It’s the day for celebrating amour à deux, but don’t bring any preconceptions to the table, says Melissa Blease. Oysters are not compulsory, you don’t need a second mortgage for a fine dining experience and pub grub can tick all the right boxes
For some folk, Valentine’s Day is the most romantic day of the year – a time to shower (and be showered in) private and public displays of affection, ask Alexa/ Siri to keep the love songs comin’ and paint the town/your home red. For others, it’s an overtly commercial slush-fest maintained for the sole purpose of keeping the big business fat cats well fed.
Whatever your personal perspective, you can’t really pretend it’s not happening – and if you ignore it entirely, you run the risk of ending up feeling a bit jaded. So if we’re to assume that none of us want to feel jaded this V-Day, we need to get analytical in advance of The Big Day itself and under the skin of the personality of our date-night paramour in order to find true love.
Despite the fact that Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night head honcho Orsino reckoned that music, not grub, be the food of love, most of us still opt for the concept of a romantic meal for two instead of simply letting the band play on – which is why V-Day is the hospitality industry’s busiest day of the year.
Date-night dining, however, can be strewn with anxiety attack-inducing potential. Too many people obsess over details such as how much aftershave or perfume is too much/not enough, whether ordering a salad will/won’t make them look like they don’t really like food and whether pasta will give them wind, to the point where they’re so wound up by date time that all they can manage is three large glasses of wine for a starter (never a good look). Chill out and let Cupid take control! All you need to be is the authentic, lovely you that drew your date to you in the first place. And where are you going to have that date? Why, in a place that’s perfect for both of you.
The classic couple
They know what they like, and they like what they know – preferably without too much change in the kind of environment (chic but relaxed; stylish but down-to-earth) they’re most comfortable in. Their problem is that, on 14 February, many restaurants decorate all tables for two with single-stem red roses and add a proliferation of cute cocktails, sharing platters and heart-shaped chocolate soufflés to the menu – where have those dishes that the Classic Couple know and love gone? Choose wisely, and those dishes are all still centre stage; any eaterie worth its salt knows that it’s the food that really does the talking on any day of the year, leaving it up to you to decide whether a sharing platter really speaks the language of love.
❥ Classic tables-for-two: Little French, The Lock Up, Pasta Loco, Pasta Ripiena, Mugshot, Pasture, Birch, Bianchis, The Cauldron, Lido Bristol, Glassboat, Bar 44, Marmo, Molto Buono, The Ox
The oil and water mix
One can’t abide fuss; the other loves attention. One doesn’t know their yuzu from their yautia; the other’s a wannabe MasterChef contender. They both think that fine dining and/or Michelin stars means they both have to wear their most uncomfortable clothes, talk in whispers and pay £23.50 for a starter. What neither of them realise is that in 2020 fine dining can be a fabulous, affordable, accessible experience, representing the most memorable Valentine’s Day voyage of foodie discovery (and enlightenment) for all.
❥ Fabulous fine dining: Casamia, Harvey Nichols Second Floor Restaurant, Box-E, Bulrush, Adelina Yard, Tare, Root, Wilks
You can’t go to the pub!
Oh yes you can… and so you should: together. Okay, so a dated little boozer on the corner of a dingy little back street may not be an obvious date-night choice for most people (although hey, if you’re in proper, real lurve, few people’s ardour will be dampened by warm gin and tonic served in a dusty wine glass). But today’s pubs are warm, welcoming heavens of bonhomie specialising in grub that hits the G-spot (that’ll be gastro, of course) for all and flaunting the kind of upmarket wines, spirits and cocktails that could shake even James Bond away from his usual martini.
❥ Perfect pubs: The Kensington Arms, The Green Man, The Ashton, The Bank Tavern, The Pump House, The Cottage, The Old Bookshop, The Spotted Cow, The Mall, Channings, The Eldon House, The Lansdown, Grain Barge
They have a desire to get away from it all… but not for too long, ’cause life (that’ll be work, kids, pets, box-set binges) gets in the way. They might also have forgotten who they’d like to escape with; it seems like a long time ago that either of them dressed up for dinner, talked to each other while eating it and didn’t have to set the alarm for 6.40am the next day. But despite how pressurised life can get, everybody can find the time for a one night stand at a totally treatsome sanctuary of seduction, where fine food and pampering (spa, spa, spa!) come as standard. So pack your bags, turn your phone off and prepare to fall in love all over again.
❥ Beautiful boltholes: Berwick Lodge, The Ethicurean, Thornbury Castle, The Pony & Trap, No.15 Great Pulteney, Sign of the Angel, The Pig near Bath, Lucknam Park
Forever young couples
Whether they hooked up just last week or met many, many V-Day moons ago, these two have got a perpetual spring in their step. Travel is tantalising discovery fuels desire, adventure equals more amore – and a Cupid-curated staycation (think a magical mystery Bristol-based food tour; see also thebristolfoodtour.com) makes the need for an EasyJet boarding pass redundant. Get out and about, plunder erstwhile hidden corners and fuel up on the hoof, grazing at the permanent food stalls in St Nick’s, Temple Quay, Finzels Reach, Tobacco Factory or Harbourside Markets, finishing with a cocktail at a smoochy, stylish late-night bar.
❥ Other on-the-hoof hotspots: Bravas, Pata Negra, Chomp, Filthy XIII, Under The Stars, Pizzarova, Beer Emporium, Ahh Toots, Matina, Vino Vino, Oowee Vegan, Pieminister
It’s complicated! (No, it isn’t!)
Modern love comes in many forms, shapes and sizes, and groups of friends pay no heed to generation gaps, relationship statuses or domestic circumstances. As Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, it’s a great excuse to party with the people you love all year round, bringing loved-up couples, single Pringles, family members and those for whom life is most certainly not a box of chocolates into the mix. Table for 22? You got it!
❥ Great for mates: Dough, Bambalan, Seven Lucky Gods, Gambas, Woky Ko, Suncraft, Eat Your Greens, La Guingette, Koocha Mezze Bar, Kask, Poco
Valentine’s eating–out tips
• If you’re getting hung up on how to eat what, remember nobody actually eats like the girl in that 1970s Cadbury Flake advert, or Tom and Mrs Waters in Tom Jones, or Nigella Lawson in pretty much all of her TV cooking shows – they’ve all been primped, preened, softly lit, digitally enhanced and directed by an army of experts in order to look hot when scoffing.
• If you don’t like oysters, don’t eat them just because it’s Valentine’s Day – you’ll only end up balking. The same goes for prawns, asparagus, chocolate and all the other supposedly aphrodisiac-laden food that proliferates on ‘romantic’ sharing menus.
• If the couple at the table next to yours start overdoing public displays of affection, proposing marriage, fighting, or anything in between, leave them to it – you may have a ringside seat, but you don’t want your chips to go cold while their drama unfolds, do you?