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Four volumes of SUITCASE Magazine, with a new issue delivered to your door each quarter
With almost nine million people living in London, dating is a pretty tricky business. By the time you actually find someone you want to spend time with, you’ve then got to navigate the minefield that is picking a location that says cool but not try hard, while not being too far from what you usually like to do (pretending to love Aston Martin DB5’s, Star Wars and/ or the Six Nations is only going to land you in hot water further down the line). Having gone on some of the worst dates ever (and we mean The Worst), it’s become clear that it actually doesn’t really matter where you go – dinner at Sketch will never make up for borderline fascist views and mouth-breathing. But a helping hand never goes amiss. With that in mind, we’ve drawn up a list of places which won’t distract you from your date, but will provide a pleasant backdrop. Think flattering lighting, optimum noise levels and easy escape routes (joking…sort of). Tried and tested, these are the ultimate date spots – all you’ve got to do is find a worthy candidate.
From traditional chorizo small plates to the deliciously inventive (think grilled quail with alioli) Barrafina is a great spot for a non-committal dinner. Sample some charcuterie and cheese, followed by hot tapas and simultaneously test your date’s sharing skills. If he offers you the last ham croqueta, he’s a keeper. A great choice for vegetarians, head to the original location in Soho – on sunny days Dean Street throngs with people – for a chilled vibe. Opt for their Adelaide Street branch if you’re looking to book ahead (a good idea to ensure your conversation doesn’t run out before your table is ready).
Owned by Damien Hirst, the Newport Street Gallery showcases work drawn from the artist’s private art collection. A free destination, the gallery is housed within a renovated Victorian scenery-painting studio in Vauxhall and is sure to impress even the most culturally “woke” plus ones. Not only will you score points for being on the cutting edge of arty hotspots, it’s also a pretty cheap date. After a second round of the gallery floor, pop upstairs to Pharmacy 2 – a pharmaceutical-themed restaurant, designed in collaboration with Mark Hix.
On Sundays, the beautiful Barbican conservatory is open to the public. Free of charge you can get lost in one of London’s best indoor gardens, where – between the succulents and overhanging palms – you’ll find the perfect place to steal a clandestine snog (yep, we did just say snog). Finish with a film at the Barbican cinema, where they show the best international flicks, or pop to the martini bar on level one for views as good as their drinks.
Learn how to make fresh pasta – lasagne, itagliolini and farfalle shapes are all on the menu – from scratch at Burro e Salvia. Since the way to most of our hearts is through our stomachs (and the majority of us could do with expanding our repertoire of kitchen skills) a cooking class is a win-win date choice. After the workshop, the kitchen is kept open for participants to sit and enjoy the pasta they’ve made – they’ll also throw in a starter and dessert to round things off. That’s “a-more” like it.
An intimate 45-person gig, where the performers are kept secret until the night of the performance, is just the right amount of spontaneity that a first or second date needs. Sofar’s gigs are hosted in intimate venues – often taking place in private homes – and focus on stripped-back, no-frills performances. You’re likely to meet other like-minded music aficionados, so it’s a great place to scope out prospective dates to (hopefully not while you’re on a date with someone else, mind).
This Soho classic serves up relaxed romance and a varied wine list to boot. With oodles of old-school charm, even if your date’s a no hoper you’ll struggle not to submit to your beguiling surrounds. Lit almost entirely by candles wedged into wine bottles, the food at Andrew Edmunds is simple, elegant – think crab and fennel salad and roast pork chops. An intimate, though bustling, bistro setting, this place tips more towards the casual side of things rather than overly committed.
Sample an array of artisan cocoa treats – sweet but not sickeningly so – at Mast Brothers bean-to-bar chocolate factory on Shoreditch’s Redchurch Street.
Chocophiles should opt for a 45-minute private guided tour through MAST’s chocolate-making process and end with a sampling of MAST’s latest collection. Get a taste of something you fancy? You can purchase the full collection in store, and if all goes to plan (i.e. a second date is on the cards) why not suggest The Fat Duck or Shake Shack for your follow-up date. Their chocolate is sourced from Mast Brothers.
If you’re looking for a chilled-out date vibes, this Hackney wine bar is gold. The lighting is low, and the wine list is extensive and changes daily. Grab a seat by the window (or at the reclaimed cast-iron cellar door bar) and let the staff guide you. Almost every wine is available by the glass – a gift and a curse. If you do get peckish (or lightheaded) head next door to Morito for some fuel.
Sometimes you just don’t know what you want (in a partner or otherwise). Suggest meeting under Exmouth Market’s fairy lights and peruse every menu on the street until something (other than your date) takes your fancy. Bar Kick is good for a game of foosball to break the ice, then follow with multiple plates of pasta at Luca. Alternatively, head to Shawarma Bar for a Middle Eastern medley of lamb kofta and frozen slushie cocktails.
This unassuming theatre space and production house, located in a former chocolate factory in Southwark, is the kind of space you’ll only hear about if you move in theatrical circles. Passing by, you’d be forgiven for not clocking that it was a theatre at all – its front-facing dining room (which does an affordable and very good pre-theatre menu FYI) masks its interiors. Tread the boards with your new beaux and follow in the footsteps of Graham Norton, Helen Mirren and Catherine Tate – all of whom have performed here.
This private members club on the Kingsland Road scores on several counts. Firstly, it’s exclusive (which will make you seem far more debonaire than you may be) and secondly, they mix a mean Singapore Sling. Interiors are zany – although from the a derelict pub facade, you’d never guess. Filled with taxidermy, chandeliers, leather booths and more taxidermy, it’s probably not the best spot for animal lovers, but for everyone it’s a shoe in.
Whether a beginner or a seasoned baker, classes at Bread Ahead are relaxed and informative, while providing a non-cringe activity to get to know each other over. Book in for a doughnut workshop or a sourdough masterclass – and if your baking doesn’t turn out as planned, head to the Bread Ahead stall in Borough Market for some replacement treats. Those who soufflé together, stay together.
Not to get ahead of ourselves, but Campania & Jones is the kind of place we’d love to come back to for our anniversary every year. It’s rustic aesthetic is subtly romantic, with a kitchen dishing out plates of homemade Italian fare, just like Nonna would made it.Start by ordering negronis and devouring the entire bread basket, before lingering over mountains of pasta and a solid bottle of rouge. Finish by sharing a boozy tiramisu – you’ll leave with a warm, fuzzy feeling of whether you like your date or not.
Live at Zedel, which sits beside Brasserie Zedel’s historic underground dining room, is a upbeat alternative to dinner and a show. If you’re below the age of 90 and don’t want to sit through three hours of Pinter, give it a go. It’s not just jazz here – they’ve some great cabaret acts too – but the blues are the main draw. Tribute acts might sound naff but when you see these artists take on Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald’s favoured torch songs you’ll swallow your words sharpish. (FYI torch songs are sentimental love songs and they’re passionate AF.)
“How about Chinatown?” is a question that will strike fear into many Londoners’ hearts, and the thought of hitting up tourist central will probably wind up with an unanswered Bumble message if you dare suggest it. But Evelyn’s Table is different. From the founders of the Palomar and the Barbary, this 11-seater bolthole in the basement of the Blue Posts pub is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Named after Faye Dunaway’s character in Chinatown, expect entirely delicious modern European fare, whipped up in front of you. Our go-to when we’re really trying to impress with our insider knowledge, we’re a little annoyed we’ve told you about this place.
While the Electric Cinema’s Notting Hill posting is more grandiose, Electric Shoreditch wins out with its subtle vibes and super comfortable seats. They mainly show the latest box office releases, but on occasion puts on some arthouse and Hollywood classics. Order a bottle of wine and a sofa seat and settle in for the only cinema date that won’t make you feel like you’re 14-years-old again.
This inappropriately named watering hole – which is actually positioned right on Broadway Market – mixes some of the best cocktails this side of the canal. Sit outside and watch the world go by on a Saturday, before retreating inside for a tipple. Nab a cosy corner and set up shop for the night. If all is going well, head downstairs for some dancing.
You know how you have that one incredible friend who knows their city inside out? That’s us. We take the world’s most dynamic destinations, hand-pick the best bits and give them to you in one place. This is the kind of guide that you don’t need to run by a local – it was written by one. Eat your heart out, shop until you drop, drink like a fish, dance your socks off, sleep – then repeat.
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