Valentine's Day: Restaurants
Love is a many-flavoured thing, and not all couples are looking for the same Valentine’s experience. Donald Reid suggests a handful of choice tables for lovers of all persuasions...
For the dyed-in-the-wool romantics …
The Vintners Rooms
The Vaults, 87 Giles Street, Edinburgh, EH6 6BZ, 0131 554 6767, thevintnersrooms.com
If a romantic meal demands a romantic setting, then the hushed historic atmosphere of The Vintners Rooms is an ideal spot. The wine bar with its long rows of fine wine bins, the flagged floor, dark wooden furniture and tapestries is charming enough, though the smaller dining room with its delicate eighteenth century plasterwork illuminated only by candles is prime choice for love-struck liasons. Smart service, a fantastic wine list and a sense of unrushed elegance also contribute to the experience. This year’s Valentine’s menu offers a three course meal (two choices at each course) with a glass of prosecco on arrival for £42 per person.
For investing in a plateful of aphrodisiacs …
84 Albion Street, Glasgow, 0141 552 9475, cafegandolfi.com
Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have a number of fine seafood restaurants, and barring any supply issues, all will offer fresh oysters. Amid the mirrored panels, polished furniture and glass-walled facade, those served at Gandolfi Fish are presented on crushed ice with no further adornment than a slice of lemon and a small pot of blushed pink shallot vinaigrette. If you can’t quite swallow the ideas of oysters, or concur with most realistic scientific opinion that aphrodisiac foods are a bit of a red herring, allow yourself to be seduced by the rest of the menu: daily specials, whole sea bass in brown caper butter or the wonderfully decadent grilled lobster with chips.
For sharing …
Hot Hot Chinese
60 Home Street, Edinburgh, 0131 656 0707
OK, forget all that la-di-da candlelit stuff. The most intimate way to eat is to share food, and you can do better than I’ll-give-you-a-taste-of-mine-if-you’ll-give-me-a-taste-of-yours. An anonymous looking, spartan place at Tollcross, Hot Hot Chinese serves hotpot, the Chinese version of fondu. You get a choice of ‘soup’ (really just the cooking stock) flavoured with big, fat cloves of garlic and plump russet-coloured Chinese dates, and, in the case of fish stock, large chunks of fish-heads. The stock is at a rolling boil on the table-top hob, and there’s quite a spread to choose from – finely-sliced pork, beef, lamb, ham, fish balls and rolls, various forms of tofu as well as Chinese mushrooms, vegetables and king prawn, with two kinds of noodles. Just don’t row too much about whether you’re doing it right.
For an intimate wee Italian …
67-69 Kilmarnock Road, Glasgow, 0845 226 7031, baccoitalia.co.uk
There’s something about Italian restaurants that invokes ‘amore’, and something about the smaller, family-run places that suits the Valentine’s diner looking for intimacy in comfortably familiar surroundings. Brothers Luca Staiano and Peppe run this place, named after Baccus, god of wine, and fittingly every bottle on the list is available by the glass. The food, mostly inspired by sourthern Italian dishes, is reminiscent of the best home cooking: veal topped with tomato and basil and served with roast potatoes and lovely spiced peas, or thick slices of pork stuffed with herbs, garlic and lemon zest.
For a passionate Spaniard …
562 Dumbarton Road, Glasgow, 0141 334 8686, pintxo.info
If Italians do intimate, the Spanish style is to serve up a dose of fiery passion through their food. They also do tapas, which encourages sharing and stretching and squeezing and a bit of happily chaotic mess on the table. Secreted in Dumbarton Road’s back pocket, Pintxo is something of a clandestine haven for mavens of authentic, passionate Spanish cuisine. Baby squid in a crisp, golden, saffron batter, boisterously seasoned and served with green apple alioli is truly transcendent; there can be no better accompaniment to an ice-cold bottle of Cruzcampo. Small, easy going and friendly, Pintxo gives you a touch of the exotic in a neighbourhood setting.
For something dark and mysterious …
Sensory Dining at the Sheraton Grill Room
Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, 1 Festival Square, Edinburgh, 0131 229 9131, sheratonedinburgh.co.uk
For the last year or so, executive chef at the Grill Room in the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Malcolm Webster, has been putting on occasional blind-folded dinners. They’re doing another on 14 February, offering the five-course menu as something a bit daring for couples looking for a bit of adventure (at least on the gastronomic front). Cynics might suggest that an evening not looking at your loved one goes against the intended theme, but perhaps its the groping around in the dark that heightens your sensory awareness. You are relieved of your blind fold between courses, to continue the discussion about what you’ve tasted, and there’s plenty of fun to be had exploring and identifying the smells, flavours and textures on the mystery plates. Love-Themed Sensory Dining costs £70 per person (including a £10 donation to the Guide Dogs for the Blind) and includes a five course gourmet dinner with accompanying beverages and prosecco on arrival.