Deciding where to go on a first date in London is tricky. Like picking a song on Spotify, sometimes having so much choice can have a paralysing effect.
But in the same way you shouldn't just cave and listen to Rihanna because it's the first thing you think of, resisting Leciester Square or Covent Garden is the smart choice when it comes to wooing in the capital.
Instead, pick from these Zone 1 locations and our tailored guide to each, whether you're after an expensive dinner, a night of culture or just a fun area where anything can happen. Happy dating.
1 | Soho
Nearest tubes: Tottenham Court Road / Oxford Circus
Perfect for: Dinner
London's most famous playground can still be a bit bewildering if you're new to it, but many of the finest restaurants in the country – scrap that, the world – are here, meaning if you're going for dinner and want to impress, Soho is still the place to go.
You might want a cocktail or a glass of wine before dining. If so we recommend the Blind Pig on Poland Street (above the Social Eating House), which pairs a luxurious but informal setting with genuinely inventive drinks menu, or Mark's Bar on Brewer Street which is cool, relaxed and makes the best negronis around. If gin's your thing, try Graphic Bar on Golden Square - their martini selection is second to none and their 'Paint Tin Punches' will get your night off with a bang.
Now time for dinner. Slightly off the beaten track on Rupert Street is the hottest new table in town The Palomar, where interesting, delicious food from Jerusalem is served by energetic, friendly staff who create a brilliant atmosphere – perfect for a first date you want to be fun and memorable (with no space for awkward silences). Ask to sit at the bar.
If you can't can't get a table there, you're still spoiled for choice when it comes to established restaurants of the highest quality. Copita (D'Arblay Street) is a chilled out tapas bar with great wine, Quo Vadis is a Soho institution serving British cooking at its best and Jackson + Rye, Richard Caring's brilliant latest venture on Old Compton Street, brings the best of New York dining to London.
Alternatively, venture further south towards Picadilly and try The Balcon for a restuarant that will make her go 'wow' – the interior is inspired by Coco Chanel's 1920's Paris apartment, and the food and service are magnificent. Or if tucking into a perfect steak is more you and your partner's idea of good dining, pop over the road to unpretentious Argentinian eatery Gaucho. We recommend the fillet cooked rare, obviously.
Technically in Mayfair but a mere hop, skip and a jump away from Soho is Blades at Hush, a small, 60's inspired dining room that aims to be a 'private member's club without the membership'. It's certainly one of cosiest nooks in town, and the specialities - steak and lobster - are both refined and a safe bet for a first date. Finish things off with something from whisky cocktail list to seal the good impression
After dinner drinks in Soho is a real adventure, so step out, be bold and try anywhere that takes your fancy. A glass of plonk in Dean Street Townhouse, a margarita in El Camion (Brewer Street) or some late night jazz at Ain't Nothin But… (Kingly Streey) are some of our favourites. Just avoid the sex shops, obviously.
2 | Fitzrovia
Nearest tubes: Warren Street / Goodge Street / Tottenham Court Road
Perfect for: A date with options
Charlotte Street Hotel
A lively (and generally cheaper) alternative to Soho, Fitzrovia has plenty of great bars, restaurants and pubs all concentrated around one or two main streets, making it perfect for a date that could go in a few different directions.
Make a great first impression by meeting at the Charlotte Street Hotel, where you can sit on a cozy sofa in the back room and get to know each other in peace (the front dining area near the street gets a little noisy).
For the sake of your wallet (and to find somewhere a bit livelier), you may want to head over the road next to cocktail bar Bourne & Hollingsworth (Rathbone Place). Situated down some metal steps, it's one of those places that serve drinks in jam jars but don't let that put you off – it's comfortable, fun and the drinks are great.
After two 'fancy' locations you made want to head for one of the areas many solid boozers. We recommend the The Wheatsheaf around the corner, which does everything a traditional English pub should, including great beer.
If things are going well, thoughts may well turn to food. For an affordable but excellent option, head to Homeslice where you can share one the best pizzas in London - and some surprisingly solid cocktails, too. The setting is pitched perfectly: informal enough to relax and have fun but smart enough to feel like a proper date and keep you comfortably out of Pizza Express territory.
If you do want to up the swank levels, one of the area's many excellent restaurants is the recently refurbished, Michelin star-holding Pied a Terre on Charlotte Street, which serves some of London's best French cuisine. The cheese board is particularly wonderfully, and a great way to wind off a successful first day.
And if that sounds a bit much, try out House of Ho on Percy Street: an intimate Vietnamese restaurant with a brilliant varied menu on which nothing will disappoint. Whether you're in the mood for sushi, dumplings or noodles this is the perfect place to share great food at reasonable prices: order the soft shell crab - served on a mound of chillies - to make a lasting impression.
3 | Southbank
Nearest tubes: Waterloo / Southwark
Perfect for: Culture
Skylon, Royal Festival Hall
On the surface of things, the Southbank is a terrible choice for a first date: full of tourists and over-priced chain restaurants. But with a little insider knowledge you can make use of the world-class cultural options and the romance of the river without looking like you're a teenager on his first visit to London.
Best to plan your evening around some entertainment – and we don't mean the guys juggling next the Millennium Wheel. The Southbank Centre has a great year-round program of theatre, dance and poetry and The Globe is, of course, the home of Shakespeare. For something a little less highbrow grab some 3D goggles and have your face taken off at the giant Odeon BFI Imax.
Whatever you do culturally, you're going to want to follow it up with a stroll by the water – an activity that has been aiding first dates for centuries – and some quality food and drink. If you're early enough, the Real Food Market (Fri-Sun, Southbank Centre Square) is a fun spot for street food (and rum ice lollies if the weather suits).
For a proper sit down, Sea Containers at the Mondrian London offers both delicious seasfood and view of St. Pauls, RSJ on Coin Street has been offering an unfussy escape from the Southbank and great food for years, and Skylon, on the first floor of the Royal Festival Hall, offers the best views for a romantic drink anywhere along the river.
4 | Shoreditch
Nearest tubes: Liverpool Street / Shoreditch Highstreet (Rail)
Perfect for: Live music / dancing
Zigfrid Von Underbelly
Forget the sneering stereotypes about hipsters on penny farthings, London's former coolest area (a dubious honour that now goes to Peckham, probably) has some of the best nightlife in London. If your idea of a good first date involves drinks, music and possibly cutting a rug, head East.
Start things off (relatively) calmly at The Book Club (Leonard Street), a laid back basement bar where you can line your stomach for the night ahead with some excellent sharing platters. From there head North towards Old Street and, if you can, stop for a drink in Nightjar (City Road), the wildly popular bar where the cocktail list is so extensive it's divided into historical eras. From there, head east to Callooh Callay Bar (Rivington Street), a Lewis Carroll-inspired bar that is cosy and slightly disturbing (in the best possible sense) at the same time.
To step things up a gear and check out some music, you'd do a lot worse than try Cargo (also Rivington Street), a disused railway yard (nicer than it sounds) where some of the areas best events take place.
Just around the corner is Barrio East, a local favourite with caravan seats, dangling plants and great music. Not far from there is the absurdly named – but excellently soundtracked – Zigfrid Von Underbelly, where you can show off your greatest dance moves – assuming that won't stop the date in its tracks.
5 | Kensington and Knightsbridge
Nearest tubes: High Street Kensington / Knightsbridge
Perfect for: Going all out
Unless you're a member of the Royal family, a Russian oligarch or someone who works in fashion, there's a chance you many find central London's most exclusive postcodes a little intimidating.
But in amongst the parked Bentleys and rows of expensive jewelers and designer outlets are some wonderful restaurants and bars that make a journey to the swanky end worth splashing the cash for. Just don't pretend on your first date that this is an area you visit all the time if it isn't, or expectations for dates 2, 3 and 4 might leave you ruined…
Anyway – for drinks head for a cocktail at the extraordinary Kensington Roof Gardens (check head there are no private events planned), where you can share 1.5 acres of immaculate horticulture with some live flamingos. If you go at the right time it's one of the most serene spots in London.
For lunch, our firmest recommendation from the past 12 months is certainly Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, where a measly £12 (who said the West was unaffordable?) will get you a world class French lunch.
For dinner, we recommend the flawless sushi and laidback vibes at Ramusake, or if you're looking for more of a formal dinner, the excellent, recently reopened Toto's in Knightsbridge which serves exquisite contemporary Italian at fair prices. And if you can't decide between sushi or Italian, there is Salmontini which is brilliant at both and one of the coolest dining rooms around.