Right now you’ve got a lot of questions. Questions like: did they send me that penguin meme because they think we’re soul mates? What does putting two kisses at the end of an iMessage really mean? And our personal favourite, is it easier to just die alone? Or maybe your questions are more along the lines of how do you friend-zone someone politely? Yes, whether you want this to be a date or not is up to you, but until you know which situation you’ve got on your hands, you need a very specific type of restaurant.
It shouldn’t be too quiet or too crowded. It shouldn’t be too cheap or too expensive. And it absolutely, 100%, shouldn’t be somewhere that anyone has ever gotten engaged in. These are the best places where you can have a casual beer and hang out for an hour, or have a full bottle of wine with dinner and hang out for several hours. May the odds be ever in your favour.
This meet-up isn’t about the fact you daydream about what your children would look like. No, not at all. This meet-up is about their wine knowledge. That’s what you’re going to claim if they don’t try to get a bit handsy after your fourth glass of malbec anyway. Vagabond in Fitzrovia is a wine bar with a lot of exposed brick, over 100 wines to try, and some seriously tasty mushroom arancini. The best part is you can either walk around, have one glass and a lean, or try several different wines, sit down, and have a casual flirt.
Tayer and Elementary is a multi-roomed and multi-use bar and restaurant that’s worth knowing about if you have multiple confusing feelings about another person. This Old Street spot is, first and foremost, where you should be buying yourself a £14.50 katsu sando before thinking about anyone else. After that, you’ll have to play it by ear. The front bar is what we’d call a casual friendzone, while the back is a mixture of low lighting, high prices, and people who are much more certain that they’re on a date.
You’re used to spending time at the pub with this person, but you’re also used to having at least three other friends with you, and a few drinks beforehand as well. Keep things nice and familiar by heading to The Camberwell Arms, one of London’s best pub and restaurant combos. The front bar area is just how you want it to be: with wooden stalls, £6.50 negronis, many taps, and the option of homemade focaccia with beer-cooked onions, and other small plates. While the dining room is a little more sit-downy and intimate, if that’s where things are going.
On top of eating, sleeping, working, exercising, socialising, and attempting not to forget your own mother’s birthday, social media has added ‘contemplate whether this attractive stranger wants to meet up to infiltrate your LinkedIn contacts or date you’ to your daily agenda. Thanks team. Your best option in this situation is Pop Brixton, a complex of converted shipping containers that serve everything from tapas, burgers, and pizza, to beer and cocktails. Start the night at the big open-air downstairs bar with a couple of drinks, and once you’ve officially established the mood you can either swap email addresses and say goodbye, or move to The New Zealand Cellar wine bar.
Top Cuvée is a nice weekend wine bar in Highbury. It’s the kind of place that you can pop into during the day for a glass of wine and a plate of terrine, and have no concerns that this is anything but the kind of friendship you’ve long fantasised about. It’s also the kind of place you can hole up in for a few hours, linger over a bottle all the way to creme caramel o’clock, before worrying whether you need to get another set of keys cut.
Your ex has invited you to a stand-up gig about modern relationships. Short of turning to religion, astrology, or actually asking them their intentions - transparency, gross - there is absolutely no way of knowing whether this is a date. Your best bet is inviting them to have pre-show dinner and drinks at Bush Hall Dining Rooms, a casual, chilled neighbourhood spot in Shepherd’s Bush. A lot of the food here falls into the category of great dressed-up comfort food, but you can also stop in for a pint and some vegetarian meze. Plus, the walls are covered in old Bush Hall concert posters so there’s plenty of distractions after they reveal they actually invited everyone they had on Facebook to this event. Cool.
Some weeks, you’re leaving each other hourly voice notes describing your hopes, dreams, and how you’d murder a Jaffa Cake or three. Then there are others where nothing is said at all. Basically, there’s more tension here than a parental voicemail. So it’s time to secure the bag by going somewhere with a little romance. Somewhere, like Quality Wines. This candlelit Farringdon wine bar is a classy walk-in only game changer. It’s cool and casual, romantic and relaxed, and it’s exactly what you need if you’re not sure, but want to be sure.
The little sister to their main restaurant in Farringdon, St John Bread And Wine is a great place for overdue catch-ups. And that’s exactly what this meeting is, right? Right? Okay, we can’t tell you the answer to that, but we can tell you that this informal spot near Spitalfields Market has very calming white-washed walls, a simple bar, and an all-round lovely ambience. Added bonus: this spot has the kind of excellent, freshly-baked doughnuts that you can take photos of and forward to all of your mutual friends when it turns out that your dinner companion actually eloped with a surfer four months ago. How fun.
Date or not, you definitely want to have a nice drink, and there are few nicer drinks than the mirror margarita from Hacha in Dalston. It’s a deceptively H2O-looking cocktail, packed with just as much tequila and lime, and with the ability to go down as easily as water. Whether this is an after work drink, or a drink that leads to very little work the next day, it’s something you’ll be happy to be having whatever the situation.
You optimistically downloaded a new app and matched with someone interesting. Unfortunately you’re still not entirely clear whether said app is for sourcing mates, dates, dog sitters, or someone to build your Ikea Knopparp sofa for you. Head to Greenberry Cafe, a casual all-day spot in Primrose Hill. This place is pretty effortless and serves everything from eggy brunches to more substantial things like Moroccan spiced lamb burger for lunch and dinner. It’s still charming enough to pass as a cute little date restaurant though.
There are plenty of options around Newington Green and Stoke Newington when it comes to casual drinks or an intimate dinner, but Jolene is something that works as an excellent in between. This café and bakery, and also wine bar restaurant, is perfect for the platonic, as well as other possibilities. In the day it’s full of family-types and freelancers, cracking into toasties or jamon and eggs on toast, and then in the evening it transforms into a dimly-lit small plates restaurant, full of the same people (minus buggies and laptops).
The only thing you’re certain of is how uncertain you are. Is this a date? A catch-up? An intervention? In whichever case, it’s best to meet somewhere that has options. Options like drinking wine and eating charcuterie, or the option of a polite cuppa, a pastry, and the knowledge that Highbury and Islington station is a matter of footsteps away. That’s the deal at St. Paul, an all-day café and place to drink wine and three quid bottles of craft beer, maybe have a small plate or two, and then work out what it is, if anything, that’s going on.
You’re still feeling a little emotionally raw after your last big date. Mostly because it turned out to not be a date at all, and every mention of their significant other was another wrecking ball to your pride. This next attempt at modern dating calls for excellent pizza joint and eternal safe space, Theo’s. Not only does this cool, laidback spot serve our favourite pizza in London, but come evening it turns into a candlelit, negroni-fuelled mecca for bufalina lovers. If it’s a date, you’ll have a great time. If it isn’t, you’ll still have a great time. And you’ll also have pizza.
The pub says friendship. A basement bar says romance. That’s the best part about the Well and Bucket, a neighbourhood pub in Shoreditch that’s not only very good looking, but also has a downstairs cocktail bar that’s the perfect move when, you know, you think they’re making a move. Thanks to this place’s old school boozer details, back garden, and huge windows, it’s generally pretty lively, but the cool, downstairs candlelit speakeasy feels more intimate.