Looking for a romantic restaurant to wine and dine your Valentine? Well, our advice is to do like the French do and pick one of these atmospheric eateries for 14 February.
The French are famed for their talents when it comes to the art of romance, so it makes perfect (or should we say parfait) sense to follow their lead on the day of love.
London may be some 300 miles from Paris, but our fair city still has lots of opportunities to get your French on. There are tons of gorgeous restaurants that not only flaunt menus filled with the most indulgent, delicious foods from our cousins over the channel (think cheese, wine and more cheese) but these haunts are known for their sultry atmosphere, too.
Here we’ve picked out some of the best French restaurants in London, from purveyors of fresh seafood to experts in traditional fare, but no matter which one you choose we think your evening will have a certain je nai se quoi.
So, whether you’re looking for all-out-glamour like the gold-gilded Balthazar or chic sophistication at Frenchie, here’s our guide to the best romantic French restaurants in London for Valentine’s day.
Bob Bob Cité
A romantic evening doesn’t have to mean candle light, rose petals and feeding each other oysters – in London, anything goes. So, for couples who are a little bit cooler there’s Bob Bob Cité, the second venue from the creators of iconic Soho haunt Bob Bob Ricard.
Hidden away on the second floor of the Leadenhall Building in Bank, this 21st century take on a traditional French brasserie will dazzle your senses. The shiny, reflective decor (which is, literally, dazzling) feels almost akin to sitting in a very posh spaceship while the menu is so full of cream, truffle and caviar, our tastebuds have never had such a ride. We’d especially recommend the signature lobster mac and cheese, truffle mash potato and il flotante.
The Bob Bob empire is mostly known for its iconic (and heavily Instagrammed) ‘press for champagne’ buttons, so even though we’re fans of eschewing the usual romantic tropes, we’re quite happy for this one to stay. As you’d imagine, the champagne list is impressive and delicious, so make sure you clink your glasses in a cheers to amour.
Where is it? Level 3, 122 Leadenhall St, London EC3V 4AB
Bon Vivant, an unassuming French restaurant with classic Parisian outside seating and sumptuous interior design, is a lovely, low-key option in Bloomsbury. The staff hail from all over Europe and are led by a French manager, who ensures they all partake in French lessons after joining his team, so as to keep things feeling as authentic as possible. And it works, particularly alongside the oh-so-French menu, which sees classics given a modern update: think escargots (snails) doused in a buttery mix of garlic, so that the parsley and shallots drip down your chin and need mopping up with a warm slice of the restaurant’s homemade bread.
For mains, we recommend sticking with another French must-have and trying the duck confit on the most indulgent lentils you’ll ever try and finished with cranberry jus. Although you’ll potentially be fit to burst by now, do yourself a solid and try the melt-in-the-middle Nutella pudding (with spoonfuls of Nutella spread across the plate to accompany the fondant the oozes out of the sponge) and say yes to the post-dinner cheese board, even if it’s just a little one.
The ambiance in Bon Vivant is relaxed but intimate, and the staff are an absolute delight, so whether you’re having dinner with your friends or planning an evening of romance this spot is one you’ll be raving about long after you’ve nibbled your last slither of brie.
Where is it? Bon Vivant, 75-77 Marchmont St, Kings Cross, London WC1N 1AP
Galvin At Windows
Rarely does a restaurant manage to tick every box: great location (hello, rooftop!), incredible food (Michelin-starred, anyone?) and flawless service. But Galvin at Windows really does set itself apart from the rest.
Found on the 28th floor of the London Hilton on Park Lane in Mayfair, the restaurant has made it its mantra to serve up faultless creative French cuisine with aplomb since opening in May 2006. We’re talking feather blade Bourguignon with celeriac purée, and finished with a bacon and bone marrow jus. And confit and smoked duck pâté, beetroot salad and blood orange. To finish? Pain d’épice, vanilla chiboust cream and pickled pear.
Then there’s the selection of seasonal cheeses which can only be consumed while sipping on sweet, chilled Port.
But it’s the view that tops it all off. You’ll feel like a stargazer as you sit face-to-face with the moon while taking in London’s lit up landscape at night.
Where is it? 22 Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1K 1BE
Sardine may be in an odd location (tucked behind McDonald’s on City Road) in Hoxton, but upon entering you’ll immediately feel like you’re in the Mediterranean. From the aromas to the colourful (yet tasteful) décor, it’s a pleasant place to be.
But it’s the smell of the Southern French cooking happening on an open wood fire that really draws you (and your taste buds) in. With a communal-style dining set up, it’s easy to forget you’re actually in London when eating and drinking here. It all feels so sociable, so enjoyable.
And the best part? The menu is short, simple yet sophisticated. For starters, the duck and pork rillettes with pickles on toast is simply delicious. And the Onglet steak covered in pepper sauce and chunky chips follows suit. Then there’s the rhubarb and brown butter tart topped with crème fraiche for dessert – it’s as good as it sounds.
With plenty of French wines to pick from, you won’t be disappointed.
Where is it? 15 Micawber Street, Hoxton, London N1 7TB
This luxury tea saloon has been an established name in Paris since 1854, with a wealth of history behind it as one of France’s most sophisticated gourmet tea companies. With a plethora of sites already in the City of Lights, this is the brand’s first foray into the UK and for the London launch, they’ve gone all out.
Set in a charming five-story Georgian townhouse in Covent Garden, the ground floor is open to shoppers while the upper level, which looks over the store below, is the perfect spot for a romantic dinner for two. Away from the hustle and bustle, but benefiting from just the right amount of atmosphere, it’s certainly a unique location to go on a date - especially if your date is a tea lover. Not only does the venue have a specialised tea counter, but it plays host to a tea museum too!
But don’t worry, tea isn’t the only thing on the menu. The incredibly attentive hosts also serve up fine glasses of champagne, alongside particularly decadent mains, many of which follow a seafood theme. For dessert, the ever changing menu features some show stoppers, but we recommend the red tea-candied strawberries with citrusy whipped cream and bourbon vanilla shortbread biscuit, topped with French meringue and edible gold foil. Paired with either the Sweetheart Tea (sculpted white tea shaped as a heart) or the Love Story Tea (a seductive gourmet black tea with accents of velvety, fruity and flowery notes) and you’ve got a very romantic meal indeed.
Where is it? Mariage Freres, 38 King Street, Covent Garden
If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop that’s got it all, then look no further than Brasserie Zédel. Laid out across three tiers, every level offers a different type of entertainment, meaning you and your date could happily start at the top and cascade your way down throughout an entire evening.
Strolling in off the street, you’ll find yourself in what feels like an authentic Parisian cafe, all checked chairs, tiled flooring and lots of red, white and blue. If you fancy a casual coffee and a croissant, this is a great place to start your date before you descend.
Continuing down into the belly of the venue, you’ll find that old school glamour is the order of the day: from a cabaret bar offering comedy and live entertainment to Bar American, an Art Deco watering hole perfect for a tipple before dinner.
Dinner is held in the gold-gilded, pink-marbled extravaganza that is the main dining hall. If Marie Antoinette had designed the Titanic, this is what it would have looked like. A marvel to behold, it feels like romance personified with cute touches like pink napkins and a full French menu. We recommend going the whole hog and ordering oysters (great quality) and champagne.
Where is it? Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood St, Soho, London W1F 7ED
If you pressed us to describe local French eatery Les Nénettes in one word, we’d have to say…utterly charming. Okay, that’s deux words, but we couldn’t help ourselves, it really is brimming with charm. Small, but perfectly formed. Stylish, without being over-the-top. Casual, but still considered enough to feel special. It’s essentially a pocket of Paris in Lower Clapton.
Little touches like candelabras, the ornate teal-painted bar and classic checked flooring create atmosphere but the informal feel of the restaurant and bar area make it a great place for a first date, when you’re panicking about sage in your teeth and small talk, no one wants a venue that feels intimidating too.
In true French style the menu is loaded with indulgent choices, many of which are laden with cheese. They do an all day brunch menu with classics such as a killer croque monsieur, and in the evening there’s a mix of charcuterie, salads, duck, steak and much more. Predictably, the wine menu is increidbly well chosen and the cocktails have a certain oh la la about them - think fruity Kir Royals and seamlessly mixed French 75s.
Where is it? Les Nénettes, 19 Lower Clapton Rd, East London E5 0NS
Imagine this: the year is 1924, you and your date stroll into an up-town Paris brassiere, the lights are low, the waiters are in white suits and the booths are red. It’s Art Deco heaven. This is what spending an evening in Balthazar feels like - stepping back in time.
Grab a seat by the bar and watch the bartenders work their magic, shaking and mixing with flair in front of an impressive mirror reflecting the bustle of diners behind you. It’s the perfect way to start a date, sipping an elegant tipple from the fancy glassware and soaking up the atmosphere.
We recommend booking a table as it gets really rather busy thanks to its super central location just next to Covent Garden’s piazza, and if you can, ask to be sat in one of the central booths, where the buzz is at its peak.
The restaurant has an abundance of options when it comes to food, with a special emphasis on fish. We like the sound of the lobster spaghetti (but don’t blame us if there’s some spillages!), oysters, octupus salad and sea bass ceviche. There’s also an adorable boulangerie right next door where you can pick up a treat for the way home.
Where is it? Balthazar, 4-6 Russell St, Central London WC2B 5HZ
Foodies take note, this swish eatery is rather a big deal for those who consider themselves in the know about gourmet grub. Stylishly slick, you’ll find that everything at this Henrietta Street haunt has been designed with consideration, from what’s on your plate to what adorns the walls.
With a long, thin structure, pale grey tonal walls and plenty of lighting elongate the restaurant, while block colours and structured lines create a sophisticated feel. Hero furniture pieces like blush pink velvet chairs and monochrome tiled flooring had us hooked as soon as we walked int the door, cementing Frenchie as one of the coolest restaurants in Covent Garden, and beyond.
If you’re not familiar with the story behind the restaurant’s name, the owner Greg Marchand who originally hails from Brittany, worked with Jamie Oliver at his restaurant Fifteen, where the naked chef gave his protégé the nickname Frenchie. And it’s stuck ever since.
Marchand is known back in France for a string of Parisian venues and well regarded for his experimental, quality menus. Thankfully, his Covent Garden venture is no different. If you fancy splashing out (or really want to impress someone) the five course taster menu includes mouth-watering dishes like duck foie gras cranberries, mulled wine and ginger bread and Cornbury Park venison, quince and smoked celery root.
As if Primrose Hill wasn’t a dreamy enough date location, with its elegant rows of pastel houses and grassy viewpoints, there’s now another reason to stroll its streets. And that reason is, Odette’s. As romantic venues go, it doesn’t get much more so than this.
The tasteful decor of green leather booths and stylish monochrome paintings, the glowy orbs of light that hang from the ceilings, and the unique structure of the building, which offers squirreled away seating spaces on three different levels (including a prestigious chef’s table in the kitchen) all contribute to a memorable evening.
And it’s not just the atmosphere at Odette’s that feels très romantique, its history is pretty love-struck too. Not only is it the place that owner Chef Patron Bryn Williams met his wife, but in the 10 years that its been open a couple has revisited every single year for their anniversary. All together now: awh.
Try the tasting menu for a variety of dishes, like crispy pigs head, celeriac remoulade, prune ketchup and crackling, next to stone bass, borlotti beans, mussels, courgette and crab bisque. Or pick what you like from the a la carte, which features delicacies like halibut, pearl barley, Jerusalem artichoke, duck ham and hazelnut. Our top tip? Save yourself for dessert and get in on the soufflé.
Make your evening even more romantic and book one of these stylish London hotels, perfect for a staycation in the city, to finish the night in.
Images: Courtesy of venues /Huy Phan