Date night tends to be expensive. Maybe it’s the rush of love. Maybe it’s being too smitten to do any pre-bill arithmetic and ordering a sixth cocktail. Or maybe, just maybe, you forgot your partner’s birthday/promotion/existence, and shelling out for a big dinner is your penance. Luckily, there are actually several places in London where you can have an affordable date night that doesn’t involve the words ‘peri peri chicken please’. Or one of you pretending you really, genuinely, just didn’t fancy a starter. Or a drink. Or a main.
Here’s where to have dinner and drink for two, for under 50 quid, and still have a romantic evening.
Railway arches have been featured in lots of great love stories. Brief Encounter. Harry Potter meeting Ginny Weasley. Your date with the fit person from your coffee shop at Sager and Wilde. This wine bar is inside one of the arches near Bethnal Green, and thanks to the candlelight and distressed wooden bar, this place has quite a romantic feel without tipping into ‘wait, are they about to tell me they love me on the second date’ territory. Either go for a couple of plates of cacio e pepe, or keep it casual with a few small plates and some charcuterie.
If London came with a starter pack, Brasserie Zédel would be in it with a tiny cartoon cupid next to it. This place is, frankly, a life saver when it comes to dating in London. Whether you’re after a first date spot that will impress, or a 100th date that will feel showy enough to justify the money you spent on a babysitter, Zédel has got you covered. The best part is that despite the chandeliers, nightly swing band, and swish dining hall, this place can easily be done for 20 quid each. Get the steak. Get some wine. Have fun.
Going to a bar for a date is a lot less scary than going to a restaurant for a date. Mostly because a bar situation kind of encourages heavy drinking. Luckily, Kurobuta in Chelsea is a great middle ground between drinks and food. This place feels like the lovechild of a rock and roll dive bar and a proper Japanese restaurant. It’s fun, it’s cool, and yes, it’s a little loud if you sit at the bar. The small plates here can quickly stack up, but if you stick to the mains and a bottle of wine, you’re in for a casual date with some of the best crispy duck pancakes in London.
Get a table down in the basement of this Scottish restaurant for a casual date night involving some rustic furniture, venison scotch eggs, and a whole lot of other red meats. Unless you’ve figured out a way to hold a conversation whilst shoving a venison burger in your mouth, this might not be the best spot for a first date, or any date with a vegetarian, but it’s great for a night out together with something a bit different on the menu. Plus, you should never underestimate the romantic capital of introducing someone to their first haggis mac and cheese.
As anyone who’s ever blindly pointed at a wine menu knows, when it comes to date night it isn’t the food that’ll cost you a fortune, it’s the drinks. Luckily, Two Hundred Rye Lane has a happy hour every evening between 5 - 8 pm, where you can get cocktails for a fiver. When it comes to the food, this Peckham spot is all about Mediterranean small plates like mozzarella arancini, king prawns, and hummus with pitta. This place is chilled, cool, but won’t make you look cheap.
Going to La Mia Mamma for date night is like taking your partner to meet the parents. No. Come back. Stop scrolling. We mean it in a good way. Date night at La Mia Mamma is like meeting the parents, if your parents know how to dance and cook some of London’s best gnocchi at the same time. From the changing menu of regional Italian classics, to the bloody lovely people cooking the food, this place is a blast. Come here when you want someone to think, sorry, know that you’re fun.
Little Georgia in Islington is a candlelit restaurant that serves a giant adjaruli khachapuri (a doughy, cheesy, eggy wonder bread) for eleven quid. There’s plenty of other traditional Georgian mains on the menu that all fall around the £15 mark, as well as chaca (a Georgian spirit made from grapes) by the glass for a fiver.
You’re going on a date tonight with someone who appears to communicate solely in emojis. That means they’re either a modernist genius, or potentially the worst person on the planet. This situation obviously calls for a place of low commitment. This situation calls for a pub. This situation calls for The Queen Adelaide in Shepherd’s Bush. Thanks to the high ceilings, dark green walls, and chandeliers, it’s slightly more romantic than your average old school boozer. This place gives you the option of having a pint or a couple of small plates at the bar, and then making a swift exit. Or the option of committing to a bottle and a proper plate of fish and chips, all for about £20 each.
You know that video of a kitten yawning that you come across when hungover and get a little teary eyed? Titu is almost as cute as that kitten. Almost. This Japanese spot in Mayfair, yes Mayfair, is not only a top date option but is also surprisingly affordable. They specialise in gyoza, but not just any gyoza, we’re talking gyoza filled with miso kimchi lamb, foie gras, and wagyu beef. Plus, during the week they do a sharing menu specifically designed for two for £18 per person, involving miso salmon, gyoza, baby squid, 2 glasses of vermentino, and some other small dishes. See, cute.
Okay we hear you, a restaurant named after a meat product does not scream ‘take me now’. But you know what does? A huge pizza covered in rosemary and parmesan for eight pounds. Lardo in Hackney is all about fresh, seasonal Italian food and you can easily leave here having only spent twenty quid. Be warned, this place can get pretty busy, so unless you want your partner to start another fun game of ‘which one of us is more useless’, book ahead.
Somehow you’ve managed to get yourself a date with an ‘accounts manager’. Do you admit that until very recently you thought an ISA was a type of craft beer? No. In fact, never admit that to anyone. Instead, suggest a date night at Pergola. This place is sort of like a boozy open market with lots of seating and plenty of different food vendors to choose from. And importantly, it’s all relatively cheap. With all the skyline views, foliage, and general buzz, this place feels like somewhere you go to for a bit of a different experience. Which really, is the perfect cover for actually just wanting somewhere that’s not too expensive. Perfect.
Name one thing on this planet more romantic than finding out your partner genuinely waited for you to watch the next episode of their favourite show. Go on, name one. Okay, actually, we will. Dinner and a bottle of wine at Lady Of The Grapes is better. This little wine bar in Covent Garden is all about candlelight, natural wines, and cheese. Their snacks can be on the pricier side, but if you go for their raclette and charcuterie you can get a whole lot of food for you money, as well as plenty of great by the glass and carafe options.
You’ve matched with someone who appears to be funny, successful, and has a mutual love for Peep Show memes. You need to go on a date with them quick, before the rest of London realises they exist. Time for a trip to Bar Tozino. This spot on Maltby Street is one of those great little places that feels like it was specifically designed for date night. The tapas is perfectly sized for two. The wine comes with little explanations to make you look smart. And the lighting is low to make you look, you know… better. Hot tip: go for a romantic stroll over Tower Bridge afterwards. We hear walking is still free.