Looking to ace a first date, treat your long term love or celebrate a big anniversary? From blow-out Michelin meals to low-lit booths and breathtaking rooftop views, choosing the right restaurant can go a long way in the romance stakes, and it pays to do your research. Fortunately, we've done it for you.
Looking for more Valentine's Day inspo? Here's our pick of places for dates, mates and flying solo in 2023.
1. The restaurant for all-out romance: Clos Maggiore
Topping the 'most romantic restaurants in London' lists time and time again, Clos Maggiore in Covent Garden is the obvious choice for a super-romantic tête-à-tête — and for good reason. The ground floor conservatory features a sprawling cherry tree, with tables centred around a roaring log fire, so that's the prime spot to be seated. Frustratingly, you can't request this when booking. However, the intimate (and similarly flower-festooned) upstairs dining room is a worthy alternative.
The food is French fine dining, spanning starter items such as steak tartare with pickled onion and chive crumb; and Orkney scallops teamed with smoked mussels and a shiitake leek chowder. We always rate the main dishes too — current options include fallow deer served alongside braised salsify, beetroot and blackberries. Go for a special occasion below the blossoms. Just make sure it's shortly after payday.
Clos Maggiore, 33 King Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 8JD
2. The restaurant for a thrifty date: Lina Stores
Lina Stores' 75-year reign as the best source of Italian produce in London stepped up with the introduction of a Soho restaurant add-on to the original Brewer Street deli. Plates of perfect pasta are turned out along with a smattering of antipasti — hello, crispy fried artichokes — and those cannoli to hungry diners seated in their signature mint-coloured banquettes.
The cosiness of the Soho eatery makes Lina an inspired choice for a low-key date. Indulge in dishes like pappardelle with rich, sticky slow-cooked duck ragu, or 30-egg tagliolini with the best parmesan money can buy and black truffled butter. Pasta prices start from just £7.50 for their lovingly made ricotta and spaghetti puttanesca. Wines are exclusively Italian and well-priced too (£8 for a glass of prosecco) so it's little surprise it gets busy here. Reserve for lunch or an early dinner at Soho, or try the larger (but a bit less romantic) King's Cross or Marylebone branches which are usually quieter. Alternatively, pick up one of their DIY meal bags from the deli to take home instead. There's a third venue at Bloomberg Arcade, but that's more business meeting than romantic date.
Lina Stores, 51 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 4EH; 20 Stable Street, King's Cross, N1C 4DR; 19 Bloomberg Arcade, The City, EV4N 8AR and 13-15 Marylebone Lane, Marylebone, W1U 2NE.
3. The restaurant with a wonderful wine list: Vins
Nothing makes a romantic date night flow more than flowing wine. Canonbury's Vins invites you into its curtain-cloaked containment chamber and, once inside, you'll want to get stuck into the accomplished wine menu. A soft, dry, creamy, Champagne Carte Noir Brut will soften the senses, as the rest of London fades into the distance, and you and your paramour pick at a sharing board of cheeses, Sicilian olives, Jerusalem artichoke arancini or some of the ever-changing specials. Stick around for dessert (the menu is shaken up daily, but holds such treats as gooey chocolate brownie cremeaux), and take another dive into the impressive wine list.
Vins, 93 Grosvenor Avenue, Canonbury, N5 2NL
4. The restaurant for sultry Sicilian small plates: Norma
Charlotte Street venture Norma — opened by chef Ben Tish in 2019 — has wowed the critics since opening, and after our visit we can see why. Beautiful Moorish interiors, stylish marbled booths and endless cosy nooks under twinkling fretwork make this the ideal place to hole up in for date night – and that's before we get onto the food.
Considering Tish's history at Salt Yard Group, it makes sense that the Sicilian fare at Norma is as brilliant as it is: from a silky-smooth crab linguine to melt-in-the-mouth venison ragu, everything feels gloriously sundrenched. Prices reflect the produce, with most small plates around the £15 mark and larger dishes like classic aubergine alla norma more like £23. Try the homemade limoncello for an authentically Italian end to your romantic meal.
Norma, 8 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 2LS
5. The restaurant for old school romantics: Andrew Edmunds
The name alone may not light your loins on fire, but it doesn’t get much more romantic than Soho institution Andrew Edmunds. An imposing 18th century townhouse — named for the beloved restaurateur, who sadly passed away in 2022 — plays host to its bijou dining room bedecked with flickering candles, tiny linen-covered tables and bags of old Soho charm which has been romancing couples since the mid-1980s. Check the handwritten blackboard for the day's European-led menu (Valentine’s Days tend to offer three-courser specials) and marvel at the value of the wine list while trying not to lock eyes with an adjacent diner — it is extremely cosy in there.
Andrew Edmunds, 46 Lexington Street, Soho, W1F 0LP
6. The restaurant that's in a country outpost with the most idyllic setting: Petersham Nurseries
Lucky Richmond-dwellers will likely already know about the sheer dreaminess of the café-restaurant at Petersham Nurseries. Situated in the pretty village of Ham, once you’ve made it to the end of the District line it becomes clear we cannot be in London anymore: there are fields… there are parks… there are deer! But in fact this is absolutely still London.
Perfect for a romantic stroll, the countryside idyll continues in the café itself; with a canopy of trailing plants above, blooms wherever you look, and a well-stocked nursery to peruse. Due to the restrictions of such a quiet neighbourhood, they're only open for lunch (and Friday supper clubs) and they really get booked up, so think ahead in order to enjoy dishes like pine nut-stuffed red mullet or Haye Farm lamb in verdant surrounds. We like to indulge in their seasonal takes on a bellini: currently a rhubarb offering.
Petersham Nurseries has a home in Covent Garden too, and this one does offer a full dinner service. Expect mouthwatering dishes and interiors alive with understated grandeur — but of course, it doesn't have the sweeping countryside of the original.
Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Off Petersham Road, Richmond, TW10 7AB
7. The restaurant to visit when you want to splash the cash: Galvin La Chapelle
Park Lane's Galvin at Windows is an obvious choice for when you are looking to spend big — and it's fabulous, of course — but we prefer the slightly less showy of the Galvin restaurants, La Chapelle over in the east. Having retained its Michelin star for over a decade, the service and French dishes are just as slick. But it's the beautiful interior (it's in an old chapel) and warm, twinkly ambience gets our vote.
Prices are steep with starters around £25 and mains mostly sitting in the 40s. The seven-course tasting menu is £125 (£200 with wine) but worth considering, especially as the drinks are where the bill really starts to rack up. If you're plumping for a la carte we strongly urge you to order the crab lasagne where sweet white Dorset crab meat is layered with impossibly thin sheets of pasta and the most heavenly beurre blanc we've ever sampled. When it's on the menu, the Bresse pigeon tagine is another must-try dish, offering a fine dining interpretation of the North African classic.
Galvin La Chappelle, 35 Spital Square, Spitalfields, E1 6DY
8. The restaurant with the best oysters around: Darby's
For residents of a landlocked city, we Londoners do love our oysters — and are pretty spoilt for choice for great places to eat them (Sweetings, Bentley's, Wright Bros, J Sheekey, Prawn on the Lawn and Randall & Aubin are all worth seeking out if you’re a fan of the sexy bivalves).
But Darby's in Nine Elms is where we'd be heading as a twosome. An Irish-American incarnation to add to the Gills' list of restaurant successes (The Dairy, Sorella), Darby's in Battersea's concrete jungle is an oyster bar, bakery and grill of epic proportions. Serving what many believe to be the best sourdough in the city, it also offers up a tremendous line in oysters, typically served with traditional shallot vinegar or straight up at their sweeping emerald bar.
Cruise in between 5-7pm (Wednesday to Saturday) for half a dozen with a pint of Guinness for a bargain price. For Valentines there's a set menu, of course, with six courses coming in at £70 — and the chance to sample some of that famous sourdough with chicken liver mousse. Take someone special and watch the compliments roll in.
Darby's, 3 Viaduct Gardens, Nine Elms, SW11 7AY
9. The restaurant with champagne at the press of a button: Bob Bob Ricard City
For true romance we require champagne. Enter: Bob Bob Ricard City (formerly known as Bob Bob Cité), the Golden Square original’s younger, naughtier and far, far, flashier brother. After a 2021 makeover, the 1980s banker vibes are gone, softened down with opulent furnishings similar to those in the original Soho venue. Think glitz, so dress to impress (dress code is strictly 'elegant') and enjoy the whole super-luxurious spectacle of it all.
You will need extremely deep pockets, but one of the City's most glamorous restaurants is a great shout for treating your beau to a press of the famous champagne button. Every table is equipped with one. Team your bubbles with their signature chicken and champagne pie (a luxurious, golden crusted thing of beauty) or their version of steak tartare — it involves caviar, obviously — and try not to wince at the prices. Sub zero vodka shots optional.
Bob Bob Ricard City: 122 Leadenhall Street, Level 3, The City, EC3V 4AB