Hattie Lloyd 26/06/23
Itinerary Location: Soho | Duration: 7 Hours
It’s a balmy summer’s evening, and you have a date tonight.
You’ve decided to meet in the centre of the known universe, Soho. And you’re feeling extremely confident because – unlike the many Londoners who swiped right before reading this – you’ve got a hell of a night lined up. You’ll start the evening with a little culture, establish a natural rapport over some natural wine, dine at one of the capital’s most brilliant restaurants and dance to a little raucous live music before slipping into a subterranean drinking den with curtained booths just made for romance.
All you need is your best pair of pants, and away we go…
It’s the age-old dilemma: you’d like to impress your date by showing your cultural side, but you’re also secretly terrified of being faced with some abstract sculpture and having to come up with a profound comment about the meaning of life. The solution: a gentle meander through the the Photographers’ Gallery, an exhibition space where it’s possible to a) decipher the artwork without using the terms ‘social construct’ or ‘dichotomy’, and b) get around the whole venue in about an hour, and not get lost in a distant wing somewhere. It ticks the ‘off the beaten track box’ without being too obscure, and it’s also free to visit after 5pm on a Friday. Win-win.
Things are going well. Your joke about making a snap decision to visit the Photographers’ Gallery went down a storm. Time to get to know each other over a glass of natural wine (naturally).
From the gallery, head down onto Great Marlborough Street, past Liberty’s, and slip down Kingly Street.
Bar Crispin is the wine-focussed offshoot of one of our favourite East London restaurants, Crispin. Sommelier Alex Price has personally picked out the 150 or so bottles behind the bar from small-scale, low-intervention producers across the Old World regions. There’s something charmingly European about the place – maybe it’s the way tables and high stools spill out onto the pedestrianised street; maybe it’s the quirky, Bauhaus style interiors whose walls are lined with giant lilac triangles; maybe it’s the pâtés, the olives and the burrata served up on the zinc-topped counters. Maybe it’s the fluent French you’re whispering into your date’s ear… où est la piscine… whatever it is, it’s pure date gold dust. Order a glass of the flirtiest wine type – skin contact – and indulge in a little people watching as you build up an appetite for…
Forget oysters. Ditch the Champagne. Step aside, venomous secretions of the Bufo cane toad. The world’s most powerful aphrodisiac is actually the burnt butter hummus at Bubala. The Soho follow-up to the Spitalfields smash-hit isn’t just one of the best vegetarian restaurants in London, it’s one of the best restaurants full stop.
You’ll enter this innocuous corner spot to find an intimately-sized dining room heady with the spice and smoke of the open fire grills in the kitchen at the back. Pull up a couple of stools at the bar, or commandeer a table for two to load up with a Middle Eastern banquet of dishes like charred laffa bread with za’atar dusted labneh; grilled oyster mushroom skewers marinated in umami-rich tamari; slabs of halloumi slicked with fennel honey; and confit potato latke showered in Aleppo chilli. Opting for the ‘Bubala Knows Best’ menu frees you of any decision-making, leaving more time and space for sparks to fly over a basil gimlet.
It’s one of the longest-standing and best-loved jazz clubs in London, thanks to the internationally renowned musicians gracing the stage, and its no-talking rule. But wait, you ask. Surely enforced silence and the soporific tones of a smooth sax soloist are the exact opposite of what you want at this point on the date? Well, yes, they are. Which is exactly why you’re going to use the door to the left of the main entrance, and head straight upstairs, where you’ll find a second bar with leopard print booths; bartenders tossing cocktail shakers around behind the bar; and a band playing lively Afro-Cuban music to a packed dancefloor.
So no… you probably won’t be talking much in here, either. Save that for the wee hours, when you stumble, giddy, back onto Frith Street, and head in the direction of your final stop. Mosey down to Shaftesbury Avenue and walk in the direction of Piccadilly Circus, peeling off down Denman Street, and making your intentions known to the suited gentleman standing next to the black double doors next to Kricket. All being well, he’ll open said doors, and usher you down to…
It’s time to pop the question that every new couple eventually comes to ask: is a margarita improved by the addition of Kashmiri chilli sake? The answer, of course, is yes, but if you don’t believe us then now’s the time to try it. SOMA is an unspeakably seductive speakeasy, a basement lair filled with a smooth, polished zinc bar top and up-lit, curtain-draped corner booths. As the subterranean sibling to Kricket upstairs, the spices of the restaurant’s Anglo-Indian cooking make their way into the drinks below, in inventive twists on classics like the Jaggery Cane-infused Old Fashioned, and the delicate curry leaf gimlet. It’s also open till 3am on weekends, should the occasion call for it…
…and we suspect it will.
➊ The Photographers’ Gallery | 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW
➋ Bar Crispin | 19 Kingly Street, Carnaby, London W1B 5PY
➌ Bubala Soho | 15 Poland Street, London W1F 8QE
➍ Ronnie Scott’s | 47 Frith Street, London W1D 4HT
➎ SOMA | 14 Denman Street, London W1D 7HJ
Looking for more inspiration? Peruse our plethora of 101 London Date Ideas
Start at The Photographers' Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, Soho, W1F 7LW
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