soho makes you look like the kind of person who’d invest in scented toilet paper, and own a piano that they actually know how to play. This place is utterly charming, from the exterior that’s entirely mint green, to their cosy counter seating, to their limoncello spritz. Actually, the latter will mostly just make you seem more charming. There’s several smaller starters to choose from if you just want something to pick on whilst you chat, or if you think they’re a winner, dive on into the pasta menu and a bottle of wine.
Odds are that if you’re planning to meet around Shoreditch after work, you’re probably already having a panic attack. So many choices. So many people. So much judgement. Head to Oklava for a haven of peace and delicious Turkish plates. It’s a little out the way, and that means the atmosphere is much more relaxed. Come for a cocktail and the whole roast cauliflower. That’s a normal date, right?
Some restaurants have just got it. Enough noise for there to be a chatty atmosphere, but not so much that it’s overwhelming. Food that’s so good it’s worth talking about, whether you’re struggling for conversation or not. A wine menu that’s really good, but not so good that you can’t ask the staff about what’s actually good for twenty quid. This is what Bright is. It’s perfect if your date is going well. You can move on from a glass to a bottle, plus a whole load of plates. And if it’s not happening, you can call it quits after two glasses and a couple of snacks.
You’ve upped your Tinder distance to five miles, and all of sudden you’ve got someone from Stoke Newington coming to Bermondsey on a date. They must either be really into you, on a really good salary to pay for that crosstown Uber, or really quite alarmingly undeterred by a bus and two tube lines. Seeing as they’ve made all this effort, you may as well go somewhere very nice. Somewhere like Flour and Grape. This fresh pasta restaurant is extremely tasty, and much less hassle than nearby Padella. It’s a classy and cost effective date. Especially if you only live around the corner.
You, somebody who could be ‘the one’, or, alternatively, just another one, have agreed to meet in Hackney. That gives you a huge choice, but Morito should be at the top of your list. This is a killer cool date spot, especially if you grab a couple of seats at the bar. There’s cava on tap, which is always a good thing, and the tapas - from charred aubergine to lamb chops - is perfect to pick on.
There you are trying to act all lovable, when you realise that your date has spent the last half an hour solely focused on the floral chandelier and the truffle oil on their plate. Sound familiar? That’s exactly why you don’t always want a showstopper of a restaurant for a first date. And that’s the beauty of Cecconi’s Shoreditch, it’s a great spot without being too distracting. The Italian food is decent, the negronis are strong, and its got that brasserie feel, which is just the right mix of casual and romantic. This place is like a lovely, blank canvas for a good date, where conversation can take centre stage.
There’s something very right about ham, wine, and cheese on a first date. We’re not talking five slices from Tesco and some mini Babybels, we’re talking Iberico and award-winning dairy. It’s like you’re on holiday. But you’re not. You could be in a year’s time. But don’t get ahead of yourself. Anyway, Llerena on Upper Street is perfect for this. It’s a calm, straightforward tapas place that has everything you need for a first meet.
Okay, you don’t entirely understand their job, but it sounds like the kind of thing you need a clean criminal record, and an IQ of over 160 to do. It’s time to be, or, at the very least, act, like an adult. And there are few places better for a grown-up drink and bite to eat, than Rovi. There’s a great oval bar to sit at, there are dishes like the exceptional celeriac shawarma, and there’s a lapsang old fashioned with some serious kick. This place is a bit different, cool, and really good fun. Just like you, right?
If you enjoy blaming dating apps and ‘bloody social media’ for ruining your love life, then this one’s for you. When you step into Bar Americain it all feels very 1920’s Paris. You know, back when you couldn’t stalk their Spotify before meeting them. The art deco paintings and cocktail menu will definitely get the conversation flowing. Special shoutout to the Hemingway Daiquiri for being delicious and entirely worth £12.50. If it goes terribly, you can blame it on the rum. If it goes well, you can head next door to the brasserie for an old school dinner date.
The thing about first dates is that you want to make a good impression. You want to make an impression so good that it is in fact, false. Because nobody normal suggests going to the bar at Luca for a first date. You would have to be incredibly confident, in the know, or a Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Gosling hybrid to do so. But that’s what we’re saying you should be. Go to the bar, order some parmesan fries, cross your legs and break the mystique by dropping ragu down yourself.
Sure, the pub is a go-to first date spot. But it can’t just be any pub. Especially not the one where that local roller skates to the urinal. That’s more of a five years in date spot. No, you need to go to a pub like the Blue Posts. It’s a super cosy and super classy restaurant-y type pub in Soho, where you can get anything from oysters to a burger. Plus, if all goes well, there’s a cocktail bar upstairs.
If, like us, you are a strong (and somewhat dangerous) believer in Dutch courage, then perhaps a pub is your best bet. We recommend The Drapers Arms, as its one of London’s finest pubs for food and drink. This Islington stalwart is only ten minutes from Highbury and Islington station, making an ideal middle ground for drinks that lead to snacks, that lead to dinner, that lead to who knows what? Dessert, maybe?
Admittedly, suggesting drinks and a bite to eat in an old east London railway arch does make you sound like a banker these days. Or someone saying banker with their fingers in their mouth. But Sager + Wilde isn’t like that. It’s place you can get a negroni and a bowl of pasta for a tenner (Monday to Wednesday, after 9:30pm, terms and conditions apply, see the back of the packet for details). It’s cool, it’s calm and there’s even a terrace.
Nothing gets the pulses racing on a first meeting like raw fish and weeping wasabi eyes, right? We thought so too. Avoid any robots or conveyer belts and head to Sushi Atelier in Fitzrovia. Share twelve pieces of sushi, debate whether parmesan should be anywhere near it, and order an irresponsible amount of sake whatever happens.
You’re almost certain this isn’t going to go well. Your entire conversation has been a series of emojis that may or may not have been misinterpreted. What does a kiss from a cat mean? Ringworm? Does a volcano mean they think you’re hot? Or that they have underlying anger issues? Oh well. You haven’t had a medium half chicken, side of peri peri chips, and corn for a while. You may as well.
You’ve been friends since JLS were in the charts, and now, somehow, you’re both single at the same time. The stars have aligned. Now is the time for romance. Now is the time for Gordon’s. This converted cellar just off the Strand has a massive wine list, with bottles of red starting at £20, and plenty of by-the-glass options if you want to try a few together. Sure, it can get pretty rammed, but get a bottle and a selection of French cheeses to share, and in the flickering candlelight you’ll barely notice. Honestly, if someone told us that this is where Romeo and Juliet first got it on, we’d believe them.
The Anchor & Hope is the perfect date spot for anyone who’s ever said ‘love is dead’, whilst also secretly having photos of George and Amal Clooney’s wedding on their phone. This pub isn’t the kind of place that screams romance. It sort of whispers it instead. Sure, most of the walls are painted red and there’s foie gras on the menu but, it’s also very casual. Like you. You can grab a pint, or one of their classic £6 cocktails and sit at the bar. Then, if by some small miracle you don’t despise them, you can move to one of the outdoor tables and share one of their many bottles of wine, or the baked poppyseed cheesecake. And, should you actually like them (we know, shocking), there’s always the option to go for a romantic walk along the river to finish the night off.
Happiness Forgets is an effortlessly cool, no standing-room cocktail bar in a basement on Hoxton Square. If alcohol is a first date priority, but you actually want to hear the words the person you’re trying to get to know is saying, this is the place for you. It’s always busy but never bustling, and it has the added bonus of table-service so there’s nothing to distract either of you from the job at hand. Think about the pros: if it’s going well, you’re only a raised eye away from another drink. And, if it’s going badly, you can simply get the bill and scram. Food options are limited to nuts and olives, or a selection of small plates from the restaurant upstairs, but with beer and wine also on offer, it’s the kind of small, intimate bar that’ll make you question ever meeting a date in a pub again.