Don’t go expecting romance here… Tom Parker Bowles on why there are 364 better days a year to take a loved one out to eat than on 14 February. But if you really have to, then he does have some top picks
Lead image: Bob Bob Ricard
The search for an edible aphrodisiac is as fruitless as it is misguided. Sure, you find those poor, murderous and deluded souls who think that a draft of rhino horn, or tiger ball soup, will somehow add lead to their pencils.
Dream on, suckers.
And although pearls dissolved in wine, oysters, strawberries and asparagus are rather less ruinous to worldwide wildlife stocks, their effect is equally useless. In fact, although it pains me to say it, the only true aphrodisiacs are charm, wit and a good heart.
Oh, and money and power.
Not forgetting booze, the most effective of them all.
‘Valentine’s Day is the ultimate anti-aphrodisiac, an event that has all the romance of pound store lingerie’
But Valentine’s Day – that sickly and entirely commercially contrived convection – is the ultimate anti-aphrodisiac, an event that has all the romance of pound store lingerie. And if it is the one day you take your beloved out to dinner then he or she has every right to feel aggrieved.
Chefs and restaurateurs hate the day. Sure they can hike up the prices a little, by adding some wilting rose, and a side order of schmaltz. But the sight of a room filled with gloomy couples, trying desperately to make halting conversation, is not one to gladden the heart.
I have a chef mate who used to take bets on which couple would break down first, followed by one of the pair flouncing out in tears. Another chef was asked to bake an engagement ring into a pudding.
He advised caution, and strongly suggested that the gleaming gift should be presented in a box, rather than a chocolate Bombe. But to no avail. You can guess how it ended, with a broken tooth, frayed temper and an engagement that failed, to well, engage.
‘I have a chef mate who used to take bets on which couple would break down first, followed by one of the pair flouncing out in tears’
As you might imagine, Valentine’s Day passes with little more than a half smile in our house. But if you do feel compelled to celebrate, avoid any restaurants on 14 February and cook something civilized at home.
Nothing too heavy, or stinky, or fiery; rather simple, edible elegance. Beef carpaccio, then Dover sole and salad. Or a good roast chicken. Don’t try and get fussy, or fancy, or cheffy. Good ingredients, cooked well.
And if you do insist on some sort of Valentine’s dinner, then ok, London has a few rather romantic places. The Ritz has one of the capital’s most beautiful restaurants, with John William’s beautiful, old school haute cuisine to match. If the combination of gilded, rococo ceilings, serious service and truffle stuffed everything doesn’t seal the deal, then nothing will.
I also love Le Caprice, a place where I wooed my wife. Brilliant menu, some of the best service in London and, at night, a great piano player too. You can’t beat Colony Grill too, from Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the brilliant pair who made Le Caprice great once more, before moving on to open The Wolseley, Colbert, Fisher’s and Delauney. The lighting is suitably soft and low, the setting dripping with glamour and the menu, well, pretty much perfect.
I adore Jason Atherton’s Berners Tavern, which mixes sexy and glamour is perfect proportions. Bob Bob Ricard does the same, and it feels like sitting inside a bejeweled Faberge egg. Excellent food too. If you are looking to be, um, discreet, then Wilton’s provides that all important privacy, along with wonderful (if expensive) seafood and English classics.
And if anyone ever took me to perch on a bar stool at Barrafina Adelaide Street, I would fall in love on the spot.
This year, then, ditch the aphrodisiacs. And if you love him or her properly, avoid bloody Valentine’s Day and do something properly romantic.