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 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.
Somewhere out there is a very kind deity who realised that the good, horny people of London deserved handmade pasta restaurants. And for that, we’re forever grateful. You’ll find Bancone on a quaint little street in Covent Garden and it’s one of those certified Nice Pasta Bars where you can very easily create the illusion that you’re spending a lot when you’re actually not. Their signature silk handkerchief and confit egg yolk pasta will only set you back £9 and their bottles of Italian wine start at the budget-friendly price of 24 quid. Those low prices and its central location mean this place is permanently popular, so just be sure to book ahead.
Every Londoner knows that nothing says romance like a whole piri piri chicken. That’s why the owner of Nando’s owns at least four more private islands than we do. That being said, there’s something about a refillable cup of fanta that just screams ‘we’re not having sex tonight, are we?’. Instead, opt for the candlelit corduroy booths at Marylebone’s Sidechick. This moody haven of natural wine, brown leather, and dark wood panelling is the perfect spot to split a whole chicken that’s been lovingly roasted in zatar alongside some truly majestic crispy potatoes. As long as you don’t get too carried away on bottles of biodynamic Tuscan wines, you can easily drop a casual 40 quid here, safe in the knowledge that no one will be thinking about any Peri Tamer sauces by the time you get home.
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.
Few booths in London demand snuggle action quite as intensely as the dark green velvet ones at the back of Trap Kitchen. This Balham restaurant serves huge platters of XXL lobster tails, snow crab clusters, bang bang prawns, and some Oreo waffles that make our inner 12-year old hyperventilate like Edward Cullen just asked to go to the local Odeon with us. Seriously, so much sugar. Outside of teen-heartthrob-levels of sweet waffles and £6.50 slushie cocktails, the best thing about Trap Kitchen is that their menu is helpfully laid out into set-price platters so you won’t have to interrupt any flirtatious banter by cracking out your calculator. Please note, do not bring any vegetarians here. We repeat, do not bring any vegetarians here.
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.
There are a few Bao’s dotted around London now but when it comes to date night, their straightforward Borough Market spot is where you want to be. Start with the obligatory fluffy bao but then be sure to investigate (read as: lovingly stuff your face with) their seriously excellent small plates. The 40-day aged beef and butter rice is richer than a provisional lottery winner, smoother than a Love Island contestant’s legs, and absolutely is the kind of thing you’ll reminisce about when it’s 4pm on a Sunday and neither of you can be bothered to go to the Co-op. Did we mention it’s a tenner? Well, it is, and the cocktails start at £6 too.
We don’t know why and we don’t know how but somehow yakitori has never been given the sexy food credit it rightfully deserves. Whilst we patiently wait for the Independent to finally accept our Your Stick Or Mine: Yakitori Is The Ultimate Date Food exposé pitch, we’ll just say that nothing bonds two humans like sharing a skewer of minced chicken tsukune. It builds trust, it builds patience, and importantly, it means never having to remember which hand you’re meant to hold your fork in when you’re being fancy. Machiya is just the place for a little sharing action and they’ve also got delicious things like katsudon, slow-cooked pork belly, and matcha mille crepes on their menu. Although the setting is casual, their pretty Japanese plates and nikka highballs will provide more than enough charm for date night.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and any restaurant with love in its name doth haveth big date night potential”. That Shakespeare, he really does bring all the most romantic quotes, doesn’t he? Anyway, the point here is that this Balham pizzeria is an absolute no brainer for a low-budget date night thanks to their quality toppings, excellent vegan aubergine number, and gluten-free options. Whether you go for shared slices of nduja out on their terrace in the sunshine or for a simple marinara situation inside whilst soaking up the heat from their huge pizza oven, you’re guaranteed a full tummy for less and crisp Campari cocktails. Plus, if you’re into the heady allure of a Monday date night - love is 24/7 365 right - then take note of their Monday £5 margherita deal.
The original Padella in Borough Market is arguably one of the greatest affordable date options in London. Sadly, there is just one small snag - it’s walk-in only and you’re likely to spend the first hour of your date bickering over why you couldn’t just go somewhere that takes bookings and yes, actually now that you mention it, you did hate the gift they got you for your birthday because HOW MANY TIMES does ONE PERSON have to SAY that they don’t like Twin Peaks. We’ve all been there. Luckily, for lovers of pasta and devoted other halves everywhere, Padella in Shoreditch does take bookings. Get the pici cacio e pepe, get and eight quid spritz, and get super smug that you’re not waiting in that queue over in Borough Market.
n.b. Mac & Wild Fitzrovia is temporarily closed.
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.
If you were to casually wander down Tooting High Street you might have no idea that there are a bunch of buzzing street food spots and cocktail bars tucked inside this huge hidden indoor market. You enter through a simple alleyway that opens up into a maze of good times, loud music, cold pints, and countless couples tucked in corners on folding chairs. Whether you opt for a big £14 charcuterie board at The Tapas Room or a bowl of burrata and truffle tortelloni for £8 from Mamma Mia, the prices here tend to be very agreeable no matter which stool you decide to make your love nest for the evening. Plus, with all those options it’s an excellent shout for a date with someone whose full allergy profile you don’t yet know or as a last-minute option for those of us who really genuinely thought that date night was happening next week.
Pappa Roma is arguably a restaurant that should not exist. Not because it’s terrible or because we have some very deep-rooted daddy issues, but because an affordable, charming restaurant five-minutes walk from South Kensington station is just too good to believe in. But trust us, it’s real. A classic Italian restaurant with that family-run feel, the pizzas here are huge, delicious, and start at a casual £10. Our game plan here would be to split the fiery Diavolo pepperoni-packed pizza, share their hefty lasagne on the side, and get a bit flirty over a bottle of wine. A late-night order of cannoli won’t hurt either.
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, two 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.
Gather around, because we’re about to tell you the beautiful, entirely rom-com worthy story of how we met our smoked brisket soulmate, Cue Point. In the midst of a 2020 lockdown we discovered their smoked brisket meal kit, they turned their pandemic success into a pop-up at Chiswick Pavilion beer garden, and the rest as they say, is history. Get involved in their British-meets-Afghan sharing platters that include everything from 10 buffalo chicken wings to hush puppies for £35, alongside pints, coleslaw, and plenty of dirty sweetcorn. Although eating dinner on what is effectively a cricket pitch might not sound like the sexiest option going, it’s actually pretty charming thanks to all the fairlights and oh-so British rainproof marquee.
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.