You thought you’d have more time to prepare. One minute you’re pretending you know how to knit so you can look productive on your Instagram stories and the next, lockdown is lifting and you’re meant to be shaving, dating, and - deep breath - wearing denim again. It’s a lot to handle. But, when you’re finally up for putting a tentative toe back in the sanitized London dating pool, these restaurants and bars are ready to act as your own, personal candlelit cupids. From a sophisticated wine bar in an old archway to a Peckham rooftop with views that can plug the conversation, these are the perfect spots to book when you’re on the brave mission of getting back out there.
Rather than reading another article by a ‘body-language connoisseur’ that tells you to flirt by twitching your eyebrow to the rhythm of Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl, book a table at this Peckham wine bar instead. In our humble opinion it’s a fail-safe flirting move, as Forza Wine is home to natural wines, negronis, and tasty small plates. Thanks to the slick, slightly industrial look and top views across south London, a date here is romantic without giving off the impression that you’re on a two-month engagement timeline. Plus, whether you’re looking to do a wink-wink nudge-nudge late drinks, or a daytime situation so you can invoke your emergency fictional dinner plans, know that Forza Wine has got you covered as they’re open from lunch till late daily.
Allpress Espresso Roastery & Cafe
When it comes to first dates, alcohol can either be your hero or your worst enemy. On the one hand you suddenly have the confidence to admit that you can play the piano, on the other you’re falling off a bar seat and trying to pretend it was a flirtatious attempt at imitating a peacock’s mating display. Tricky, very tricky. But that’s where our good friend, the coffee date, comes in. Allpress in Dalston is our go-to spot for a meet-cute coffee moment, thanks to its huge secluded patio outside and the trendy minimalist interiors inside. The best part is that it’s nice and spacious so you won’t feel like that person who is working on their novel in the corner is listening in and everything from the coffee to the food is great too.
Royale @ East London Liquor Company
For full disclosure, you should know that we have utilised East London Liquor Co. and their whole ‘industrial cool’ thing for a first date before to disguise the fact that we actually have minimal knowledge of Radiohead’s discography. Lying on dating apps, the gift that just keeps on giving. The good news is, it worked. Not only does this big East End distillery have a winning selection of cocktails, they’re also currently home to Royale, a rotisserie chicken operation from the people behind Shoreditch’s Leroy. Hit it up for a Provencal-style potato-loaded feast or for a couple of al fresco martinis.
Vagabond provides both booze and entertainment in the form of wine vending machines. Two birds, one sophisticated wine bar stone. The date night set-up here is simple. Pop £20 on one of Vagabond’s cards, do a casual lap of all of their nice electric wine robots - we’re 90% sure they have a proper grown-up name like vinieries or something, but for simplicity, wine robots - read the handy cheat sheets, pretend you’re some kind of deeply charming Rioja expert, fill up your glasses, then take a seat in one of their cosy corners. If you decide you’re soulmates because you connect on important matters like Bob Ross being the OG softboi, then top-up your card, get some more wine, and hit up their great seasonal charcuterie options.
Disrepute is one of those basement bars that looks like someone’s lounge. If, of course, the someone in question works at World of Interiors and has access to mummy and daddy’s collection of velvet ottomans and vintage whiskeys. It’s classy. It’s glamorous. And it also happens to be home to some truly excellent cocktails. Hidden down a plush red velvet staircase in Kingly Court, Disrepute is perfect if you’re looking to optimistically craft the perfect first date that you can both look back on be all 'oh remember that vermouth cocktail though'. Or if it’s a nightmare, no worries–you just had one of the best smokey negronis of your life and that’s exactly what being single is about anyway, right?
The nice thing about places like Good Neighbour is that you can spend a whole evening here eating inventive small plates and flirting, or you can have one glass of wine and then invoke your fictitious 6am meeting and make a speedy exit. Then again, we’d suggest sitting through their monologue about getting a first at uni just so you can try this place’s arancini and make your way through the wine list. Thanks to the buzzing bar and tea lights, their Tooting spot is our favourite but you should know that they’ve also got restaurants in Camberwell and Peckham.
Frankly you’ve been so deprived of human contact that you’re at risk of licking someone’s face like it’s a living, breathing Chupa Chup if you find them even remotely, fractionally attractive. We’re going to go out on a limb and say that this behaviour falls under the category of Big No-No. Luckily, Fare is always a yes. This all-day bar, café, and pizzeria is a proper crowd-pleaser and importantly, it’s stylish enough to deter you from going rogue after a single sip of your paloma. Near the Clerkenwell end of Old Street, this place functions as a cool, casual coffee date location by day, and prime pizza and bottle of pinot situation in the evening. We’re also big fans of their terrace that’s tucked behind the restaurant away from all the noise of the main road.
“And then Joey puts on all the clothes that Chandler owns and starts doing lunges. Chandler starts to make this face, kind of like - makes deeply unattractive shark-esque facial expression - and, and, well then Joey keeps on lunging. I don’t know, it’s just such a Joey thing to do.”
Now, here we have a masterclass in What Not To Do On Your First Date Back After Lockdown. A dramatic retelling of TV moments you watched during lockdown for the sake of your fragile sanity might feel like the only thing to discuss, but trust us, it isn’t. It’s time to go back to basics. Pub, work chat, vague ‘where’d you grow up’ conversation, couple of pints, hopefully a few laughs. The Marksman is just the place when you’re looking to invoke the ABC’s of first dates. It’s comfortable, casual, and thanks to their little roof terrace, it doesn’t feel like just any old London boozer. Heads up, if you’re so inclined, they do oysters too.
Many, many years ago, you had something the good people of London called ‘banter’. Now you buy hand sanitizer in bulk and shout at your phone whenever you see Matt Hancock’s face. That’s okay, because if you go to the right restaurant, it’ll provide ‘the bants’ for you. Case in point: Fish, Wings, and Tings. Arguably it’s always a good sign when even saying the name of a restaurant makes you smile, and that’s only one reason why this cheerful Caribbean spot in Brixton is so feel-good. It’s first date casual but the food is still great, it’s chill but still serves a mean rum punch, and when the sun is shining you can’t get better than a spot on their outdoor tables with the buzz of Brixton filling any of those pesky awkward silences. See, maybe you’re still capable of banter after all.
If Titanic taught us anything, it’s that seduction is a lot easier when you’re close to a large body of water. Please also see: the sexy ‘I wrote to you’ Notebook lake scene and your childhood crush on all leisure centre lifeguards. The verdict is in, people, water is sexy and so are boats. That’s why drinks on Barge East is one of the great first date power moves London has to offer. This old Dutch barge has been converted into a ‘floating dining room’, or as we like to think of it, Boaty McBoatface’s boozed-up sexier cousin. Avoid any and all AHOY MATEY schtick at all costs, but do get involved in their Dutch lagers, short but sweet wine list, and great selection of nibbles and flatbreads.
Can you wear an anorak on a date? Is it normal to find a nutribullet kind of sensual? Where do you go when the world of dating is one big question and you’re just living in it? Answers: Sure! Dunno, probably. And go to Ducksoup. This little wine bar in Soho is one of those very nice places that serves very nice things and everything is all just very, very nice. You know what we mean right? Natural wines, simple seasonal small plates, people wearing Lucy and Yak jumpsuits who are just a tad smug that they’re in the aforementioned very nice wine bar. Basically, it’s perfect for a casual date that’s impressive without being too showy and the buzzing atmosphere will do all the hard work for you.
When you’re partaking in the delicate art of hair-flipping and EYE CONTACT, a little dutch courage never hurts. Emphasis on the word little. Those pre-date tequila shots always seem like a good idea until you’re offering up a play-by-play of your parent’s divorce before ordering. Luckily, The Winemaker’s Club is the kind of wine bar with a sophisticated, grown-up aura that you can carefully use to market yourself as ‘a catch’. Mostly because you are a catch, you’ve just forgotten that over the long cold flannel-wearing winter, but also because this place is peak romance.
When you first sit down on this date, faced with pulse-sprinting silence, you’re going to get a massive urge to say something along the lines of ‘so how was your panny-d’? No. Resist the urge. Comment on something far more soothing, like the foliage-packed roof terrace at The Culpeper. This East End boozer has a very nice rooftop that is the rare combination of cute pub garden and flashy terrace, ergo you’ll feel cool but also comfortable. Start with a couple of frozen margaritas and if all goes well move on to some nice nibbly bits from the menu and top plant chat over their wild garlic hummus.
As anyone who’s ever lived in a 6x8ft room in London knows, fairy lights make all the difference. String some of those bad boys around your sad little cupboard room, and HELLO SEDUCTION. The same rule applies to cocktail bars, more specifically the garden of Goldfinch, a Tooting cocktail bar that makes one of the best negronis in London. Their hidden back garden screams ‘I know this great little bar around the corner’ and you really can’t beat their cocktails for a date south of the river.
Who needs flirting when you’re drinking the best margarita in London. That’s not a question, just a fact. Another fact: Hacha is a Dalston bar that makes dangerously delicious mirror margaritas that are crystal clear and the definition of ‘easy drinking’. Sure, this might all seem like quite a rogue gameplan when you’ve spent months ‘making something tasty with the leftover beetroot’ rather than doing anything remotely close to having sex, but sometimes you’ve gotta play to win. Get a table at Hacha, several of those margs, a round of tacos, and let the chips fall where they may. Good luck to you, your potential new partner, and of course, your inevitable hangover.