You cynical person, you. I’m going to give you a little bit of free advice. You probably don’t want to hear it, but I’ll give it to you anyway: In girl-world, Valentine's Day is a big deal.
Hush, hush, thou doth protest too much. Before you click away and troll me online for perpetuating an ‘over commercialised’ day of soppiness, hear me out.
Even if you’re with a mighty agreeable gal who’s scoffed along with you at the mere mention of Valentine's Day, and has told you not to spend a penny, ignore her. Now is your time to shine. Yes, you are going to have to reach into that pocket of yours - but I promise it’ll pay serious dividends.
You might think that you can take your love out for a nice meal and you’re done. Gold star for you, right?! WRONG! There are so many little extras that won’t cost you your first born baby, but will send your brownie-point tally through the roof.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but experience tells me I still need to say it. It’s worth taking the time to iron that shirt, tidy that beard and have a damn shower. A dab of cologne wouldn’t go astray, either. Trust me on this one.
You’ve got two options here. Either step up and nominate yourself as designated driver, or order an Uber (does anyone still use taxis?!) The important part is that you pick her up from her place (presuming you’re not co-habiting). This might seem way, waaaay too Downton Abbey, but have a little faith that this move will be a big winner.
Remember when it was 1999, you were in year 3, and the ultimate expression of love was the giving of a mixtape? They were the days…. But seriously, it’ll take you 10 minutes, tops, to compile a quick playlist on your phone that you can plug in for the drive there. Mix it up with a little of both of your tastes, but if you have a ‘special song’ (I hear people do that?) make sure it’s right up top so that she knows you’ve really pulled your finger out for this one. If you’re Uber-ing, chances are your driver will let you plug it in.
Valentine's Day is on a Sunday this year, so there’s a chance you’ve already exchanged niceties earlier in the day - but if not, here are a couple of things to consider:
Don’t give her anything that she might be embarrassed to have in public or that is going to be awkward at the dinner table. That means giant teddy bears, oversized bunches of lilies, and a puppy are all out. (Next time, Champ.)
Take some time here – it doesn’t need to be expensive, dinner is the star of the show, after all. But a small bunch of flowers or a little package of her favourite choccies will go down a treat. Agent Provocateur isn’t a terrible idea either. Anything made by you equals brownie points times ten.
Now for the nitty-gritty. We’ve got your back here. Valentine’s Day calls for a certain vibe, but I’m going to call it – no one actually wants a mariachi band and a kissing booth. But equally, you’ve come this far, now is NOT the time for your local burger joint or $12 all-you-can-eat pasta.
This brings me to my top, carefully considered, tried and tested suggestion – The Grand Hotel. There’s a list as long as my arm as to why The Grand ticks all the boxes for Valentine's Day, but I’m on a deadline here, so will highlight a few.
Personally I think this is almost as important as the food. The Grand has somehow, somehow created this perfect balance of romantic yet relaxed. You feel a bit fancy – there are white tablecloths – but the staff are really friendly and will be up for a chat about the food if you are. You won’t find people awkwardly whispering to each other to the backdrop of classical music, but you will still find a restaurant with a more than a dash of class.
Obviously this one is a top-of-the-list priority. The Grand dishes up really excellent Italian (and we all know the Italians have nailed romance). The food is interesting, but I promise you that you won’t find yourself staring at a very pretty, but tiny plate of god knows what, which too often is the norm at tableclothed establishments. Instead you’ll find excellent pasta, risottos and meat dishes.
If you’re a little stuck on what to order, I’d recommend the following: start with the antipasti. It’s designed to share - what’s more romantic than that?! But there’s no need to feed each other, you’re better than that.
Then I insist that you get the burnt butter gnocchi. In my eyes this one is non-negotiable - it really is the best gnocchi I’ve eaten in Melbourne, and that’s saying something.
Then for main course, you’re in safe hands with any of the options, but personally I love the duck. It comes with orange and juniper berry sauce, so you’re on to a winner.
Dessert wise, I can’t go past the anello di cioccolato. It’s a dark chocolate shell filled with vanilla mousse, salted caramel and popcorn. You shouldn’t really need convincing on that one.
I challenge you to find better.
If this all sounds like the perfect Valentine’s Day celebration, enter your details below and you’ll go in to the draw to win dinner for two with all the bells and whistles on the big day.
And the best bit? Even if you don’t win, The Grand will still give you a degustation dinner when your birthday rolls around.