Dating, eh? What's that all about? Going outside in your own time, often on evenings or weekends, to attempt simultaneous feeding and conversation with a companion you don't know well enough to eat in the presence of. Very odd and yet, strangely, the kids are mental for it. So when we came up with this whole Food and Drink survey, we thought it best to find out where to go on such 'dates', and also to find two ringers to go on a date for us to give us some honest feedback. Handily, this meant that we didn't have to, instead playing the important observer-slash-Cilla Black role in this experiment.
Donning our ginger fright wigs, affecting dreadful Liverpudlian accents and hitting the social networks, we found two Skinny readers and sent them to Under the Stairs to document the experience of a blind date in your favourite date place. In the female corner, we have Nicola, a marketing bod who likes dresses, beards, Twitter and dance. She has a goldfish called Gemma who appeared on the stage at the festival, and enjoys singing loudly. Nicola, we mean, not the fish. Representing men everywhere is Paul, who used to work in advertising until he realised it was the devil's work. He now teaches sex education to angry hormonal teenagers, runs youth clubs and does lots of volunteering. He also designs greetings cards, because I suppose the sloganeering never truly leaves you. So those are our contestants, now prepare yourselves for a lorra lorra laughs.
The décor – date-friendly, or sterile and cold like a mad dentist's waiting room?
Nicola: Kitsch, homely and just the right amount of dark. It’s like you’ve walked into the living room of one of those very cool old ladies with their hair in a fabulous bun. Too many tables crammed into a small place but I’ll forgive that. Cosy.
Paul: It’s already my dating venue of choice: a nice cosy basement that's intimate, bustling, candlelit, and pretension-free. Oh, and it isn't on George Street, which is always good.
The food – impressive, depressive, or aggressive?
N: Tasty, well-presented and not too pricy. Halloumi salad had a bit too much onion though...not ideal for a date! Also, definitely should be more on offer dessert-wise. Slim pickings! [Boom boom – Ed.]
P: Don’t order the cheesecake. The waiter enthused over how great the carrot cake was. I naively opted for the breakfast cereal/nut/granola/raspberry/non-cheescake. My date chose the carrot cake – which was gorgeous. Note to self: listen to waiter in future.
The clientele – will they steal your bag, date, or thunder (delete as applicable)?
N: A nice mix of folk. Young professional types who all seemed fairly relaxed and fun. Aside from a few funny looks when our photographer arrived, everyone was getting on with their own evening. Perfect for a date.
P: They were alright, except for the fact that the whole bar knew we were on a date. But there'll be more on that later.
The staff – helpful, or 'helpful'?
N: The barman seemed to think that we needed to loosen up a bit, and tried to help us along. I don't advise letting them do this for a first date!
P: They knew we were reviewing the venue, so it was in their interests to be attentive. Still, they did a great job of that. Plus, the waiter helpfully suggested 'more' drinks, I’m guessing to ease his sense of awkwardness of serving a blind date. Good call.
The date – in the words of Cilla, “how did you get on”?
N: A very relaxed and pleasant evening, where conversation topics included procurement of free curry in strip clubs, the opera, previous date disasters and bra fitting. I'd never thought to go on a date to Under the Stairs before, but I'd definitely recommend it and do it again.
P: Hmm, aside from arriving 15 mins late, we were both easily rolling out the chit-chat and then a pap rocked up to our table, with his long lens. Like I said, the whole bar now knew we were on a date. The 'more' drink eased the painful embarrassment, so we happily performed the clichéd shot of gazing in to each others' eyes…whilst crying inside.
There we have it, a successful blind date in a nice, welcoming venue where the waiters know their cakes but will still let you make a costly error. No-one sleazed on either of our daters, and they seemed to have a very nice time. And our photographer evidently got his snaps, so everyone's happy, or at least internalising their emotional pain while projecting happiness. Fine by us – always leave them crying inside, that's what we say. We might not get it, but if you ask us, this dating thing might just catch on.