It was an accident really. There you were having some casual sex when you put on a Louis Theroux documentary so that your flatmate wouldn’t hear anything freaky. Four hours later and it turns out you have more in common than each other’s genitals. But when you’re moving from one, err, arena to another, you need a certain type of restaurant. A restaurant with enough romance to keep you heading in the right direction but still casual enough for your new territory. From a handmade pasta spot that says ‘let’s delete our Hinge profiles’ to a pub that’s much nicer than that one by their flat, here’s where to go when a hook up is becoming a thing.
They left their t-shirt at yours. It could mean that you’re on your first step towards commitment. Or it could mean that they left their t-shirt at yours. There’s only one way to find out and that’s an evening together at Bethnal Green wine bar Sager and Wilde. This cool but charming spot is housed inside an old railway arch, has a rustic upper mezzanine, and, for warm months, a big terrace. There’s also a long list of cocktails, a menu of affordable pastas, and a candlelit ambience that’s perfect for testing whether they’re super into you or just super forgetful. Here’s hoping for the former.
You’re used to going to pubs together. Well, pubs that are conveniently close to each other’s houses. But now it’s time for a nice pub. A better pub. A pub with dinners that don’t centre on salt and vinegar crisps. A pub like The Compton Arms. The menu at this little Islington boozer changes weekly, but you can expect things like whipped cod’s roe on toast, and mussels in XO sauce. And, if sharing London’s best burger together doesn’t say ‘I like you’, then we honestly don’t know what does.
The other day you caught them humming Truly Madly Deeply in the shower. Coincidence? You think not. And seeing as Savage Garden usually plays in our heads when we’re eating the bufalina pizza at Theo’s, it makes sense that this Camberwell spot would be in this guide. As well as big booths, negronis, and a ride-or-die chilli sauce on every table, this place has the kind of romantic charm that creeps up on you between mouthfuls of margherita. You might not want to stand with them on a mountain, or bathe with them in the sea just yet, but sharing pizza here is one of our favourite date nights in this city.
They slept over last night. And you’re 99% sure it wasn’t because they took their hay fever meds too early or because their weird flatmate had band practice. Capitalise on the first sleepover with breakfast at Esters in Stoke Newington. This modern, laidback cafe creates some pretty unconventional breakfasts and brunches that put your standard avocado toast and meek attempt at microwave pancakes to shame. The menu changes all the time, but you can expect things like blood orange and ricotta covered french toast, poached eggs with pumpkin seed salsa, and bircher muesli with fresh house yoghurt. Basically, the food here is memorable - which will be handy when you tell your grandchildren a very censored version of how you met.
Dumplings are one of the great litmus tests of modern love affairs. If you’re going for dumplings and getting handsy on the same night you’re basically half-way to marriage. Kind of. Well, anyway, Redfarm is a kitsch little dim sum spot in Covent Garden that serves creative takes on classics, like cheeseburger spring rolls, pac man dumplings, and their must-order crab and prawn soup dumplings that come with a candy stripe straw. It’s an entirely cute setting and the food, which is just as fun to look at as it is to eat, is a good conversation starter. Heads up though, the prices here can stack up quite quickly, so it’s better for cocktails and a couple round of dumplings rather than those times when you’re both totally starved from all that, err, rampant conversation.
Apparently they’ve deleted their Hinge profile. Which is just one of the 86 approved ways of saying ‘I think I like you’ in the 21st century. Dinner at Flour and Grape is another. This handmade pasta spot in Bermondsey has a downstairs gin bar that says ‘I’ve seen you naked’ and an upstairs restaurant that says ‘I don’t want to see anyone else naked’. The roasted pork shoulder tortelloni should be your go-to order here, but all of the pastas are pretty decent and affordable. Plus, sharing the tiramisu gelato is the perfect moment to tell them that you might delete your Hinge profile too.
You were just two mates before the tequila got involved, but realistically you’re not going back to being buddies now. Head to Tayer and Elementary. This Shoreditch spot is part izakaya, part cocktail bar, restaurant, and tasting menu spot. We know, it sounds about as confusing as the current state of your friendship, but it makes for a pretty sexy evening situation. Head here for a casual bowl of lardo covered fried rice, cocktails, and a conversation about where you want things to go with a little French hip-hop blasting in the background.
When it comes to finding out if they’re sticking around, you have two options. Invite them to an event that’s taking place in five weeks time and see how they react. Or take them for a chat over a cosy but romantic dinner at Franzina Trattoria. And only one of those options involves you getting to eat squid ink tagliatelle. Inside a converted shipping container in Pop Brixton, this place is intimate enough to have a quiet conversation, original enough to feel like you’ve made an effort, and casual enough to not prompt any sudden proposal panic.
The thing with Parsons is that even if your first proper outing together ends in them confessing that they’re actually engaged to an accountant in Sunderland, you’ll always be remembered as the person that took them to that cute little seafood spot in Covent Garden. It’s easy to miss this place unless you’re looking for it, but everything from the handwritten blackboard of fresh fish, to their great wine list, makes it a restaurant that’s just reliably nice to be in. If all goes well, share their ridiculously tasty lobster mash. If it goes badly, tell them it’s the worst thing here. They don’t deserve it.
Ever since your eyes met over the jug of cheap mojito you’ve been spending a lot of time together. But now you need to check that you can actually get on without, you know, getting it on. Head for Six Portland Road, a casual neighbourhood restaurant in a quiet part of Notting Hill that serves things like pecorino covered grilled courgette, plaice with cider butter, and pumpkin and sage ravioli. Once you get involved in their wine list you can easily end up spending £60 per person, so it’s not the most affordable option, but going for a few small plates and a glass of wine would be our new-love-interest move here.
You don’t really want to take this to the next level but it sort of feels rude not to. And nothing really says ‘dating you out of boredom, but giving it a fair go’ like a roasted half chicken for £9.50. Casa do Frango is a cheap and cheerful Portuguese spot in Southwark that does your classic piri piri chicken, as well as the option of an oregano or lemon and garlic glaze, and some very affordable small plates. It’s all quite lowkey, but the cocktails are decent, the exposed brick look is cool, and the African chorizo rice is tasty enough to distract them with when you accidentally call them your ex’s name. Perfect.