You’re on the brink of success: it’s the fourth date, past that awkward introductory phase. You’ve cleaned your sheets (and, hopefully, yourself), tidied the house, and even bought a candle. Which leaves just one question: what’s on the menu?
Curry night with the lads this is not, and ordering a takeaway is the equivalent of wearing a tracksuit to meet the in-laws. So, to turn you into Masterchef before you’re left home alone to master…never mind, we’ve enlisted the help of some of the UK’s top chefs to glean the culinary tips and shortcuts that’ll have any date desperate for dessert.
Fail To Prepare
Like interviews, speeches and arriving at a far away airport with no Wi-Fi, preparation is key.
“It’s important that you’ve got all bases covered, so there’s a minimal amount to do on the night,” says Barry Bryson, a private chef that counts Louis Vuitton and Glenmorangie as past clients. “There are many parts of a menu that can be prepared in advance, so don’t be too ambitious if tight for time.”
Brush With Breath
No date wants to share a conversation with someone suffering dodgy breath, let alone a post-dinner kiss – so remember to keep the menu light.
“Avoid garlic and anything greasy as nobody likes greasy lips,” says John McNulty, chef patron at The Taynuilt’s Etive Restaurant in Argyll, Scotland. “The same rule applies to messy finger foods like shellfish. Instead, opt for an easy-to-cook fish that’s simple to prepare and won’t leave you bloated, like a salmon fillet with Jersey Royal potatoes.”
A salad may be a safe, healthy choice for lunch; but when trying to impress, it’ll go down limper than a week-old iceberg lettuce.
“Don’t be lame and opt for a simple salad, ” says Shirin Kouros, co-founder of London’s The Good Life Eatery. “Avoid leaves and anything else that risks getting stuck in your teeth, like tabbouleh.”
Even if your date can handle a 16-ounce rump steak with extra chips, eating that much food is only going to see you both end the night in a sexless coma. The aim is to eat small and win big.
“British tapas and mezze are essentially small plates of simple deliciousness,” says Andy Rose, executive chef of the Boisdale Restaurant Group. “These dishes avoid heavy, lethargic foods, so try mixing up old favourites with something a little more unusual, like pickled walnuts.”
Sharing Is Caring
A problem shared is a problem halved, and tackling a larger dish together bodes well for the night ahead.
“I always think it’s a good idea to share something for two on date night, like an impressive Côte de Bouef [posh grub speak for a thick, bone-in rib steak] or a whole seabass,” says Kouros. “It adds an extra element of conversation and can be an engaging way to eat.”
If food is the sixth language of love, consider the burger a 4am drunken booty text.
“Avoid big burgers like the plague,” says Calum Franklin, head chef at the Holborn Dining Room in London. “You need to be well secure in a relationship before someone can watch you inhale a beef patty and still lust after you.”
Simply does it on most dates. Though if you do want to go all out, spend more on quality and avoid cutting corners.
“If you want to impress, invest in quality ingredients to make a standout meal,” says Dale Osbourne, the executive chef inside London’s towering Aqua Shard. “Our dishes such as Earl Stonham Farms Wagyu and roast turbot are only made using the best.”
Like fashion, food is held ransom to trends both enduring and ridiculous (remember rainbow bagels?) To avoid getting burnt, sidestep novelty for classic, seasonal dishes.
“Always use what’s in season,” says Bryson. “Food fads come and go, but if you select a menu based on what’s in season, you can swerve trends by going timeless. This will also narrow down menu options during the planning stage.”
Safe Is Sound
Pulling out all the stops is not just recommended, but encouraged. That doesn’t mean you should lay on a Versailles-worthy feast, though.
“It can be difficult to choose what to cook, especially if inviting someone over for the first time,” says Paul Wedgwood, chef patron at Edinburgh’s Wedgwood The Restaurant. “Avoid anything too obscure or anything beholden to personal taste. It’s all well and good splashing out on the finest fillet of beef, but if your date doesn’t like it rare or pink, you’ve wasted a lot of time and money.”