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Foodie Friday: Top 4 Small Plates Restaurants To Impress Any Date

By Stella Katterman on Oct 11 2013

What to eat on a date is always a rather tricky question. Burgers may still be all the rage right now but beef juices dripping down your face and mayo smothered on your LBD isn’t the most ladylike or elegant way to win over your date. My solution is eating at one of London’s many small plate restaurants where portions are shared, flavours are fresh and food can be part of getting to know your dining companion of choice. Whether you go for classic Spanish tapa, Mexican or more experimental European flavour combination, there is no better way to sample as many flavours within one meal!

Polpo

Now with three branches around London, Polpo has established itself as one of London’s most renown Italian restaurants. We aren’t talking bog standard pasta and pizza here however, no, Polpo is inspired by the classic Venetian barraca which means seasonal ingredients, tapas style portions and seriously gutsy and unusual flavour combinations that are truly authentic in their Italian heritage. There are of course their almost infamous “polpo” meatballs served with a tomato sauce that could have been knocked up by a real Italian housewife after a family recipe or their equally delicious vegetarian option of ricotta, spinach and chickpea “meat bealls”. Then there are the pizzettas, a kind of mini pizza topped with anything from potato for a bianca version that forgoes tomato sauce for pure cheesy goodness to a fragrant spinach and egg for their take on the classic fiorentinapizza. Of course the menu also includes an abundance of fresh fish ( the fritto misto is to die for) and more rustic meat options. The good thing is of course that you can try them all as the menu is designed for sharing and split into easy sections. With rustic and romantic interiors and spotless service it is without a doubt worth joining the queue for that forms outside their doors most nights.

Jose

The small plate dining concept of course originally stems from Spanish tapas and while London may be heaving with restaurants that claim to offer authentic Spanish cuisine not many actually do. Jose definitely does and is one of my all time favourite restaurants in London. Run by Jose Pizarro who has made a name for himself as one of Spain’s most esteemed chefs and hidden away a few minutes walk away from London Bridge station on quaint Bermondsey street, you can’t help but become immediately enchanted with this place. In a tiny corner building with only a few stools you immediately feel not only like on holiday with the warm atmosphere that awaits inside but also rather special for managing to grab a spot in this intimate setting. The menu changes weekly and depending on what produce they can secure while there are also the Spanish classics such as their amazing patata bravas with a delicious garlic aioli and thick tomato sauce or their pan con tomato, a simple combination of tomato, bread and garlic that still manages to burst with flavour. That is indeed the theme at Jose, things may be kept simple in terms of ingredients but what is served is second to none in terms of freshness and flavour of Spanish cuisine yet with an added twist to make the most of their location and the undeniable talent of their head chef. It’s a place to really savour and to get that real sense of having found a true London dining gem.

Gail’s Kitchen

Gail’s kitchen’s concept may appear a little odd for a restaurant at first sight. After all it has been set up by the same people as Gail’s bakeries that have been providing Londoners with some of the best bread and pastries around for some time now. Indeed it may not sound like the height of sophistication to make these carby wonders the star of the show in a restaurant but oh boy does it work at Gail’s. Fusing a modern European touch with their expertise in baking results in a fine selection of small dishes that offer taste explosions in every bite. The menu takes inspiration from a range of different cuisine and their signature breads, be it their Swiss style raclette or an Italian inspired taleggio and truffle toasty, each bread authentic and adding a real depth of flavour to the dish. With so many enticing small dishes on offer it’s hard to choose just three- meat, fish and vegetarian options all equally appealing and able to cater for every taste. As established bakery expectations for the desserts at Gail's are of course also high and certainly do not disappoint. Indeed the desserts here are real showstopper from the fresh cookies and milk to the brioche ice cream sandwich or apple meringue pie. My favourite are cookies that may sound a little odd as dessert option but at Gail's these are something quite special. Freshly baked after your order they are gooey, hot and still slightly raw and arrive on a wooden board, served with a tiny milk bottle and striped straw. I defy anyone not to drool over this impeccably presented, simple yet perfectly executed dessert. Gail's may not break the boundaries with new dishes but what it does do is serve up classic, timeless dishes in an unpretentious environment, perfect to forget the hustle and bustle of London and chat the night away.

Wahaca

Wahaca may be part of a growing chain these days with restaurants dotted around London but the original aim of serving fresh, authentic and seasonally changing Mexican street food has remained. Set up by former Masterchef winner Thomasina Meyer, Wahaca has gone from strength to strength since it was set up a few years back and instantly transports you to the colourful streets of Mexico. Inspired in their interior by the brightly painted tin huts of the Mexican villages Meyer visited to get to really know the food culture there, the dishes served are far removed from the dodgy Tex-Mex food that has given the cuisine a bad reputation. Whether delicately spiced chicken sandwiched into a quesadilla or open tacos topped with scallops, steak or black beans, its food that is a joy to eat and even more so to share ( 2-3 dishes are recommended per person which means you get to try and share a variety of flavours). Another winner are the fantastic cocktails that, like everything at Wahaca , are extremely good value for money without compromising on quality and make tequila, the main ingredients used for the drinks , the real star of any of the mojitos or margharitas you will undoubtedly order. It’s thus a fantastic place for a more laid back date, especially with one or two of their hibiscus mojitos to sip alongside, and one that is as enjoyable in its atmosphere as it is in its food.

And what to wear;
For a date you want to go for classic, not too fashion to prevent seeming to intimidating but staying true to your style! Here are my top three date essentials!

  1. LBD
    You cant go wrong with a lbd. It suits and flatters all shapes and can be dressed up or down to suit the tone of the date. It’s timeless and it is also a little forgiving even after a dinner.

  2. Court shoe
    You ideally want to avoid towering over your date in skyscraper heels but we all know heels give you that added confidence that you simply do not get in flats. These court shoes offer the perfect middle ground and are comfortable enough to spend a whole evening in