London’s five most romantic neighbourhoods

From Hackney Wick to Eel Pie Island, “London For Lovers” reveals the city’s best date spots.

Forget Paris. London is today’s amorous city of choice, according to a new book, London for LoversBeautiful photography accompanies short guides to the city's finest romantic neighbourhoods - from the well-trodden (Notting Hill) to the less expected (Crystal Palace, anyone?).  Here are five worth discovering on Valentine's Day:

Lincoln's Inn Field

The largest public square in London, framed by the Gothic spires of the redbrick Lincoln’s Inn society of lawyers, this park is surprisingly easy to miss whilst power-walking down Holborn high street.

“Picnicking on the Field under the spring blossoms feels like stepping back in time,” write the authors, Sam Hodges and Sophie Vickers. Springtime it may not be, but the Inn has other curiosities to offer. The Hunterian Museum, a “less romantic but more macabre detour” on the park’s southside, is a bizarre collection of medical oddities. Collated by eighteenth century surgeon John Hunter, the museum boasts pickled foetuses and the skeleton of The Irish Giant, a 7 foot 7 inch wonder named Charles Byrne.

Dulwich and Forest Hill

The Dulwich Picture gallery, with its “crimson walls and topsy-turvey crowded galleries”, makes an ideal haunt for art lovers. It was also England’s first public art gallery whose first collection came as the gift from “eccentric” collector Sir Francis Bourgeois. He even bequeathed his own body to the museum.

Also recommended are the London Recumbents, cycle-hire specialists on the corner of Dulwich Park, where couples can hire “adult tricycles” with side-by-side seating, handy for roaming the surrounding greenery.

Wapping

Wapping is an atmospheric neighbourhood on the “brooding foreshore” of the River Thames laying claim to two titles of “the oldest”. The Prospect of Whitby calls itself the oldest Thames-side pub in existence, dating from 1543, while the glorious Wilton’s Music Hall, which has survived demolition scares and a takeover bid by Weatherspoons, has been around since 1725 (when it was an alehouse serving Scandinavian sailors).  This romantic venue is the oldest music hall in the world; comprised of a “pillar strewn” concert room and the Mahogany Bar, an antiquated drinking den where one (or two) can cosy up for a tipple.

Twickenham

Off the back of a Dickens quote, the Eel-Pie Island in Twickenham is flagged as a refuge for eclectic lovers:

“Unto the Eel-Pie Island at Twickenham: there to make merry upon a cold collation, bottled beer, shrub, and shrimp, and to dance in the open air to the music of a locomotive band.” – from Nicholas Nickelby

Separated from the Twickenham embankment by a curved footbridge, the secluded, car-free island is accessible only by boat. The place has a history of passion – the authors make mention of both Henry VIII, said to fill up on eel pies whilst journeying by riverboat from Hampton Court to the homes of various mistresses, and an artist couple who battled eight months with the Richmond council, eventually winning the right to rename their home ‘Love Shack’ (after the B52s' hit).

Hackney Wick

Londoners notoriously prowl for the “next” spot, and many have identified the current heart of chic as Hackney Wick/Fish Island - a cluster of warehouses bound on two sides by Union Canal and the River Lea.

It’s an area in a constant state of flux - there’s a good chance that any pop-up market or gallery mentioned here may be there one day, gone the next.” All the more reason to hurry there with a loved one tonight, to see what you find. 

Members of the English pop group The Tremeloes kiss their brides in Trafalgar Square, 1967 (Photo: Getty Images)

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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There are only two rules for an evening drink: it must be bitter, and it must be cold

A Negroni is the aperitif of choice in bars everywhere from London to Palermo - and no wonder.

The aperitif has the odd distinction of being the only alcohol that can always rely on a sober audience: it is the opener, the stimulant, a spur to the appetite for good food and good conversation. This preparatory beverage is considered the height of sophistication, and certainly nobody labouring in field or factory ever required a pep to their evening appetite. Still, to take a drink before one starts drinking is hardly clever behaviour. So why do it?

One reason is surely the wish to separate the working day from the evening’s leisure, an increasingly pressing matter as we lose the ability to switch off. This may change the nature of the aperitif, which was generally supposed to be light, in alcohol and character. Once, one was expected to quaff a pre-dinner drink and go in to dine with faculties and taste buds intact; now, it might be more important for those who want an uninterrupted meal to get preprandially plastered. That way, your colleagues may contact you but they won’t get much sense out of you, and pretty soon they’ll give up and bother someone else.

The nicest thing about the aperitif, and the most dangerous, is that it doesn’t follow rules. It’s meant to be low in alcohol, but nobody ever accused a gin and tonic or a Negroni (Campari, gin and vermouth in equal portions) of that failing; and sherry, which is a fabulous aperitif (not least because you can keep drinking it until the meal or the bottle ends), has more degrees of alcohol than most wines. An aperitif should not be heavily perfumed or flavoured, for fear of spoiling your palate, yet some people love pastis, the French aniseed drink that goes cloudy in water, and that you can practically smell across the Channel. They say the scent actually enhances appetite.

Really only two rules apply. An aperitif should be bitter – or, at any rate, it shouldn’t be sweet, whatever the fans of red vermouth may tell you. And it must be cold. Warm drinks such as Cognac and port are for after dinner. Not for nothing did Édith Piaf warble, in “Mon apéro”, about drowning her amorous disappointments in aperitifs: fail to cool your passions before sharing a table, and you belong with the barbarians.

On the other hand, conversing with your nearest over a small snack and an appropriate beverage, beyond the office and before the courtesies and complications of the dinner table, is the essence of cultured behaviour. If, as is sometimes thought, civilisation has a pinnacle, surely it has a chilled apéro carefully balanced on top.

The received wisdom is that the French and Italians, with their apéritifs and aperitivos, are the experts in these kinds of drinks. Certainly the latter are partial to their Aperol spritzes, and the former to such horrid, wine-based tipples as Lillet and Dubonnet. But the English are good at gin and the Americans invented the Martini. As for Spain, tapas were originally snacks atop a covering that kept the flies out of one’s pre-dinner drink: tapa means lid.

Everywhere, it seems, as evening approaches, people crave a drink that in turn will make them salivate: bitterness, the experts tell us, prepares the mouth to welcome food. The word “bitter” may come from “bite”, in which case the aperitif’s place before dinner is assured.

I like to think that a good one enables the drinker to drown all sour feelings, and go in to dinner cleansed and purified. Fanciful, perhaps. But what better lure to fancy than a beverage that exists only to bring on the evening’s pleasures?

Nina Caplan is the Louis Roederer Pio Cesare Food and Wine Writer of the Year

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times