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How to pull off the perfect DIY date night

You want to keep it simple, intimate, special. And you don’t want to go toe-to-toe with the hordes of other couples clogging up the tables of all the best restaurants.

So why not bring the restaurant to you?

Here’s how to pull off the perfect date night, all by yourself, according to experts of the culinary world; beginning with ambience before moving on to the food.

1. Sex-up the sound

Martin Morales, founder of Ceviche, on nailing mood-setting tunes:

“You won’t get better than a playlist full of Prince. He’s romance royalty without the mushiness. Start with ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ to divert attention away from you as you stress over your starter. ‘U Got the Look’ will say everything she wants to hear as the main course hits the table, and ‘Little Red Corvette’ will drop some playful but smoochy vibes into your dessert.”

2. Mood-setting munchies

Alex Coppard, head chef at The Good Egg, on the ultimate sharing snack:

“Everything-Seasoning Pitta Chip Nachos! They’re my signature date-clincher. Cut some pitta bread into triangles, toss in olive oil, season with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried minced onion, dried minced garlic, coarse salt – and roast. Then top with all the sauces – zhoug, amba, tahini. Finish off by melting cheese on top.”

DIY date night

3. Top-drawer décor

Irene Margariti, co-owner of Suvlaki, on how to dress the table:

“The best dinner tables look as if they’ve arrived at ‘perfect’ without any effort. So ditch the roses and go for peonies in jam jars. Lay out some antique cutlery that you found in a vintage shop. Throw an ironed linen runner across a wooden table. And please avoid black crockery. There’s nothing more ‘try hard’ than black crockery.”

4. Lighting for lovin’

Bea Vo, founder of Stax Diner and Boondocks, on achieving peak glow:

“Restaurants achieve romantic lighting with side lighting. This is how to give yourself the best possible glow. Nobody has ever ‘glowed’ with an overhead fluorescent beaming down on them. A few well-placed dimmed spotlights, sure, but really, you want to get some floor lamps and non-scented candles on the go.”

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5. The pre-drink to sink

Sam Kamienko, head chef at Michelin-starred Ellory, on boozy appetite-enhancers:

“Everyone needs a great aperitif in their date-night arsenal. A good one never fails to whet the whistle, but please keep it simple. I like to serve a mix of Campari and cava to start things off. Served in a tall shot glass, the bittersweet taste is perfect for setting off the tastebuds, and it’s so easy to recreate at home.”

6. The oyster starter: redux

Jeremy Coste, co-founder of Ahi Poké, on reinventing the classic shellfish starter:

“Everyone knows they’re an aphrodisiac, but to take them up a notch I pair them with a bottle of mezcal. It cuts through the texture gloriously, and the smokiness works with the salty taste. Then tear up a good loaf of bread and top with salted butter and shavings of winter black truffle.”

7. Main course power moves

Shaun Rankin, executive chef at Ormer Mayfair, on tackling the headline act:

“I’ve learned to tick four boxes with a romantic main: simple, delicious, fragrant and colourful. A sea bass en papillote is perfect. Throw fresh sea bass and aromats [like thyme, lemongrass, garlic and ginger] into foil and greaseproof paper, seal into parcels and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.”

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8. The only dessert. Ever

Michael Caines, chef at Lympstone Manor, on the definitive Valentine’s pudding:

“You’re doing a brownie, because you should always do a brownie – an indulgent favourite you can get done from scratch in 30 minutes. You’ll be tempted to throw some strawberries on. Don’t. February is a bad time of year for them. Raspberries are better, especially in a coulis.”

9. Classy coffee crash course

Fin Spiteri, bar manager at Rochelle Canteen at the ICA, on the key to a killer caffeine course:

“You are an adult, and therefore can no longer drink milk before bed. It’s why a coffee course should always be in espresso-form. My tip for looking like you know your shit? After necking your espresso, pour Fernet Branca [a herbal liquor] in your tiny cup, swirl it around and knock it back.”

(Images: iStock)

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