Dating is tough. Believe me, I know. You want to seem smart, funny, on trend, but also have to pretend like you're super relaxed and don't grow body hair anywhere weird. I get it.
With the big V Day coming up, the pressure is on to not only seem like the best thing to ever happen to your potential bae, but to also go somewhere romantic/casual/chic/not expensive/kinda expensive/let's split the cheque/I forgot my wallet etc.
There are several criteria that make a date go from drab to FAB. Mostly the food. And the drinks. And the lighting. Luckily in Melbourne generally it's harder to find a bad place than it is a good one.
Having lived the #singlelife for the past couple of years, I have trialled almost every date place in town - from old pubs to hatted-restaurants - so now you don't have to do the hard yards. Here are my top five choices of ultimate date places to take your bae this V Day.
Jay Z and Beyonce have been spotted dating here before, so if it's good enough for the Queen and her Illuminati beau, 'tis definitely good enough for you. The high ceilings, light wooden floors, marble bench tops and open kitchen with bar seating for couples to perch like lovebirds = BINGO. The food, as per Andrew McConnell's impeccable rep, is on point (or en pointe if you're over 35) offering a particularly good selection of oysters, raw and cured dishes, along with a wine list to get you Drunk In Love. You might have 99 Problems but making the romance here ain't one.
Location perks: a smooch over a sake at Japanese bar Hihou is almost guaranteed, providing they let you in.
45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, cumulusinc.com.au
Lobster brioche toast at Cumulus Inc. Photo: Anu Kumar
Small and friendly, this low-key wine bar has been popular for the daters of Melbourne since it opened in 2015. Its rustic decor is a breath of fresh air for city venues: wooden surfaces, sandy brick, dark tiles and exposed floor beams (for a ceiling), with warm globes that create real-life Snapchat filter lighting. It's worth arriving early to nab a place at the highly desirable bar so you and bae can also bask in the last rays of the setting sun that fall softly through the frameless window. The low-key kitchen buzz provides enough noise to cover any awkward silences and the fun, uncomplicated menu has a 10/10 share-plate selection including a chicken dish that could win the vote for Best Bird in the city.
Location perks: Walk around the corner for a cocktail at street-art inspired Bar Ampere (with access to hidden bar Swamp, that links through to Gin Palace), or across the road to the rooftop of QT Hotel. Where you can also get a room. Ahem.
122 Russell Street, Melbourne, embla.com.au
Embla's trademark dish – organic, free-range chicken with simple seasoning. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
If you haven't snuggled in the bay-window of this Little Collins institution, are you even a Melburnian in love? It's Portugese-Spanish-Mediterranean vibe offers the trifecta of love-cultures, a recipe that has led to many a proposal, according to the manager. Ye olde paintings and bric-a-brac decorate the walls behind the polished wooden bar, and the $55 per head Valentine's Day 'Menu Amor' has been specially designed to 'heat things up'. Wit woot.
Location perks: stay on theme and follow dinner with a visit to equally-kitschy cocktail bar Lily Blacks.
37 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, barlourinha.com.au
With an outdoor area for warm nights, window seating inside and a section of circular tables (the ultimate table-shape for romance, I'm sure there is a scientific study to prove this) – this place is a V Day no-brainer. Let the staff select your meals because 1) they know far better than you do; and 2) the menu on the wall is as descriptive as a Lego block. This adds to the excitement of the night: waiting to see what food-surprises will arrive at your table already has you thinking like a team. A genius move by Mr McConnell.
Location perks: take a stroll down Brunswick Street to award-winning cocktail bar Black Pearl.
53 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, marionwine.com.au
Marion Wine Bar Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
It's clear that chef Adam D'Sylva is a love-wizard. Within seconds upon entry, you feel as though this hidden laneway restaurant is hugging you hello. Is it the warm lighting, the perfect temperature, the sectioned layout or the fact you are below footpath level and feel like a two penguins in a burrow? The answer is D: all of the above. Choose the bar seats, and perch beneath the wirey artworks that cast down a soft moonlight-esque glow. Prepare to fall in love over shared dishes – including the crispy prawn betel-leaves, tuna salad and roast duck curry – as the bar staff, like gods from the heavens, select and pour the perfect matching drop.
Location perks: Enjoy a post-meal cocktail with your beau at Eau De Vie. Assuming you can find it.
141 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, codarestaurant.com.au