Ten first-date dining gems

Where to eat: The National Eatery and Speakeasy in Parktown.

Where to eat: The National Eatery and Speakeasy in Parktown.

At best, going on a first date is awkward and, at worst, an ego-tripping tragedy for one’s self-esteem if you don’t get that second invitation.

If you’ve “right-swiped’’ your way to a real-life Tinder date or finally made it out of the “friend zone’’ and are going on a first date with that special “friend’’, the last thing you want to do to your nerves is choose the wrong restaurant.

For those who don’t have the time to scroll through the EatOut website, here is a list of places that suit different budgets, lifestyles and the various types of first dates one can go on in the age of the internet, where love matches can be calculated by kilometre radius:

1. The EB Social Kitchen and Bar 

For: Book lovers and sophisticated aesthetes. 
Average spend: R600 for two.
Address: Exclusive Books Hyde Park, Hyde Park Corner, Johannesburg.
Décor wise, this restaurant is breathtaking. Your date will think you are taking them to the average Exclusive Books coffee shop but, before they write you off, their expectations will be dashed as they discover a piece of aesthetic heaven nestled behind the revamped book store.

The near perfect cocktails are named after writers of classic English novels such as Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway. The wine list is comprehensive and pricey, and the food, which isn’t the best thing about this place, is fancy, experimental and modest in portions – no buffalo wings here, thank you. Try the shaved, hand-cured bresaola with warm potato salad to start and work your way up the sharing-friendly menu.

If the date goes well, there are a lot of aisles, books and different spaces to continue the conversation over their sublime ­cappuccinos. 
Option 2: The Potato Sheds at Workshop Newtown, Miriam Makeba Street, Johannesburg.

2. Col’cacchio nationwide

For: Low-carb high-fat eaters or Banting dieters.
Average spend: R350 for two.
Address: colcacchio.co.za
There’s no way you will know whether your date is Banting unless you are serious about charming them – in which case you will ask whether they would like a Banting menu at the place you will be dining. If that’s the case, Col’cacchio is a good spot to try. Pizza, especially if eaten the right way – with your hands – can introduce a level of comfort and familiarity that can make awkward first-date banter a little easier.

They have a simple but delicious menu of five types of perfectly thin cauliflower-base pizzas and endless salads to choose from. The ambient noises of a big, open restaurant will mask awkward silences if there are any, and so might a bottle of Terra Del Capo Sangiovese, which, at R147 a pop, is well worth it. If things go well and coffees are being had, try their Nutella hot chocolate as a dessert-cum-coffee.
Option 2: Ricks Café Americain, Gardens, Cape Town.

3. Little Addis

For: Thrifty McThriffington – on a budget but wants exotic food.
Average spend: R150 for two.
Address: Corner Fox and Kruger streets, Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg.

This Ethiopian restaurant is simple, unpretentious and the food is delicious if you have an adventurous palette. Don’t go with someone who has never tried Ethiopian food because the flavours and sourness of the injera bread might be jarring for them – which would be really boring if you are trying to impress someone. They don’t serve alcohol but allow you to bring your own. Go!
Option 2: Tong Lok Japanese Restaurant, 163 Cowey Road, Greyville, Durban.

4. The Creamery Café Newlands 

For: The Tinder date.
Average spend: R220 for two.
Address: Shop 4, Newlands Quarter, Dean Street, Newlands, Cape Town.

Going on a Tinder date can be a mixture of exciting and terrifying, and sometimes the pressure for the meeting to go well can reduce one’s appetite. The Creamery is the perfect place to be in a social setting while eating sweet, handmade treats that will lighten the atmosphere.

It’s a bright and friendly place for first meetings that can hopefully lead to a more formal second date. It’s a little pricey, but their Belgian waffles are probably better than those in Belgium, as is their entire handmade ice cream menu.
Option 2: Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream, Rosebank Mall, Johannesburg.

The Creamery Café Newlands.

5. Beijing Opera

For: The “I’m out of the friend zone” date.
Average spend: R220 for two.
Address: 3 – 9 Rose Street, De Waterkant, Cape Town.

So you and your date are not strangers, you’ve been friends for a while and one of you has liked the other, although the other wasn’t so keen. Through some miraculous way that you need to share with the world, you have made it out of the friend zone and are ready to go on a real date. Beijing Opera is a stylish, cool and no-fail Chinese eatery to take your relationship to the next level.

Order different things to share, such as the BBQ pork-pot stickers and a variety of dim sum, and wash it down with a craft beer. Everything about this place makes you want to stay longer: perfect for friends and lovers.
Option 2: The People’s Republic of Noodles, Randburg, Johannesburg.

6. The National Eatery and Speakeasy

For: The “impressing your ex’’ date.
Average spend: R300 for two.
Address:19 4th Avenue, Parktown North, Johannesburg.

Tucked away in a quiet strip behind the Parktown Convenience Store is this refuge of all things delicious and stylish. From the cool name to the décor, ambience and service, The National is the one place you can count on to impress an ex, whether you are trying to rekindle things or are amicably signing divorce papers. It will evoke a “damn, she’s still got it’’ kind of envy for good taste.

The food is a fusion of American- style burgers and some Mexican dishes thrown in, along with Asian and other fusions. Share, eat with your hands and don’t leave without trying the braised-for-18-hours boar with egg-duck pasta. Just don’t.
Option 2: The Leopard, 63 4th Avenue, Melville, Johannesburg.

7. The Flamingo Room

For: The post-fuccboi glow-up date.
Average spend: R350 for two.
Address: Tasha’s, Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton.

This stylish and beautifully decorated place is a must-try for anyone looking to dine in style while eating approachable food – but especially for the woman who is getting her

life back after leaving a bad relationship with a fuccboi (a manipulating dick who does whatever it takes to benefit himself, regardless of who he screws over).

The flamingo-pink velvety interior transports you to a different time and place, so make sure you dress the part. Go with your girls, go with a new date or go alone if you will. Just being in this room is a treat, but the best part is that, if you are a Tasha’s fan, the menu that you know and love is available here. Plus it’s not as expensive as it looks.
Option 2: The Chairman, 146 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Durban.

8. Workshop 55

For: Professionals and work colleagues. 
Average spend: R650 for two.  
Address: 55 7th Avenue, Parktown North, Johannesburg.

Workshop 55 is a welcoming restaurant and bar that has recently opened in Parktown North, within walking distance from the popular Parktown Corner and Rosebank. It’s the perfect place to experience a first date with someone you’ve met or worked with, but whom you don’t know that well.
There are loads of unbuttoned blue collars and relaxing professionals to make this an ideal place for a weeknight kind of date. The entry fee is R210 and you get to choose three items from the menu, which is Asian in its foundation. But the very best part about it is the drinks menu, featuring all kinds of gins and exotic mixers, boutique whiskeys and wines served with complementary nibbles.
Option 2: Willoughby & Co, Victoria Wharf, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town.

9. Afrikan Freedom Station

For: The Revolutionaries.
Average spend: R250 for two. 
Address: Shop 3, 91 5th Avenue, Westdene, Johannesburg.

Steve Kwena Mokwena’s tiny, much-loved destination for a soul experience is the perfect place to go if you are into social and political justice and want to take someone out to a conscious space.

From Monday to Monday, The Station, as it is colloquially known, is a good place to converse, listen to music, see some art, read revolutionary books, watch a performance and even catch a film when they have screenings. When there is food, it’s home-style cooking with meat, vegetables, rice and a variety of South African staples.
Option 2: 4Roomed Ekasi Culture, Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

10. Downtown Ramen

For: The Introverts.
Average spend: R250 for two. 
Address: 103 Harrington Street, Cape Town. 

This Wes Anderson-meets-Sofia Coppola setting upstairs from Lefty’s Dive Bar on Harrington Street is a perfect hideaway for a pair of food-loving thoroughbred introverts.
It’s a Japanese ramen restaurant with dim lighting and really simple and considered décor; thick wooden tables and high chairs that make for an intimate hideaway. A place of generous portions and colourful plates full of noodles, broths and all kinds of local and Japanese vegetables and delights. It’s the perfect place to go late at night after a drink downstairs. How hip do you have to be to come here? The place doesn’t have a sign. Happy searching.
Option 2: Town the Bar, Workshop Newtown (opening on April 14).

Milisuthando Bongela

Milisuthando Bongela

Milisuthando Bongela is the Mail & Guardian's arts and culture editor. She is a multi award-winning writer, blogger and collaborator. She has experience in the arts having worked in fashion, music, art and film as well as a decade-long career in consulting, entrepreneurship, blogging and cultural activism. She is also directing a documentary about hair and black identity, a film she calls the report card on the rainbow nation project. Read more from Milisuthando Bongela


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