Noble Rot


Hattie Lloyd 02/01/24

An Offbeat Date Night in Cultural, Candlelit Nooks

Itinerary Location: Bloomsbury |  Duration: 5 Hours

January doesn’t have to be a dry spell in every sense.

Especially when these chilly nights can provide the perfect counterpoint to a cosy, candlelit date night – one that features great food, a snug nightcap spot, and a dose of offbeat culture from two of London’s quirkiest institutions.

A date night which, as it happens, we’ve devised in full detail for you here. You’ll treat your date to a candlelit dinner for two, play a classic game of Pong (using the not-so-classic medium of exercise bikes), wander through a labyrinth of sculptures in a house frozen in time, and end up sipping cocktails in a mid-century library.

If you’re trying to keep things budget-friendly, you can be a little savvy with your timings: Noble Rot (➌) has a two-course lunch menu for £22 (and you can even tack on a £4 dessert), and Sir John Soane’s Museum (➋) is free to visit during the day. You’d be hard pushed to spend more than a tenner at Novelty Automation (➊), but it depends how competitive you get over that Pong match.

Meet outside Holborn station, and take a romantic stroll down High Holborn (it gets better, we promise) before peeling off left onto Red Lion Street. Take the second right to reach…


One of our all-time favourite quirky date spots, Novelty Automation is a penny arcade run by engineer-cartoonist-inventor Tim Hunkin. He’s hand-built dozens of weird and wonderful mechanical arcade games over the decades, around 30 of which are on display here in his little mock tudor shop off Chancery Lane.

novelty automation quirky date spot

On the first Thursday of every month he runs a pop-up bar here, but you and your date can still have a brilliant time here without the intervention of any wine at all. Aside from doing battle in Cycle Pong, you’ll be able to demonstrate your bravery by sticking your hand into a cage holding a mechanical guard dog; take your paramour on a magical flying carpet ride; get up close and personal with the Autofrisk; and play that old romantic favourite, Divorce.

Assuming you manage to make amends, head back down Red Lion Street, cross the road and slip through the teeny passageway that is the Great Turnstile. Just head of you is Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a beautiful, leafy old Georgian square, and to your right is a particularly arresting townhouse… which you’re about to head inside.


unusual date ideas

The bombastic exterior of this building is no accident: number 13 was once home to the architect Sir John Soane (he designed the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery, so really he reined it in comparatively for his own house). And to say he was a passionate artist is an understatement: the man spent decades amassing all kinds of paintings, statues, models and the odd sarcophagus, which gradually turned his own home into a kind of museum. And 250 years after his death, the place has been kept exactly as he left it, a strange little slice of Georgian London nestled between embassies and office conversions.

Sir John Soane’s Museum is totally free to visit during the day, and among its treasures there are rooms with moving walls, hallways heaving with classical statues and urns, and a ye olde man-cave where Soane indulged his alter-ego lifestyle as an Italian monk. But occasionally the museum opens its doors after-hours for atmospheric Lates, where you can explore the house’s clandestine corridors and stairwells by flickering candlelight. Just know that they’re ticketed, and you’ll need to plan ahead accordingly by booking here.

From here, retrace your steps to rejoin Red Lion Street until it becomes the picturesque Lamb’s Conduit Street, lit by Victorian street lamps and lined with intriguing independent shops. Time to duck into:


Noble Rot

Ah, Noble Rot Bloomsbury. Never has a restaurant named after a mould looked so good (or tasted so delicious). The first in what is now a triumvirate of wine-bar-cum-restaurants across the city, Noble Rot is the bricks-and-mortar embodiment of the wine magazine run by importers and general vine enthusiasts Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew.

They concocted the plan for their perfect restaurant thus: cosy, grown-up interiors with heavy drapes and rich woods, fireplaces and candlelight, and just enough levity in the form of their colourful framed magazine covers. A menu of modern aphrodisiacs like comté beignets, Carlingford rock oysters, Cornish brill with vin jaune velouté, and chartreuse ice cream. And of course, a wine list that sits among the best in the city: plenty of great choices by the glass, and a neatly encyclopaedic pick of bottles grouped both by grape and region – so if there’s one kind of wine in the vast sea of possibilities that you know you like, you can easily make a good choice. And if you can’t? The genuinely friendly and unpretentious staff will come to your aid in a jiffy.

noble rot date spot

Depending on the time of day, you could drop by for their keenly priced set lunch menu, grabbing a walk-in spot in the wine bar area and toasting each other’s health by the fireside – or, you could settle in for an evening of true decadence. Whichever you choose, don’t linger too long before heading to your final stop:


Forget whatever used to go on behind the bike sheds at school, all the nerds know things really hot up in a library. Especially when it’s a Brutalist council library-turned-louche lounge bar with sumptuous leather seating nestled among mid-century shelving, potted plants and soft, retro lighting.

Such is the case at The Standard hotel by King’s Cross station, which is really anything but standard. To get there, swing a left from Lamb’s Conduit onto Guildford Street, then right onto Grenville and Judd Street. When you reach the top and turn right, you’ll recognise it by the pillarbox-red elevator gliding up the building’s facade to the hotel’s top-floor restaurant, Decimo.

The Library Lounge is open to everyone, not just hotel guests, but it retains that slightly secluded, exclusive atmosphere. Like most libraries, there are plenty of books to leaf through, and chess nights every Tuesday. But unlike most libraries, you can also sip cocktails, nibble on small plates, and – critically – talk.

In the ultimate display of unbridled hedonism, the Dewey Decimal System has been thrown out the window in favour of more philosophical groupings like ‘chaos’, ‘order’, and ‘adult relationships’…

But after nailing this date, you pretty much wrote the book on those.


The Itinerary:

➊ Novelty Automation | 1a Princeton Street, London, WC1R 4AX

➋ Sir John Soane’s Museum | 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP

➌ Noble Rot Bloomsbury | 51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1N 3NB

➍ The Library Lounge | The Standard London, 10 Argyle Street, WC1H 8EG

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Itinerary: Candlelight, Wine & Books

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