Roses? Champagne? Candlelight? A heart-shaped molten chocolate cake? While culinary clichés abound for what is the busiest and most profitable day of the year for many restaurants, there are those special establishments where the setting, the service and the flair from the kitchen make it well worth a punt for Valentine’s Day – or any other important occasion.
Whether it’s celebrity chefs or million-dollar views, 12th-century dining rooms or Indian Ocean idylls, here are 14 of the world’s most romantic restaurants where the love is well and truly shared.
Crab Shack, Soneva Jani, Maldives
If you ask seasoned travelers to pick the most romantic destinations around, the chances are that the Indian Ocean paradise of the Maldives will make it to the top of more than one list. Barefoot luxury resort Soneva Jani offers a number of exclusive dining options, but its latest opening takes things up a level.
That’s partly because the humbly named Crab Shack offers some of the world’s very best crustaceans, such as Sri Lankan mud, Kamchatka or Alaskan crabs, all certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. They are offered in multiple dishes, including with garlic, black pepper, or wok-fried in preparations such as Vietnamese or Szechuan style.
Classic dishes from the Mediterranean, including seafood bouillabaisse stew or mussels meunière, are worthwhile options as well. Finish the evening with a Maldivian sunset, pretty enough to steal your heart, as well as your Valentine’s.
Soneva Jani, Medhufaru Island Noonu Atoll, Maldives, +960 656-6666
Lake House, Daylesford, Australia
Lake House is an elegant country hotel sitting 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne and is home to one of Australia’s most renowned culinary programs. Alla Wolf-Tasker and her family have spent more than three decades ensuring that guests are housed and fed in some of the most romantic surroundings imaginable.
Diners look out over the property’s tranquil lagoon and the gently rolling fields and forest, but it’s tough not to be entirely focused on the kitchen’s bold work. A pioneer of Australian regional dining, Lake House celebrates seasonal hyper-local produce, much of which comes from the property’s own farm.
Late spring vegetable tart, for example, features a wild garlic custard, fresh curd, green asparagus emulsion, seasonal herbs and flowers, making it – almost – too pretty to eat.
Lake House, 4 King Street, Daylesford, 3460, Australia; +61 3 5348 3329
Sunset Monalisa, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
The bay at Cabo San Lucas is already a picturesque destination even before you find yourself in a restaurant carved into a cliffside. It’s home to the romantically named Sunset Monalisa.
Big spenders will want to belly up to the Champagne bar, where selected bubbles can be paired with Iranian beluga caviar or local oysters and lobster.
To follow, Chef Paolo Della Corte’s menu, inspired by the Mediterranean, tempts with tuna tartare, grilled octopus with crushed potatoes or fettuccine with ricotta, anchovies and bottarga.
Sunset Monalisa, Km 6, Misiones del Cabo, 23455 Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico; +52-624-145-8160
Tate Dining Room & Bar, Hong Kong
With one Michelin star to its name, Tate Dining Room & Bar under chef Vicky Lau has continued to impress since opening in 2012. One of the most elegant and innately romantic dining rooms in existence, the setting provides the perfect platform for Lau’s tasting menus, which combine premium Chinese ingredients with intricate French technique.
The menus are inspired by love poetry, notably the work of Pablo Neruda, the Chilean great, translated beautifully into exquisite seasonal dishes called Odes.
Ode to Pâté En Croute, for example, riffs on the classic French meat pastry with distinct Chinese notes of ginger, scallion, pork and veal. To finish, Lau’s “Ode to Red Fruit” brings yoghurt meringue with raspberry sorbet and white chocolate mousse.
Tate Dining Room & Bar, 210 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong; +852 2555 2172
Aqua Shard, London, UK
At London’s Aqua Shard, there are seemingly dozens of marriage proposals every week. With dazzling and incomparable views of the UK capital, it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular choice for incurable romantics.
Up on the 31st floor of one of the city’s most striking – and unmissable – buildings, Aqua Shard is also home to serious culinary talent and stellar ingredients.
Hand-dived scallops from the Orkney Islands or Colchester rock oysters are two of the maritime appetizers. This course may be followed by fillet of Hereford beef or a stuffed globe artichoke.
The restaurant’s daily hours from 7 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. means that there’s at least a decent chance of snagging an especially coveted window table.
Aqua Shard, Level 31, The Shard, 31 St Thomas St, London SE1 9RY, UK; +44 0 2030111256
Le 1131, Burgundy, France
France’s Burgundy region is world-famous for its wines and cuisine, and few of its destinations are as romantic as Abbaye de la Bussière. The Cistercian abbey dates back to the 12th century and sits in beautifully landscaped gardens.
What was once the cloister houses, the restaurant is named 1131 (after the year the abbey was built), and diners actually eat under ancient vaulted arches and columns. Chef Guillaume Royer holds one highly-coveted Michelin star and has also been awarded one of the country’s great culinary distinctions as “Meilleur Ouvrier de France.”
Accompanying Royer’s dishes – think venison fillet with rosemary and parsnips – is a wine list featuring some of the region’s very finest vintages.
Abbaye De La Bussière, D 33, 21360 La Bussière-Sur-Ouche, France; +33 3 80 49 02 29
Pimms, Belmond Cap Juluca, Anguilla
The tiny island of Anguilla in the British West Indies is a Caribbean escape for romantics. It’s luxurious and private and has loads of style too.
Pimms serves refined Anguilian cuisine and Caribbean classics which make the most of hyper-local ingredients and the daily catch. Citrus-cured king salmon or ahi tuna tartare could start things off, before Anguilla lobster or roasted rack of lamb take center stage.
As you’d expect, the design is all about celebrating the views of the turquoise water and white sands just a few feet away.
Pimms, Maundays Bay, AI-2640, Anguilla, British West Indies; +1 264 497 6666
The Kitchen at The Dunlavy, Houston
Executive Chef Jane Wild oversees the plates at The Kitchen at The Dunlavy, a glamorous spot on a patio overlooking Houston’s bayou. The dining room is bathed in light, both from natural light streaming in from outside as well as from exquisite chandeliers inside. It’s easy to see why it’s a popular destination for wedding receptions.
Southern Californian cuisine influences the menu and features produce sourced straight from no fewer than the property’s three gardens.
Aptly for Valentine’s, heart-healthy options also feature prominently, while new additions to a seasonal menu offer the more exotic flavors of the Middle East, India and Vietnam.
The Dunlavy, 3422 Allen Pkwy, Houston, TX 77019; +1 713-360-6477
ICEHOTEL Restaurant, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
The world’s very first hotel made from snow and ice is the chilly but undeniably fairytale-like backdrop to a unique dining location. Unlike the rest of the hotel, the dining room is warm, allowing head chef Alexander Meier to deliver menus that highlight local produce like bramble berries, Arctic char or moose.
A five-course classic menu features some dishes served on ice, such as salmon with wasabi mayonnaise and soy jelly, while fillet of reindeer with Jägermeister sauce must be one of the most intriguing Valentine’s Day entrées anywhere, guaranteed to ensure that you and your beloved keep warm.
Chocolate and Arctic brambles rounds off the eclectic menu.
ICEHOTEL, Marknadsvägen 63, 981 91 Jukkasjärvi, Sweden; +46 706680263
Passerelle Bistro, Greenville SC
Reedy River in Greenville, South Carolina boasts a series of waterfalls that make for a perfectly romantic backdrop for diners at Passerelle Bistro. As a regular award-winner among national al fresco dining spots, Passerelle is popular and charming.
French classics such as baked goat’s cheese, escargots, mussels and decadent cassoulet of duck are some of the restaurant’s most noteworthy items, while desserts such as lemon crème brulee and chocolate mousse are other highlights. Unsurprisingly, a strong French wine list will please oenophiles.
After dinner, couples can stroll the 32 acres of Falls Park and admire the Liberty Bridge above them.
Passerelle Bistro, 601 S. Main Street, Greenville, SC; +1 864-509-0142
Sentido Norte, Costa Rica
The Guanacaste coast is a perfect spot for an intimate getaway, partly because it has only come to the attention of visitors rather recently. Casa Chameleon is a boutique property in a stunning location overlooking the Catalinas Islands below, and its restaurant, Sentido Norte, has quickly won acclaim.
Costa Rican chef Jose Lopez celebrates his country’s cuisine in dishes which reflect the cultural identity, combining African, European and Meso-American flavors, influences and traditions.
On the plate, this means options including tuna sashimi, ceviche of hearts of palm, or pork ribs with a puree of yucca roots. Kicking back with after-dinner cocktails to take in the killer sunset views is encouraged.
Sentido Norte, Casa Chameleon Hotels at Las Catalinas, Playa Danta, Guanacaste, Costa Rica; + 506 2103 1200
Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly knew a thing or two about romance, so it makes perfect sense that both chose to stay at The Hassler beside Rome’s famed Spanish Steps. The five-star property in one of the world’s most romantic and beautiful cities is still popular with those looking to profess their love.
Of course, dining is a key draw and the property’s Michelin-starred restaurant Imàgo has views of the Eternal City to make even the most jaded traveler stop in their tracks.
When combined with dishes like smoked herring with black truffle, ravioli of salt cod, pecorino and sorrel, or wagyu in an anchovy sauce, the hotel’s tagline “stairway to heaven” starts to sound quite credible.
Imàgo at The Hassler, Piazza Trinità dei Monti, 6, 00187, Italy; +39 06 699340
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Singapore
Singapore may be a long way from the southern United States, but that hasn’t stopped Yardbird Southern Table & Bar from serving the region’s cuisine. Think biscuits and gravy, sweetcorn hush puppies, crispy chicken biscuits or mac and cheese – with an option to include a whole lobster.
Lighter fare, such as oysters with horseradish and Granny Smith apple or a Brussels sprout Caesar salad, is available too. No matter what you select, you’ll no doubt discover real charm in the warm service. The cocktails (occasionally quite potent) may add another element of romance.
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, 2 Bayfront Ave B1-07, Singapore; 018972 +65 6688 9959
Catalina Rose Bay, Sydney
One of Sydney’s most celebrated waterside restaurants dazzles with harbor and sunset views in one of the city’s swankiest districts.
A quieter terrace table is a must-reserve, while the dining room is buzzing and busy with locals and visitors alike.
The quality of the food matches the elegant, classy and romantic vibes, with executive chef Mark Axisa delivering faultless plates crafted with impeccable local produce. Diners can even watch seaplanes take off and land just yards away – some of which allow diners to arrive in real style.
Catalina Rose Bay, Lyne Park, Rose Bay, NSW 2029 Australia; +61 2 9371 0555
Chris Dwyer is a Hong Kong-based travel and food writer. Follow him on Instagram at @chrismdwyer