London: The City Of (Unlikely) European Romance



London may not bring to mind the kind of reckless, unapologetic romance of a Paris or a Rome. With its stiff upper lips and its inhabitants' pathological apologizing, London can seem like a city of brusque encounters and muted chic. And with its love stories more Dickensian then Madame Bovary, it's easy to think that The Big Smoke could be skipped on your romantic European vacation. But think again: Scratch the surface and the city is, unexpectedly, eager to tuck you away into a cozy fireside seat or swaddle you and your loved one in stylish luxury. In addition to that imposing Charlie D., London is also the home of lovelorn Keats and Plath, and its food scene has absorbed its understated history of tumultuous passions. London's restaurants can wrangle an oyster and decant a Bordeaux as artfully as it can whack together a fish pie or boil a potato, and we're here to help you get your romance-bearings. As long as you do your research and find which areas make your heart sing, you can plan the perfect date for Valentine's day, an anniversary, or no occasion at all. Just bring your flowers, your smile, and – oh yes – your credit card.



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The Crooked Well is the perfect hybrid of pub and fine dining. It's also a hybrid of traditional British and European fare, sneaking "tasty little numbers from further afield" onto its impressive menu. Dukkah lamb rump, chargrilled yellow courgette and ruby chard with orange muscatel sauce shines at £18.25, and you can go family style with a rabbit and bacon pie for two for £27.25 – how romantic. The Crooked Well also drops you off at the border between Camberwell and Denmark Hill, an up-and-coming area known for its vicinity to the Camberwell College of Art and Camberwell Green. Bring a date in for a romantic Sunday lunch before popping over to the farmer's market on Camberwell Green.


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Sometimes dining is all about...well...drinking. If you're looking for a chic date spot, or a chance to nibble on some French Nouvelle tidbits then look no further than Antidote. Tucked off of bustling Carnaby Street in the itty-bitty Newburgh "Quarter", Antidote offers up over 200 organic, biodynamic wines. Their small plates include Westcombe cheddar dumplings and Roscoff Onion, or you could splash out for a tasting menu at £40 for four courses. Most of the seating is countertop or at tall tables – perfect for the breezy, nonchalant, accidentally-terribly-romantic date, and nearby Soho is filled to the brim with nightlife options if you've got the post-meal energy.


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We may have to get our terms straight re: "romance" when evaluating romantic London dining, but we'd like to go out on a limb and say that Meat Liquor is an ideal date spot. It shot to cult-status when it opened its doors in Fitzrovia in 2012, and with its moody lighting, vast selection of cocktails and orgiastic burger choices, Meat Liquor is bound to bring together like-minded pleasure-seekers. There are no reservations, so make sure to show up at an off-peak time on weekends. We recommend the "Dead Hippie" (two mustard-beef patties, minced onion, "dead hippie sauce", lettuce, cheese and pickles) as it's marginally more date-friendly than the red chili cheeseburger.


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Regent Street


 

Momo is perfectly situated on Regent Street, the no-man's land between Soho and aristocratic Mayfair. It's North African luxury dining done with thoughtful flare an artistry. Restauranteur Mourad Mazouz is also the founder of tubro-surreal concept tea room Sketch as well as Derriere in Paris; dining at Momo is as much a visual feast as it is a gastronomic one, and it makes for a sumptuous, palatially designed date spot. Go for a traditional chicken tagine with preserved lemons, olives, onion compote and saffron, or stuffed quail with with freekeh, pea puree, caramelised apple, jus and toasted mixed nuts. Then walk off your feast through the rest of lovely tucked away Heddon Street.


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On the ground floor of Shoreditch's Tea Building, the seven-storey start-up hub right across from the Overground, is a different kind of innovation hub: Lyle, the creation of borderline "experimental" chef James Lowe. There's a clean, ultra-sanitary feel to the whitewashed walls and glistening steel detail that sets it apart from Shoreditch's whole cultivated-grittiness thing. The place feels grown-up, which is a perfect balance to how playful and thrilling the set menu is. Goat curd and apple come served underneath a paper-thin dome of spun sugar. A red wine is described as having farm-like "funk", and stingray is placed in front of us with utter nonchalance. It's the perfect date spot for innovative thinkers, or just food enthusiasts who are not easily impressed.


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At Barrafina, you get what you earn. Maybe you have to wait in a line long enough that you run out of conversation topics with your date by the time you're seated, but we guarantee that that won't actually be a problem: Barrafina will leave you both speechless. It is hands down one of the most engrossing and mind-blowing dining experiences you can have in London. Their fresh Spanish fare is prepared with loving expertise in front of you by their chefs, led by Executive Head Chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho. Surrounded by sleek, elegant marble surfaces and light interiors (non of the normal "Spanish" kitsch you're likely to find in tapas restaurants the world over), you're bound to have a date worth bragging about.


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Primrose Hill


 

Primrose Hill feels like a world of its own at the best of times. It's a nook with understated wealth and overly abundant charm whose high street feels like it belongs in a fairy tale. L'Absinthe fits into this vibe perfectly. It's a quintessentially French romantic hideout offering Bordeauxs and Burgundys to compliment classics like beef Bourguignon and tarte tatin. The surroundings are intimate and there's not a trace of modernity in sight. And L'Absinthe's surroundings mean that if you don't quite feel like being transported back to London's hustle and bustle afterwards, you and your date can linger until the reverie Francais wears off.


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Mayfair


 

Around the time you are presented a box filled with two cuts of beautifully marbeled kobe beef by an impeccably dressed member of wait staff, you will come to realize that Engawa is not your typical Japanese dining experience, nor is it one of Mayfair's standard lux offerings. Tucked away in the newly renovated Ham Yard, Engawa feels like a well-kept secret in a beautifully lit, tree-embellished hideaway. It's also the perfect date spot. Unlike Nobu, with its multi-floor expanse, or Sushi Samba, with its American Psycho flavour of decadence, Engawa provides an intimate space (close enough to the bar to see our sushi being expertly, hypnotically sliced) with emphasis on elegance and mastery of Japanese cuisine. The three-course tasting menu includes kobe beef in both sashimi and cooked forms, impeccably delicate sea urchin, and pristinely presented squid. A must-visit for your romantic getaway.


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The Scolt Head is a double-hitter: lively pub bringing together the fresh-faced inhabitants of both Islington and neighboring Dalston, and dreamy date-perfect restaurant. On offer is some of the most coveted of classic British fare, including slow braised pork cheek, stuffed mackerel, and whole baked Camembert (--okay, maybe not British, but classically delicious). Book in advance for cozy back seating in the fabulously decorated dining space, a perfect storm of winterish mahogany and dark brick, ideal for sipping a full-bodied red. It's like you and your date have been stranded in a Highlands cabin, but we might be letting our imaginations get away with us...


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Primrose Hill


 

As London's only "floating Chinese restaurant", Feng Shang Princess doesn't need to do much to win our adoration. It's a testament to the rich variety of life and luxury resting on the waters of the Regent's Canal, and it looks like something out of Peter Pan. It's a moodily lit, friendly staffed local favorite that would make for a truly memorable date. But Feng Shang Princess shouldn't be judged solely on its looks – its take on Chinese favorites is stylish and inventive, and leaves you wanting sneak off and stow away in its lower deck. (Or really anywhere near the kitchen.)


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Meet Arianna Reiche

Arianna Reiche is a London-based writer and publisher. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied at the University of Edinburgh before working with Vice, New Scientist,...  More About Arianna

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