Where should you take the object of your affection on your first date? This is a vexing question that has been wrestled with for centuries.
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 dream first date. If you’re in the luxury class – or would like to appear to be, at least for one evening – we hope this will help steer you in the right direction. This is part two of a three-part series, as our far-flung correspondents had a lot to say on this subject.
But first, a threshold question: does a first date have to be done over dinner? There’s a very lively conversation to be had around this topic. Some passionately believe that dinner is too long, too expensive, too old-fashioned and too fraught with potential disasters, and that a modern luxury approach to this topic would be advising people on places for drinks, brunch, even lunch. But not dinner.
On the flip side are the traditionalists – and we largely come down on their side – who say that whether it’s truly a “first” date, or just an early date, at some point you need to sit down with someone and see if you can successfully share a meal together. And if you’re hoping for real love and commitment to bloom, the old school may still be the best school. According to a January 2017 survey of American adults, 33% of women and 39% of men report that “romance is essential to a relationship, and I could not feel love without it.” Another 13% of women and 18% of men say that it’s very important at the beginning of a relationship. That is so sweet!
In this series of posts, we’re sharing first-date dinner options, but you could certainly opt for brunch, lunch, a picnic in a park before a concert, or a stroll through an art gallery followed by cocktails to discuss what you just saw. Whatever it is, just make it feel special, and we suspect that you’ll be invited back.
Now, on to the list! The Bureau Chiefs of Asia, Paris, Switzerland, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Texas, Brooklyn, the Upper East Side, and Chicago – plus our Style Editor and the West Coast Wine Editor – all generously contributed their ideas, leaving me very little to add (but I’ve tossed in a couple of suggestions anyway). Our patented 4-point criteria for an ideal first-date restaurant guided our selections.
–Our Asia Bureau Chief says that for Chinese cuisine, the best first date location in Hong Kong is Lung King Heen in the Four Seasons Hotel; it’s the first Chinese restaurant ever to be awarded 3 Michelin stars and features Chinese food with a French presentation. The restaurant has great views of the Hong Kong Harbor and Kowloon.
–For Western food, he suggests Gaddi’s in the Peninsula Hotel, one of his long-time favorites. It’s been at the Peninsula for 50+ years serving classic French cuisine, and has luxurious decor and well-spaced tables. For a slightly less formal setting, ask to be seated at the chef’s table in the kitchen – you’ll have lots to see and talk about that way. At the other extreme is Belon, a neo-French bistro in the SoHo neighborhood opened and owned by a young French chef, Daniel Calvert, who trained at Epicure at Le Bristol hotel in Paris (which has 3 Michelin stars). Decorated like a charming French bistro, the food is quite special. Some dishes on the menu take over four days to create – the restaurant’s specialty is whole roasted chickens, which are bred only for the restaurant. Each night, the chef makes chicken wings stuffed with rice, smoked eel and foie gras – at a price of $30 each (if matsutake mushrooms are in season, available and included in the stuffing, the chicken wings are priced at $45 each).
–Other options for an elegant first date are Amber Restaurant in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental (serving creative haute cuisine throughout the day – if you and your date are both workaholics, you could have your first date at breakfast here, as early as 6:30A); Pearl on the Peak (Australian chef Geoff Lindsay’s spot offers outstanding food and brilliant views); and 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana (opulent Northern Italian, 2 Michelin stars).
Mumbai: Our Swiss Bureau Chief is well-traveled in India, and he suggests planning your first-date (or date night) evening at the Taj Palace. “Start off with drinks at the poolside bar, and enjoy dinner at one of their restaurants. There’s an incredible lounge that is only open to hotel guests, where cognac and chocolate made at the hotel are offered after dinner – a great way to prolong the evening.” Other recommendations from friends who live there? Dinner at Bombay Canteen, followed by drinks at Aer, the 34th-floor rooftop bar at the Four Seasons in Worli, where the views of the city and the Arabian Sea are stunning. Or for another lovely view of the Queen’s Necklace, try the Dome InterContinental.
–A sophisticated epicurean friend says that if you want to make a dazzling first impression, consider a first date at UltraViolet. He said it was the most memorable food experience he’s ever had. This idea is not for the faint of heart: you’re signing up for four hours, 22 mini-courses, music, visuals, scents in air, and one server per person at the table. So you need to be fairly certain that you like your date! On the other hand, there’ll be plenty to talk about to keep the conversation going: the restauranteur reportedly spent $10 million on lighting, illuminated tables, cameras, a master control center. Our friend says “It’s like NASA meets opera meets kitchen. Incredible.” The chef Paul Pairet says it was a long-held dream to create such a place.
–Other good choices in Shanghai include Commune Social, a casual and interactive atmosphere for fine dining. Each phase of the night has a distinct space and encourages diners to explore (making it much less likely that you’ll get stuck in a conversational dead-end). The evening begins in the upstairs cocktail bar, moves to the lovely interior courtyard for entrees, and concludes at the dessert bar. The charming Fu 1088 is located in a 1930s Spanish-style mansion in the Jing’An district, and features modern spins on classical Shanghainese dishes.
–We love anything on the Bund with a view for a romantic night out. For a first date, consider the Shanghai sister of Hong Kong’s well-regarded Otto e Mezzo – it offers the same cuisine as the original, featuring dishes like homemade pasta with truffles and scallops in saffron sauce. The contemporary dining room is situated in the Rockbund development, and has lovely views of the Pearl Tower and north Bund. We’ve had a few great meals at M on the Bund, and it has the perfect atmosphere for a not-too-high pressure but impressive first night out (plus stunning views).
–Since we’re recommending several sushi restaurants as great first-date choices in New York City, it seems only fair that our well-traveled Silicon Valley Bureau chief votes for the New York Grill in the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo as a good choice in Asia (cross-cultural rocks!) Set on the hotel’s 52nd floor, the dining room offers exceptional views and the Western food (sirloin steak and lobster) is excellent. Afterward, you can head for the adjacent New York Bar for cocktails and jazz – there are live performances every night.
–Other good choices in Tokyo include Kanda, a tiny three Michelin-starred restaurant (it has only 8 seats) where Chef Hiroyuki Kanda is serving seasonal dishes, including sushi and mountain vegetables, plated beautifully. Dazzle has a dramatically lit dining space and serves French fusion. For elegant sushi, our correspondents like Sushi Saito.
–If you and your date care much more about the food than the ambiance of your dinner location or the friendliness of the service, Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten might be ideal for you: just large enough for ten, located at the entrance of an underground station in Ginza, it has three Michelin stars, but the décor is quite plain. It was the site of the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – the 89-year old chef is such a legend that Prime Minister Abe brought then-President Obama to dinner there. One common criticism of the restaurant is the rapid pace of the service: dinner is often completed in 30 minutes. This might be ideal for a first date! You’ll know in 30 minutes if you want to keep talking – and if you don’t, it will be mercy to declare the event over, and you’ll have had perhaps the best sushi in the world.
—Kondo, in Ginza, boasts three Michelin-stars and is considered one of Japan’s best tempura restaurants; dinner guests sit at a wooden counter and watch the chef at work. You and your date can learn about the precise techniques employed in the deep frying process – and consume fantastic fried food with no guilt (at least for one night).
–For soba noodles and a potentially memorable first date, you could head to Hosokawa soba restaurant near Ryogoku Stadium, and have a great meal either before or after taking in a sumo wrestling match (if that’s not a great metaphor for a first date, what is?)
–Finally, our Asia Bureau Chief has another excellent idea for a first date. Mention Japanese ramen, and suggest an excursion to Kagari. It’s famous among foodies worldwide for its creamy chicken stock with the ramen noodles. It is best to go to the branch in the Ginza Metro station, but be prepared: the location is not traditionally luxurious, and a wait of 40 minutes is considered short! Here’s the beauty part: standing in line is the perfect informal setting to chat and people-watch with your date, and also the perfect way to see if the person has patience! Plus at the end, you’ll both have had an amazing meal that you won’t regret, even if the date heads south.
Here’s something else for you to think through as you finalize your dinner date plans: in a sit-down dining establishment, should the host of the date order the other’s meal? According to Statista, a 2013 survey of American men of various ages revealed that while only 14% of men over the age of 50 felt that the gentlemanly thing to do is for a man to order for a woman when out at a restaurant, 28% of the men between the ages of 18 and 34 (twice as many!) felt that it was the right thing to do. No word on whether the younger guys had ever actually done this, and what the result was. Our advice? The one time someone ordered for us on a first date, there was no second date. Take a lesson from your elders, gentlemen. In this case, older is wiser.
Next stop, the U.S.A! In the meantime, let’s close the second phase of our global reporting on ideal first-date locations with a nod to the number 8. In China, 8 is associated with good fortune. In physics, it’s a magic number, meaning that atomic nuclei consisting of 8 nucleons have a higher average binding energy than one would expect. Extra binding energy sounds like a good thing on a first date! So we’re wishing you the power of 8, Dandelion corps in Asia. Go make us proud.