Does Valentine’s Day make love cheap? Thankfully yes, and so do I. So many people really hate the way it’s made into a pressurised, commercial day. The way to do it, right? As my TM teacher says, “Don’t effort.” Go someplace that is, just like you, great when it isn’t V-Day. So do what you’d normally do – emphasise vegetables, cut down on alcohol, but fail spectacularly to make it special. My perfect red heart evening kicks off with a big fat drink, cut and blow dry at Blade Soho. Stoo (yes that is his name) is co-owner of Soho’s only bar/hair salon. Blade Soho buzzes with all genders and lots of laughs: it’s like a younged up Cheers. I’ve never seen so much action in one shop. The downstairs bar and upstairs counter serve biodynamic wines (Stoo’s vegan but it’s not a thing), fine craft beers from Scotland and cool alco/non-alco cocktails. “Hairclubbing” is their trademark – they’re so serious about styling and drinking. I got a blow by Gemma (“In Spain, they call me Hhhhemma”) who is as wonderful as the espresso martini I sampled. Nowt like hairdos and booze to start you up as you plan to continue.
The Unsure Stranger Date: Don’t know who you’re meeting for Valentine’s Day? Head straight for the newly reopened Soho Joe on D’Arblay Street. Low on cost, high on soul, this Italian eatery makes you into a Soho local. Heralding their re-opening (formerly next to the Soho Theatre) with a clever Renaissance-themed Instagram account, Anna, Brian and family are among the last of Soho’s independent restauranteurs. Impress your first date with heart-shaped pizzas. If the date doesn’t work out, Soho Joe also has affordable cocktails, abounding in Soho Joe-style, i.e. unpretentious with lots of heart and friendliness. You’re never lonely at Soho Joe and that’s a rarity in central London.
The Shiny Impressive First Date: Chelsea means wowzers in Italian when it comes to Ritorno, a smallish bar/restaurant with a dark interior aglow with judicious lighting design: you might be sitting in a jewellery box. An expansive menu of drinks, including my favourite sparkling Franciacorta Vezzoli Saten (nice at £49 a bottle), meshes well with award-winning baretto service and nifty plates of the freshest authentic Milanese cuisine – in small portions so you can dirty up a lot of plates. Organic breads and pastas are done in house daily. Try cacio e pepe with shaved black truffle because shaving and truffles are very Valentine’s Day, no? Too rude?
The Date You Quite Like: London Shell Co floats on The Prince Regent, a boat that serves great British seafood as you cruise the canal of North West London. The important thing you need to know is that once you get to Paddington, you walk out of the tube and the boat is there on the water like magic – no faffing. Inside, tables for four mean you rarely dine au deux but the cruise views make the whole night unique. Take someone you’re not going to fight with but if you do, there’s room to walk around pretending to gaze at the passing canal-side. Brother and sister team Harry and Leah Lobek are as beautiful as the food and wine they serve. This isn’t a fine dining experience: it’s a mini-holiday in one evening as you swan past London Zoo, Regents Park and through the Maida Hill Tunnel. (Note: it is not cold onboard, so you don’t need a parka.)
The Date You Enduringly Fancy: Before cheap flights and the Eurostar there was La Poule au Pot, a spot of romantic French deliciousness in Belgravia. Sister restaurant Maggie Jones in Kensington has a similar vibe but for sheer classic provincial swooning, you cannot beat La Poule au Pot. Joe, Thibaut, Joâo and Franck, all sleek professionals, are the types who will leave you alone if you’re busy (n.b. Joâo will say “ratatouille” just like the movie title). Every single table is lit for love. Created in 1964, this is a dark and baskety restaurant that seems untouched by time, in a good way. Everyone speaks French (as well as other languages) and it’s like you’re in a spy movie from 50 years ago. Do not miss the foie gras, so silkily sensually mated to its toasted brioche you’ll not believe what your mouth is telling you, the flavours and textures heightened with just the right size glass of the right Monbazillac. The guinea fowl, nestled with tender buttery Calvados-y apples, is as yielding and succulent as the generous medallions of venison. Famous for its outdoor summer terrace, this is also an indoor spot to revel in the company of… love. C