Under a fifth of customers (17%) considered celebrating Valentine’s Day by dining out in 2023, with the bite of the cost-of-living crisis thwarting chances for true love at the pub.
But all is not lost. Food is a love language – and gastropubs are primed to serve up the best plates in the name of romance on the big day. Chefs have offered their top tips for creating loved-up dishes to woo lovebirds through the door on Valentines Day this year (Wednesday 14 Feb), as well as sharing their menu ideas and dish inspiration.
“Valentine’s Day is quite a big one for every restaurant,” said Scott Smith, head chef at the Oarsman and the Crown at Bray, Berkshire. He’ll put on a few sharing dishes alongside the normal a la carte menu, alongside a bouillabaisse fish option served with braised fennel, saffron, potatoes, leeks and gruyere. This is a more interactive option as everything comes out on little dishes.
A beef option will also be on option with onion rings, salad and béarnaise sauce. “It’s the one night where people want to share food romantically,” said Smith.
On the dessert side, there’ll definitely be something chocolatey on offer, which will keep service ticking over nicely, according to the chef.
'Light & simple'
His advice to operators? “Keep it simple and light”, and make sure to include the classics like chocolate and rose flavours, and even things like strawberries or summer fruits that, despite not being in season, are associated with Valentine’s Day.
Robert Boer, head chef at the Mutton, Hazeley Heath, Hampshire, will run a £75 tasting menu with five courses. It will begin with a spiced parsnip velouté with roasted apple and mackerel, followed by scallops and artichokes, then parmesan gnocchi with a crispy kale puree. The main will be herb-crusted lamb loin with crispy potatoes, chased by rhubarb bread & butter doughnut with rhubarb yogurt for dessert.
The inspiration behind the dishes? “It’s having a bit of fun really,” said Boer. “For Valentine’s Day, you want something that’s quite approachable and you also want crowd pleasers, but the new litke to add a little twist to things.
“So the mackerel pakora with the soup will have a nice crispy element, and we’re having fun taking two ingredients that are pretty standard ingredients and doing something a bit more interesting with them.
“We like doing multiple elements with similar ingredients. So we’re using artichokes in lots of different ways – the same with the kale, with the gnocchi and stuff. And then it’s something more approachable with the main course – a bit more of a crowd-pleaser that everyone will be happy with. We don’t want to make people unhappy on Valentine’s Day. If it’s fun for customers, fun for chefs, then it just keeps everyone interested and entertained.”
Forge your own path
His tip for chefs on Valentine’s Day is to break away from the norm. It’s quite easy to go down classical routes, but keeping things interesting can catch the attention of potential guests. Having said that, he also advised chefs “not to go too wacky,” as some customers going out on Valentine’s Day won’t be wanting that. “Make it interesting but also relatable,” he added.
Other pubs have also opted for sharing options. Baked camembert for two will be on offer at the Goffs Oak in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, served with freshly baked artisan bread and plum ketchup for dipping. There will also be a 28-day aged 160z Chateaubriand for two, and a trio of sharing desserts, featuring home-baked chocolate brownie, apple & damson crumble and berries pavlova.
The Hope and Anchor in South Ferriby, Lincolnshire, will also be running an exclusive Valentine’s menu for £99 per couple. “Elevate your evening with a romantic feast as our Valentine's menu takes centre stage, the sole culinary delight on offer for a memorable night of indulgence,” said the pub.
It will also feature classic romantic ingredients like white chocolate pave and rose chocolate glaze – pistachio – alongside dishes such as vegetable wellington, homemade sourdough with cultured butter and rose meringue nougat.
Deals & drinks
Other pubs have decided to offer special deals to celebrate romance. At the Phoenix Bar & Eatery in Romsey, Hampshire, guests can bag two steak dinners and a bottle of wine for £29.95. “When everyone else is rising their prices, we are doing just the opposite,” said a spokesperson for the pub.
Keeping the drinks flowing is also key to offering a stellar Valentine’s offering, with luxury wines, Champagne and cocktails all on the cards to set the mood. The Oarsman will host a ‘couple’s cocktail’ combination – a cherry whisky sour alongside a rosehip Bellini, for instance. “We try and keep it as exciting as we can,” added Smith. “It’s a busy day for us.”
The Mutton will run special drinks offers all throughout Valentine’s week – an option for boosting trade as the big day falls midweek.
At the Watermill in Dorking, Surrey, there’s a French Kiss cocktail with Pinksters Gin, Chambord and Pineapple juice that has been specially created for the occasion. But if you’re not into cocktails, there’s chilled Prosecco and Champagne on offer, as well as a selection of wines and beers.
So as long as pubs can keep the champagne flowing alongside menus that are creative and inclusive, true romance and a successful day of trade will prosper.