Valentine’s … gentlemen, choose carefully!

While the Dutch get ready to send their UK cousins 32 million flowers of various varieties and colours, beaus across the country are trying to impress shopkeepers that they really do know the difference between good and passable chocolate by reciting cocoa butter percentages at them.

In the inevitable build-up to Valentine’s Day of planning romantic evenings, giving flowers and scoffing chocs, relatively few folk know that the earliest recorded poem associated with this day was penned as early as 1382 by Geoffrey Chaucer when he wrote: “For this was on seynt Volantynys day Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.” (Now THAT’S how to impress your partner with your knowledge, by quoting Chaucer!)

Apart from all the ‘frills’ of Valentine’s gifts, cards and flowers, there is often the lead up to couples planning some place to visit to enjoy some time together. This is usually a restaurant or a place to share a meal. Which got me thinking about décor, and what makes a place attractive to a diner and for what occasions.

The wife won’t really think my attention is on her for Valentine’s if I book a table at the local sports bar and sit the entire evening facing the television as the Liverpool away game takes place at the Petrovski Stadium! No, she’d appreciate the quiet atmosphere of a cosy place with nice furnishings and soft music in the background while my whole attention is focussed on the ‘bubble’ around our table. It would also be a good time to turn the mobile off.

Chocolate dessert

Experience has taught that choosing a place that is well run, with carefully planned menus and a good support system makes for a much more pleasant dining experience. Establishments that have a good system, the likes of which Rutters have put in place, help to prevent the chaos that a kitchen can descend into when they realize they don’t have enough salmon for the starters or that the dessert is missing an ingredient! “I’m sorry madam, the Decadent Chilli-Chocolate Cheesecake is, err … off, can I bring you some bread-and-butter-pudding instead?”

We also like to choose a venue with good, but not bright, lights. The sort of place where the lines on my face have been softened by diffuse lighting but not too dark that I need a miner’s helmet or a waiter’s directions to enjoy the meal, “Here you are, Sir, the steak is at 12 o’clock, the chips at 4 with the peas and gravy between six and twelve. The brown sauce is 6 inches from the plate at eleven o’clock.”

Unobtrusive and neutral pictures and wallpaper all add to the ambience many regard as their ideal place to spend an evening to celebrate an occasion, whether it be Valentine’s or anything else for that matter. If I go to a themed establishment, I expect to experience all the appropriate décor they declare that their name may suggest: ‘The Victory’ or ‘The Fox’ and so on. I would hope that the décor would be ‘appropriate’ and ‘suitable’ too, and that any pubs named after Elizabeth I don’t replace their current portraits with the one recently unveiled at the Folger Sheakespeare Library in Washington DC – the likeness is a bit unflattering and even soft light won’t melt her wrinkles away like mine are.

Having this image of Her Maj. glaring down at us could quite put the wife off her delicious dessert and kill the mood of the evening!

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