A few months ago when researching our trip to Dubrovnik I read a survey which included the city’s Restaurant Nautika as the most romantic restaurant in the world.
And while the lunch we had there was fine, the view lovely, the food passable, it made me think. I’m not sure it’s making my top 10.
So if it’s not, what are?
Those of us who have hate-watched enough episodes of The Bachelor may have come to believe true romance involves rose petals, picnic blankets and climbing buildings in unflattering harnesses, before pausing to awkwardly kiss at the top.
This list does not involve those things.
It’s been cultivated over nine years of outlandish restaurant dining with The Hungry One. It also takes into account the four restaurants in Sydney he contemplated proposing at, before slinking home at the end of the night with a ring still sitting in his pocket (too crowded, too noisy, food too complicated, the feeling was just wrong).
In the end, the most romantic restaurants are not the ones with petals and violins. They’re the ones which make you swoon a little. The ones where there’s a bit of magic. Sometimes it comes from the view, or the city. Sometimes it’s from people on the floor and in the kitchen. And sometimes it comes from what’s on your plate.
In no particular order, here’s the first lot.
1) Mirazur, Menton, France
It might be the view out over the Cote d’azur. It might be the gentle care with the produce. It might be that in the gardens that surround Mauro Cologreco’s glass rimmed oasis in Menton there are no fewer than 39 varieties of tomato growing (it isn’t called a love apple for nothing). In between the excesses of Monte Carlo and Italy, Mirazur is a blessing. Twinkling lights, slow cooked Bresse chicken with fennel puree and infusions of lemon verbena tea, picked from plants at the table to steep while you hold hands and look moonily out over the view (or if you’re us, who were terribly sick with the flu when we visited plot where to get hold of cold and flu medication). Add to that charming staff and if you’re lucky; some fireworks in the distance. Some romantic cliches are cliches for a reason. They work. This is one of those very special places. If you can still feel amorous while your nose is running like a tap, then you know the place is go.
2) Bras, France
Tucked away in the Aubrac region of France; a place so cosseted that mashed potato is woven with cheese and dinner knives are converted to art, is Michel and Sebastien Bras’ family restaurant.
In life and in dinner there’s passion and fireworks. Then there’s sweet contentment. If pure loveliness is what you’re after, go to Bras (and if you have the cash, stay there too). We did not, so our romantic experience started by checking into the local motel. It all started with a leisurely drive up a hill hemmed with wildflowers and dotted with cows. After you’ve sipped champagne in the bar and removed the protective paper sheaf off your Laguiole knife you’ll probably end up eating the gargouillou; a salad/bouquet of vegetables, herbs and blossoms. If eating flowers seems old hat to you by now, I beg you to quickly swat that notion away; it’s at Bras where it all began. This is the place that made pansies into dining stars. The meal will probably end with a gift of bon bons. Meanwhile the sky streaks pink like a watercolour over rolling green hills, all all you’ll do is happily sigh.
For more about Bras, go here.
Route de l’Aubrac, 12 210 Laguiole, France
+33 (0)5 65 51 18 20
3) Pjerin, Dubrovnik
The survey was right about one thing; Dubrovnik itself. Water the colour of cheap gemstones. A walled old town so atmospheric it now serves as a backdrop for Game of Thrones. The strandun is purpose built for lazy passeggiatas. But one of the most romantic spots is a short boat ride away. Pjerin is the restaurant tucked inside Villa Dubrovnik. Half of the guests will have gained access to this glass walled modern delight via a vaporetto speedboat transfer. Little tip; if you’re ever in need of something to make your dinner date resemble Bond/Clooney/choose your object of lust, a jaunt on a wooden Italian speed boat should do it.
From there it’s white tablecloths, turquoise water and an amber sky. This is a place designed for nursing a campari on the rocks, followed by a shared bottle of bold Istrian red, all plummy and dark. While some Croatian fare can feel heavy, steer yourself towards the lamb or fish dishes on the menu. A combination of mullet, potato, tomato and olives is light and cheerful- food that’s not tizzy, just well presented and tastes clean.
If you’re feeling particularly romantic, take the lift upstairs and see if you can slip into a room here for the night.
For more about the pleasures of Villa Dubrovnik, go here.
Vlaha Bukovca 6, Dubrovnik, Croatia. Tel: +385 20 500 300.
4) Kuzina, Athens
Romance is often best found in a place that you least expect it. At 7.45pm on a Greek Sunday summer’s eve, the air in Athens does a good impression of a towel straight from the dryer; hot and slightly dank. Negotiating the crowds milling in the restaurant and stall-strewn Adrianou Street in the centre of the city can be hectic. What you need to do is head up. Fifty eight stairs up, the roof terrace at Kuzina is spectacular. It’s wrought iron chairs, whitewashed walls and ice buckets. It’s the Temple of Hephaestus below and the Acropolis above. It’s fava as smooth as silk and loukamades slicked with pomegranate syrup. And the best bit being; locals eat late. So from around 8-9.30pm there’s every chance that you’ll have the terrace- and that ancient view all to yourself.
For more about Kuzina, go here.
Adrianou 9 (Thissio), Athens, Greece. Tel. 210-3240133.
5) River Cafe, London
It ticks all the right boxes. Adjacent to running water? check (even if it is the Thames). Restrained Italian food , beautifully prepared? Seamless service? A sly glance of a celebrity or two? If you can stomach the bill and secure a table outside on a nice eve, there are few nicer places in the world to be than The River Cafe. Part of what makes it romantic is the lack of fuss. No foams to negotiate, no tricksy cutlery. Order a bowl of pasta, or something that’s pranced past the wood-fuelled grill in the back of the dining room. Share a bottle of Italian vino and glance forks over each other as you scrape for the last bite of their famed chocolate nemesis cake. Yes, it really is that good.
The only thing that’s a little less romantic is the walk back to Hammersmith underground. So if you’re really feeling flush, spruik for a mini cab home.
For a vicarious visit to The River Cafe, go here.
The River Cafe
Thames Wharf, Rainville Road,
Hammersmith W6 9HA