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.
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 where you'll really want to be seated. Frustratingly you can't request this when booking.
If you're not lucky enough to be below the blossoms, upstairs is still lovely: white tablecloths in an elegant Georgian dining room. The food is French fine dining, spanning starter items such as pan roasted duck liver with globe artichoke, roasted fig, oat biscuit and duck sauce; and Dorset crab with smoked anchovy mayo and grilled and pickled cauliflower finished with bright chive oil. We always rate the sharing dish mains — currently an oven roasted and herb smoked rib of Limousin veal with Piemontais gnocchi. Go for a special occasion and make sure it's shortly after payday.
Clos Maggiore, 33 King Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 8JD
The restaurant for a thrifty date: Lina Stores
Lina Stores' 75-year reign as the best source of Italian produce in London stepped up a gear last year with the introduction of a Soho restaurant add-on to the deli. Plates of perfect pasta are turned out along with a smattering of antipasti — hello truffle mortadella — and those cannoli to hungry diners seated in their signature mint-coloured banquettes.
The cosiness of the Soho original makes Lina an inspired choice for a low-key date. Indulge in dishes like pappardelle with rich, sticky oxtail ragu, or 30-egg tagliolini with the best parmesan money can buy and black truffled butter. Pasta prices start from just £6 for their lovingly made pici with porcini and Umbrian sausage. Wines are exclusively Italian and well-priced too (£6 for a prosecco) so it's little surprise it gets busy here. Reserve for lunch or an early dinner at Soho or try their newer, larger but a bit less romantic King's Cross branch which is usually quieter (or pick up one of their DIY meal bags from the deli to take home instead).
Lina Stores, 51 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 4EH and 20 Stable Street, King's Cross, N1C 4DR
The restaurant with a wonderful wine list: Vins
A romantic date night without flowing wine is not something we'd like to attempt. 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 Decelle Brut will soften the senses, as the rest of London fades into the distance, and you and your paramour pick at a charing board of cheeses, olives, Jerusalem artichoke crisps and garlic garlic saucisson. Stick around for dessert (the menu changes daily, but holds such treats as chocolate truffle slice with pecans), and share a bottle of the Les Loustics La Petit Baigneuse — a grenache wine made from 40 year old vines.
Vins, 93 Grosvenor Avenue, Mildmay Ward, N5 2NL
The restaurant for sultry Sicilian small plates: Norma
Ben Tish's new Charlotte Street venture Norma 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 an unusual but inspired salt marsh lamb crudo with lamb fat crostini coming out of the centre-stage raw bar, to the deeply smoky cod's roe with molasses grapes and charred onions, plus fat wedges of exemplary focaccia – everything feels gloriously sundrenched. Prices reflect the produce, with most small plates around the £10 mark and larger dishes like a sunny seafood stew with fennel, chilli and saffron couscous more like £25. Do try their homemade limoncello for an authentically Italian end to your romantic meal.
Norma, 8 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 2LS
The restaurant for old school romantics: Andrew Edmunds
It doesn’t get much more romantic than Soho institution Andrew Edmunds. An imposing 18th century townhouse 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 hand written blackboard for the day's menu (Valentine’s Days 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
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.
Nice 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 they really get booked up, so think ahead in order to enjoy dishes like burrata with chilli, butter leaves, pomegranate and oregano (£13.50) or Haye Farm porchetta with sage, capers, chard, honey and roast parsnips (£29.50) in verdant surrounds. We like to indulge in their seasonal takes on a bellini whenever we visit: currently a pink orange bellini with Petersham prosecco. Lovely.
Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Off Petersham Road, Richmond, TW10 7AB
The restaurant with breathtaking brunchtime views: Bourne & Hollingsworth Garden Room
More botanical beauty now, in the form of Bourne & Hollingsworth Garden Room, a relative newcomer to the Leicester Square line-up. Fans of their Instagram-bothering B&H Buildings in Clerkenwell will be pleased to know the green theme continues in earnest at their latest outpost, but this time there are views to be ogled as well. The glass surrounds of this bar and all-day dining destination mean that guests can enjoy impressive views across town, taking in the London Eye and the skyline across the Thames from a perch at the bar surrounded by citrus trees.
Dishes span the modern European spectrum, with parmesan chicken schnitzel and winter slaw (£16) and duck confit with potato and celeriac gratin, kale and a cherry sauce (£19) drawing in the crowds. An impressive cocktail list accompanies the dishes — we’ll take a rhubarb negroni fool thank you. We're tempted by their brunches too, which feature Nigella inspired eggs in purgatory and twists on the classics: try the Eggs Benedictos of chorizo, avocado, bearnaise and pico de gallo. It's as popular as the original, so you'll need to book if you're planning to eat.
Bourne & Hollingsworth Garden Room, 10th Floor Above Assembly Hotel, 31 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0LS
The restaurant to visit when you want to splash the cash: Galvin at Windows
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 almost 10 years, service and dishes are just as slick, but the beautiful interior (it's in an old chapel) and warm, twinkly ambience gets our vote. Prices are steep with starters around £22 and mains clocking in at the high 30s, or a three course menu gourmand is £42.50. The tasting menu with wine is £95 but worth it, in our opinion (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 samples. The Bresse pigeon tagine is another must-try dish offering a fine dining interpretation of the North African classic. We love.
Galvin at Windows, 35 Spital Square, Spitalfields E1 6DY
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 (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, Counter Culture), 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, with two kinds of rock served with traditional shallot vinegar or straight up at their sweeping emerald bar.
Cruise in between 5-7pm for half a dozen with a pint of Guinness for a bargainous £10 accompanied by a live band. For Valentines there's a set menu, of course, with snacks, starters, mains, cheese and pudding coming in at £75 — and the chance to sample some of that famous sourdough with chicken liver parfait and their much-hyped Brixham turbot. Take someone special and watch the compliments roll in.
Darby's, 3 Viaduct Garden, Nine Elms SW11 7AY
The restaurant with champagne at the press of a button: Bob Bob Cité
For true romance we require champagne. Enter: Bob Bob Cite, the Golden Square original’s younger, naughtier and far, far, flashier brother. The Orient Express inspired interiors are a sight to behold: we've never seen such 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 restaurant is a great shout for treating your beau to a press of the famous champagne button; it lives on in its newest postcode. Team your bubbles with their signature chicken 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 Cité: 122 Leadenhall Street, Level 3, The City EC3V 4AB
The restaurant with fondue for two: Boundary
Shoreditch favourite Boundary is a good bet any time of year thanks to their romantic rooftop orangery which makes for an impressive candlelit dinner under the stars. Their oozy cheese fondue sharer gets our vote for pulling out all the stops, and is best enjoyed cosied up on fluffy blankets among the hanging terrariums and winter foliage while you take in the Shoreditch skyline. Otherwise order up their signature reblochon tartiflette, an outrageous Alpine sharing dish of melted cheese, smoked bacon (optional) and pickled vegetables which is sure to heat things up. When the weather improves, Boundary's rooftop is a popular spot for summer drinks and dining (the rooftop partner is Veuve Cliquot), so be sure to reserve a space if you're set on taking in those City views. We'd pair it with the oysters for two and some champagne, to crank up the romance to 11.
Boundary, 2-4 Boundary Street (entrance on Redchurch Street, Shoreditch E2 7DD