SushiSamba + Lounge Lover + Callooh Callay
You’ve got past the first round and decided you really like the person. Second date-ville is always your time to shine and show them you like to, naturally, hang out at the most illustrious spots around town – just standard for a little Tuesday night drinkies.
So don’t hold back and blow them away from the outset by clinking your glasses on the balcony from the best view in town at SushiSamba up on the 38th floor of Heron Tower, over in Liverpool Street.
This fancy new Japanese-Brazilian-Peruvian (covering all bases there) restaurant is wow from start to finish, right from the moment the bubble lift at Heron Tower takes you to higher ground.
They’ll be sold by the time you step out the shaft after an exhilarating ride up past London’s twinkling skyline.
Best thing about SushiSamba is it’s not just a view from a window, they have a big garden balcony bar, where you can breathe in the high skies of our fabulous city. It is breath-taking, spread over two floors, with views from every angle of the dangle.
The food’s pretty steep though, so this is just a special drinking hole really. Drinks aren’t exactly cheap but if you stick to wine and beer, you can sit back and let the view do all the talking for you.
Down on the ground and equally special, in a backstreet off Bethnal Green Road, is Lounge Lover. I know I say this about everywhere, but this IS actually my favourite bar in London.
It’s a warehouse with a glass roof and filled with all kinds of bonkers bits’n’bobs from giant gold hippo heads, bird cages and terrifyingly huge rose vases. I once went when it was snowing and the flakes sliding down the blue glass roof were just gorgeous.
Drinks are tops, they do food and nibbles too. Make sure you book a spot if you wanna go all night so you can actually sit down.
This place would give anywhere in New York a run for its money and don’t be surprised if Carrie and Samantha totter in.
If these two places are all a bit flashy for your liking and you
want somewhere a bit more human, take your date to Callooh Callay bar over in Rivington Street, Hoxton.
Dark, cosy and intimate, it kinda feels like an old library with low upholstered seating, old wooden furniture and the odd bit of kitsch lighting. It feels very private too and will easily see you make it to round three.
Mohsen + Evans & Peel + Doost
Let’s have a night of undercover drinking and devine homemade Iranian grub in West London.
Mohsen on Warwick Road in Earls Court is a delightful no fuss family run Persian.
They’ll have you the moment the flat bread is pulled straight out the clay oven and slapped on your plate.
I’m going to get in the cab now just thinking about these guys’ smoked aubergine starter dip. The kebab (not the 3am kind) platters are spiced and marinated so beautifully they would convert a vegetarian.
Don’t get me started on the burnt rice either or the stews.
The area’s a bit of an Iranian hub with a few places and Persian food stores dotted around the block but Mohsen is probably the meal I have most in town thanks to my Iranian possy. I just cant get enough.
If you’re expecting a flash dining experience, it’s very simple,
almost cafe style. To use a cliche, the food does all the talking here. Oh, it’s cash only too. They deliver too if you wanted to throw a little themed dinner party.
As your body comes to terms with what’s just happened, trot on down to a little speakeasy bar, hidden behind a random door off Earls Court.
You enter sneaky little ‘detective’ agency Evans and Peel through a library recepetion and drink in a dark bricked and low lit hide out. You need to book. The food’s not crash hot or cheap but great for cocktails after your Iranian.
Oh, whilst we’re on the Iranian front, if you wanted to combine Persian with drinking head to Doost if you are about South London way.
The place randomly trades off two of my favourite vices, Iranian and vodka. It’s a little more modern and fancy with booths to dine in but well worth a lovely Friday night dinner if you’re near Kennington Road.
London is fast becoming a little faceless and botoxed with all the ruddy food chains multiplying uncontrollably.
So if you can’t beat the machine, let us at least visit the best of the bunch and the ones that feel the least chainy.
A favourite is the Diner off Carnaby Street – loaded burgers, hot dogs, Mexican breakfasts, Coke floats, root beers and bacon pancakes win me over every time.
Like a proper US sixties diner, you sit in leather booths. At the last check, 90 per cent of the staff are really hot and tattooed and super friendly to ensure you’re feeling the American dream. They now have stores in Covent Garden and Camden.
On Brewer Street in Soho is Bills. Originally a favourite for breakfast with the beach bums down in Brighton, this restaurant has breezed its way up to us.
Dinner is best at the Soho one I reckon. The wooden tables are lit up with candles, giving it an easy as you go cabin vibe.
Food is hearty from Bills’ fish finger sandwiches to mussels and chips.
Or pop in for a curry at Dishoom over in Shoreditch. The sister restaurant to the Covent Garden store is pretty sleek, with a sharply decked out dark-wooden interior and a stylish court yard out the back. You’ll find on the menu gunpowder potatoes, chili cheese toast and colada’s to drink with a Bombay twist.
If it’s a little Mexican market style food your taste buds are yearning for then there’s a reason why Wahaca is so popular. It’s kinda hispanic tapas but I like the drinking options, starting with the Tequila experience which includes a different shot at the start, middle and end of your meal. They also spice up the beers with some serious kick. My favourite outlets are the pop-up store on the Southbank in the containers and the Wardour Street branch which has a cool bar downstairs.
Perhaps the most pukka of the bunch that feels like a proper restaurant, all gorgeous like, is Jamie’s Italian. After setting up the Covent Garden store, Jamie Oliver has opened branches in Angel and Notting Hill.
A classy setting, the food won’t be faulted, just like Mr Oliver made it for you himself, complete with his own Italian twist.
Despite having his designer name attached, Jamie has made his restaurants rip-off free and you can even go when you are skint. Side salads go from £2 and most mains around £10.
The bathrooms are amazing. So much so, Jamie says he’s had to weld down the taps and flushers so people don’t steal them…
Boxpark + The Aubin Cinema
Gap, H&M, Topshop, Zara, Primark, Gap, H&M, Topshop, Zara, Primark…yep, shopping in the West End can feel pretty generic and repetitive like that.
Instead skip over to Shoreditch Boxpark – a pop up shopping mall on the start of Bethnal Green road. This funky enterprise is set up in over 60 containers jumbled over each other.
It’s largely little factory style outlets from designers like Calvin Klein, Lacoste, Boxfresh and Vans but there are other less well know designers chucked in there as well.
It’s home as well to some decent none chainy places to eat from fresh Mexican and Thai. The containers have a decent roof terrace to have a drink on and watch the sun bounce off the glass skyline of Liverpool Street, while you peer down on the tracks and rugged underworld of Shoreditch.
Like the shops, going to the cinema in the West End is normally a total rip off for a very tired experience. Make the second half of your Shoreditch day a little film one at The Aubin Cinema.
At this wicked little screening house, just over the road from Boxpark down a side street, you can bag a satisfying double velvet sofa for you and your pal. It’s got a little bar for a drinkiepoos as well.
Corinthia Hotel + St James Park + ICA Bar
One thing London doesn’t do amazingly in my opinion is five star spas, cough, because I’m such an expert and all that. But there’s an excepetion in the way of the Corinthia Hotel’s spa.
It has proper LA-Vegas style swank and does plenty of packages if you find you need to love yourself or someone else as a treat. You can go the full scherbang down there and even get a designer haircut, champers and lunch.
For me, the big winner is the ice fountain and those hammam pools. It’s a five star hotel so this is a pay day/birthday/birthdayandchristmas treat, which starts at about – gulp – £95 but if you consider getting your cards read in Selfridges is £100, it’s a steal!
The hotel does stylish champagne high tea packages too but I’d rescue your bank account, walk through St James Park and chill out with the swans and ducks at the cafe in the middle.
As evening approaches, grab an hour of art at the Institute of Contempoary Art on The Mall and finish the evening in the gallery’s oh-so hip ICA Bar.