What could be more difficult than finding the perfect restaurant for a first date? Perhaps getting the date in the first place. But surely after that, nailing the choice of location is a Gordian knot of epic proportions. After all, this could be your future on the line. This person could be The One. It would be really good to get this right. You want a great story for your future offspring, yes? No pressure. It’s just potentially Your Whole Life we’re talking about.
To properly advise you on this pressing matter, we assembled our Dandelion Chandelier global team of epicures and asked them to give us their picks in cities all over the world for the ideal choice for a first dinner with the object of your affection. If you’re in the luxury class – or would like to appear to be, at least for one evening – this should help steer you in the right direction.
But first, what makes for an ideal first date location, anyway? We used four simple criteria: first, not crazy-romantic. That’s too much pressure. Save it for your first anniversary. Second, not too loud. You want to actually be able to hear what your date is saying. After all, it might be really interesting. Third, there must be reasonable privacy, with adequate space between tables: whether it’s a great date or a disaster, you really don’t want the occupants of the tables on either side of you eavesdropping. Fourth, ideally your choice will be different and unique in some way – you get style points for creativity, and you also have built-in drivers of interaction and conversation so that things don’t go flat – think tasting menus, immersive experiences, chef’s tables, or great people-watching. Extra credit is awarded if the food is off-the-chain good.
Some of these same criteria apply when you’re out with bae, so for those who are happily coupled, you might find these great places to visit, as well.
On to the list! The Bureau Chiefs of Asia, Paris, Switzerland, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Texas, Brooklyn, the Upper East Side, and Chicago all generously contributed their ideas, as did our Style Editor and West Coast Wine Editor, leaving me very little to add (but I’ve tossed in a couple of suggestions anyway). We received so much feedback from our far-flung correspondents and their friends that we decided to make this a three-part series.
First up, Europe.
–Our well-traveled Asia Bureau Chief reports “my top pick for a first date in London is Scott’s, in Mount Street in Mayfair. It’s modern and timeless with phenomenal seafood – my favorite is the Dover Sole Meuniere.” He adds that the people-watching is always great, with a multitude of languages being spoken – it’s not uncommon to see a mix of Brits, Americans, Asians, Russians and other Europeans. “Mount Street is replacing Bond Street as an ‘it’ location in London – the swanky Connaught hotel on Carlos Place is at one end of the block and several very high end boutiques have chosen to locate there. Fun fact and conversation-starter? Scott’s is reputed to be the favorite eating spot of the fictional James Bond, likely because Ian Fleming was reportedly a regular at Scott’s when in London.”
–Our Swiss Bureau Chief weighs in with “I’m a big fan of Coya (a modern Peruvian restaurant in Mayfair) – but it might be a bit too happening for a first date. Hutong in the Shard Hotel is a great choice if the date likes Asian cuisine. Seating arrangements offer a lot of privacy and the views over London are stunning. Or opt for AquaShard (same view, traditional British cuisine). The Ivy in Covent Garden is a classic; also in that neighborhood, for a more casual date consider J Sheekey Oyster Bar, an excellent seafood place.”
–In addition, we’d suggest cocktails at the Kensington Roof Gardens (or you could start your date early, with high tea at the charming 5-star Goring Hotel in Belgravia near Buckingham Palace); and dinner at The Balcon in Mayfair (where the interior is inspired by Coco Chanel’s 1920’s Paris apartment); Clos Maggiorein Covent Garden; or Le Gavroche, a grande dame and sentimental favorite.
Paris: Our extremely savvy Paris bureau chief surveyed his friends and suggests the following strategy: “go to one extreme or the other – either a charming bistro for classic simple reliable French fare, or ultra-gastronomy.” His picks, plus a few from his pals and from our other correspondents:
—La Fontaine de Mars, a bistro in the chic 7th arrondissement (former President Obama took the First Lady there on their date night in Paris)
—Histoires, a new Michelin-starred restaurant opened by Mathieu Pacaud (son of Bernard Pacaud of L’Ambroisie, the storied restaurant in Place des Vosges). He’s a friend of our Bureau Chief, who reports that “the food is exquisite and high quality, and the setting is chic tones of beige, with a service that matches the stars.” (Be forewarned – your bill could exceed €500 for two, so you should probably have real conviction about your date’s potential).
–A Parisian investment banker suggests “Restaurant David Toutain (farm-to-table); Ze Kitchen Galerie (French-Asian fusion); and Frenchie Restaurant (on a cobblestoned street in the 2nd arrondissement) or its sister across the street, Frenchie Bar à Vin (small plates, more casual, no reservation needed, fantastic wine and UK-made cheeses)”
–A gallery owner chimes in with “Café Pouchkine Paris-Racines (French); La Fontaine Gaillon (close to the Opera, French cuisine, owned by actor Gerard Depardieu); Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s seafood restaurant Gaya Rive Gauche; and Chez la Vieille (traditional French)”
–An eminence grise – a foodie and concert pianist – suggests “Apicius (in a chateau with wonderful grounds filled with art); possibly L’Ambroisie if the date is super picky, or Restaurant du Palais Royal (beneath the arcade of the Palais Royal close to the Louvre, and very romantic at night). For a fashionista, more interested in looking at people, I’d take him (or her) to the Hotel Costes (but not if they’re older than 45), or Le Relais Plaza at the Hotel Plaza Athénée (if they’re around 50.) Maxim’s if they’re over 60.”
–An attorney from the West Coast who is French by birth says “Le 404 (a cool Moroccan place); Chez Georges (for lunch); or Des Gars dans la Cuisine (in the Marais; its name is a play on words meaning ‘the guy in the kitchen’)”
–A senior restaurant executive votes for “Le Restaurant de l’Hotel Dans le 6eme (where Oscar Wilde loved and died).”
–Several people recommended taking a first date to L’Ami Louis. Why? Four magic words: The Best Roast Chicken. Also, phenomenal asparagus when in season (impress your date by ordering the $100 per stalk appetizer). Oenophiles will be happy to know that it also has an amazing wine list (it runs 70 pages). This is not a fancy place – it looks like a bistro inside – and it’s not in a “fashionable” part of Paris, but you’ll have a delicious, memorable dinner. Devotees believe that the waiters (and their curt answers) are part of the charm.
–Also in the bistro category is Citrus Etoile, given high marks by our Style Editor for its gracious service. She reports “it has an interesting high-end menu. The best part were the husband and wife owners. He’s the head chef and she mingled with the guests, constantly checking in and making sure everyone was well taken care of. She was a blast to have a conversation with and even brought her husband out to meet us after we insisted on meeting the man who (she claimed to have) left Richard Gere for!”
–Our Upper East Side Bureau Chief votes for Lassere, a one-star Michelin restaurant “in an absolutely beautiful townhouse in the 8th arrondissement off of Avenue Montaigne on Boulevard John F Kennedy. It has a retractable roof, which they open in the warmer months, and then you have the stars twinkling above. It really is lovely. And food is great too. It is not casual but not overly stuffy. And oh so French!”
–You’ll also be in safe hands with any of the following: 3-Michelin-starred Epicure at Le Bristol Hotel; La Bourse et La Vie, the new venture of celebrated chef Daniel Rose in the Rue Vivienne (an updated bistro with only 29 seats serving traditional French near the Palais Royal); Restaurant Lapérouse (where George Clooney recently had a date night with his wife). Or you could go to the glorious Four Seasons George V and choose from any one of their Michelin-starred restaurants: Le George, L’Orangerie or Le Cinq.
–Finally, it’s old-fashioned and marks us as terribly en retard, but we love Michelin-starred Restaurant Laurent; it’s a stone’s throw from the Champs Élysées, in Louis XIV’s former hunting lodge surrounded by a garden, and it’s lovely.
Milan: A well-traveled friend recommends starting your date at aperitivo at the Il Bar at the Bulgari Hotel; cocktails are served in their beautiful garden if it is warm enough. For dinner, walk a few meters to the Armani Hotel for their Michelin-starred Ristorante, which has a sleek and modern décor and views of the city. For something more rustic, Un Posto a Milano — literally, “a place in Milan” – serves unpretentious farm-to-table food, with a lot of vegetarian options; when the weather warms up, the beautiful courtyard with its vegetable garden is the perfect first-date spot. Joia is a Michelin-starred restaurant that leans toward vegan cuisine (the chef, Pietro Leemann, believes in a “cooking as medicine” philosophy, with some Buddhist wisdom thrown in the mix – so good karma for you should be in abundance). If you have a long lead time or some serious connections, 40-seat Restaurant d’O is Michelin-starred, and so popular that there’s a 6-8 month waiting list. Or you could book a table at Cracco, which has 2 Michelin stars and a place on the San Pellegrino 100, where chef Carlo Cracco serves updated Milanese cuisine – but be forewarned, the menu is challenging, so unless you and your date are both serious foodies, this is probably not right for a first night out.
Zurich: Our Swiss Bureau Chief reports that The Restaurant, which has two Michelin stars, is perfect for date night with your partner, or for a first date. It’s at the iconic Dolder Grand hotel, a bit outside of town at the top of a steep hill with a marvelous view over Zurich. He adds: “Heiko Nieder is such a gifted chef, and his dishes are very creative.” Other options? Our Bureau Chief also says that Haute is a great choice, especially in summer when the terrace is open. It’s a members-only private dining space, so there’s a good chance that your date won’t have been there before. Another great choice in the summer is Restaurant Rigiblick, located high above Zurich on Mt. Rigi. Vreni Giger is a wonderfully creative female chef, and the terrace offers beautiful views over the city. Back in town, we’d also add Restaurant Rive Gauche as a first-date spot (just be sure to ask for a table by the window), or Bu’s, which is charming, authentic and a bit noisy, with wonderful food and a gracious and accommodating owner, who is also a vintner – so the wine selection is first-rate.
Amsterdam: Our Style Editor recommends Tempo Doeloe, a Michelin-starred Indonesian restaurant. She shares: “it’s very small and charming, and you have to ring the bell to be let in. The presentation of the Rijsttafel (which means rice table) experience included 20-something small dishes that completely covered the table. They ranged from very mild to the most extreme amount of spiciness you could imagine; you work your way through until you just can’t take the heat anymore. It’s really fun, and would be a great way to get to know someone in a relaxed, but still intimate, setting.” Other good grown-up first-date venues in Amsterdam are Bord’Eau (book a window table, for a view over the River Amstel to the 17th-century City Mint); Librije’s Zusje in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel (ask for a seat with a view of the garden); and Rijks, young star chef Joris Bijdendijk’s new restaurant beneath the Rijksmuseum – you could start your date looking at art and architecture, and end it here discussing what you just saw. If both of you are foodies, ascend to Ciel Bleu, on the 23rd floor of the Okura Hotel; there, chef Onno Kokmeijer, who has two Michelin stars, is serving excellent food with a great wine list. A window table on the northern side will afford you an unobstructed view across the city.
In terms of protocol, how you decide to deal with the check is of course, up to you. According to Statista, a survey this year of millennials in Italy indicated that 36.4 percent believed that the bill on the first date should be paid by “him;” 21.9 percent said that the couple should split the check, and 41.3 percent said that it doesn’t matter who pays. Even in these enlightened times, only 0.3 percent said that “she” should pay. A 2013 study of adult men of various ages in the US revealed a similar mindset: between 72 and 76 percent of them said that the gentlemanly thing to do on a first date is for the man to pay the bill. London residents, take note – the exact same study of men in the UK found that on average only 61 percent of men felt that way.
Discuss amongst yourselves.
Our next post will continue this vital investigation, moving on to Asia. In the meantime, Dandelions of Europe, bonne chance!