From a Michelin-starred 'makeaway' to rumba lessons in your living room, bring l'amour to your door

2 months ago 8

Forget a romantic meal at your favourite restaurant or a date night at the cinema; there’s only one place we’re going to be spending this Valentine’s Day... at home.

But a lockdown love-in doesn’t have to mean another night slumped on the sofa.

From Michelin-starred food you can cook yourself to being serenaded live by superstars, there are plenty of ways to bring a touch of romance into your life (and indeed your living room).

In fact, being stuck indoors doesn’t seem to have dampened Britain’s passions, with industry experts forecasting a £16 billion global spend around February 14 as we lavish our loved ones with gifts to take their minds off the pandemic.

Here Sarah Rainey shares how to make this Valentine’s Day one to remember...

COOK UP A FEAST COURTESY OF HESTON AND RICK

Food of love: Sarah Rainey tries out some of the delicacies. Thousands of venues are offering ‘makeaways’ — a part-cooked takeaway that you finish off or reheat

You may not be able to go to that fancy restaurant, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sample the food.

Thousands of venues are offering ‘makeaways’ — a part-cooked takeaway that you finish off or reheat — so that you can enjoy fine dining in the comfort of your own home.

And with special Valentine’s menus featuring caviar, chocolates and smoked salmon, you’ll get the true Michelin-starred experience.

Fans of Heston Blumenthal can order one of three five-course feasts (£140 per person, dinnerbyheston.co.uk) comprising his famous ‘meat fruit’ (chicken liver and foie gras parfait covered in a mandarin jelly ‘peel’ to make it look like a real orange), sirloin steak with triple-cooked chips and gourmet cheeses, while fish-lovers can tuck into Rick Stein’s scallops, lobster thermidor and an indulgent chocolate dessert (£100 for two, rickstein.com).

Why not treat your loved one to a three-bird roast from Cumbria-based James Alexander Fine Foods, which also comes with potted shrimps, caviar and wine (£100 for a box, jamesalexanderfoods.co.uk).

Or try the mouth-watering Valentine’s menu from Noble House Prepared, headed by Elton John’s former chef. The menu includes: a fillet of beef, dauphinoise potatoes, sides and dessert. From freezer-to-table in 40 minutes, all you have to do is pop it in the oven (£64.95 for two, noblehouse prepared.com).

I can attest it’s the ultimate cheat’s dinner — delectably cooked beef, creamy potatoes and an indulgent chocolate pot infused with lime to finish — and I barely have to lift a finger (but don’t tell my husband, who’s convinced that I’ve been slaving over a hot stove for hours).

And for ultimate brownie points, you can even order your beloved breakfast in bed, with a hamper from the upmarket bakery chain Gail’s containing pastries, bread, preserves, orange juice and coffee, allo delivered directly to your door (£30, gailsbread.co.uk).

A CRACKING WAY TO POP THE QUESTION  

Worried your chipped plates will let the side down? Transform your dining table into a romantic setting with crockery, candles and glassware from Maison Margaux, a luxury tableware company offering hire and sale of its exquisite products (maisonmargauxltd.com).

Its new PS I Love You collection, in collaboration with London florist Flowerbx, comes in pink and blush and includes plates, placemats, glassware, candles and a bouquet of roses or tulips (£190 to buy for two people). You can also rent accessories, such as pink wine goblets from £4.95 apiece.

Crackers aren’t just for Christmas, either; for a romantic flourish, invest in some Valentine’s crackers by paper artist Zoe Bradley (zoebradley.com).

Said to be ‘ideal for popping the question’, the crackers contain artisan chocolates and a personal message card, and each is adorned with a hand-crafted rose and matching ribbon.

DECK YOUR MANTELPIECE WITH HEARTS . . . 

Designers say decking your mantels, or indeed shelves or bookcases, with themed decor is the ideal way to bring a bit of romance into your home

Valentine’s trees (remember them?) are so last year — 2021 is the year of the Valentine’s mantelpiece. Designers say decking your mantels, or indeed shelves or bookcases, with themed decor is the ideal way to bring a bit of romance into your home.

The trend, which is spreading across social media, features everything from fresh and dried flowers to pom-poms and jars of sweets in shades of red and pink.

Claire Bromley, owner of Kent-based Claire Alexandra Designs (clairealexandra designs.co.uk), suggests using coloured bunting, strings of lights and candles to decorate your mantelpiece.

‘Be sure to choose items in varying heights,’ she adds. ‘Don’t clutter the space; pick a large piece of artwork or a mirror as your central focal point. And remember, decorative objects always look best when grouped in odd numbers, especially in threes.’

The aptly named Charlotte Valentine, an interior designer who shares advice via the Instagram account @thehomethatmademe, recommends going all-out with pink and red decor, including balloons, heart garlands and confetti.

‘I put my Valentine’s decor up a few days before the big day and bring it down on February 15,’ she adds. ‘Keep it short but sweet.’

. . . OR RUSTLE UP A ROMANTIC WREATH

If, like me, you don’t have a mantelpiece, try rustling up a Valentine’s wreath instead.

Inspired by Rebekah Ellis of Cambridgeshire florist Rose and Rhubarb, who’s running virtual Valentine’s wreath workshops next weekend (roseandrhubarb.com), I ordered some dried flowers and a wreath ring and gave it a go.

Rebekah says while pink and red are traditional, she likes contrasting colours — ‘deep purple, a pop of light blue or even sunshine yellow’ — and suggests using berries, flowering bulbs or spring pansies and primulas, as roses aren’t seasonal in February. Dried flowers work just as well as fresh.

If, like me, you don’t have a mantelpiece, try rustling up a Valentine’s wreath instead, writes Sarah Rainey (file photo)

She uses a moss-covered base (which hydrates flowers) and twine to attach decorative bits, and then backs the wreath with biodegradable compost bags to help it last.

‘The main three things to remember are: 1) Always attach your materials in the same direction, turning your wreath base gradually as you go; 2) Try to keep the middle clear of plant material; and 3) Maintain a good shape by cutting the foliage and flowers to a similar length.’

Mine is far from perfect, but it’ll brighten my front door a treat.

RENT A DATE NIGHT DESIGNER OUTFIT  

Bored of wearing the same old clothes every day? If you want to dress up for date night, consider booking in an hour-long virtual styling session at John Lewis (johnlewis.com).

You don’t even have to spend money on new clothes; they’ll help you trawl through your wardrobe and find hidden gems, as well as putting together outfits you’ve never thought of before.

Or why not go all out and rent a designer outfit for the night? At My Wardrobe HQ (mywardrobehq.com), the UK’s leading luxury fashion rental platform, you can hire dresses from designer labels such as Emilia Wickstead, Herve Leger and Rixo for less than it costs to order a takeaway.

I’ve treated myself to an elegant high-necked gown by Kate Middleton favourite The Vampire’s Wife (£17 a day), as well as a Charlotte Olympia clutch bag adorned with hearts (£14 a day).

BE SERENADED BY THE STARS

If you want to spoil the music-lover in your life, buy tickets to a virtual concert live on Valentine’s night so you can snuggle up while being serenaded by the stars. Hear the West End star of The Bodyguard perform Whitney Houston’s hits at ‘An Evening With Whitney’ (tickets from £10, designmynight.com), or listen to a concert by American singer Josh Groban, live-streamed at 8pm on February 14 (from £23, joshgroban.com)

If classical music is your genre, turn up the romance with a moonlight sonata live from St James’s church in London; £15 tickets even include a red rose (list.co.uk), or tune into a Valentine’s opera gala from London’s Cadogan Hall (from £25, list.co.uk).

ORDER FIRST-CLASS GOODIES BY POST 

This year may be different, but that doesn’t mean you can’t gorge on chocolates, champagne and cheese — and there’s no need to go to the shops to stock up. Cheesemonger Paxton and Whitfield is offering a Valentine treats box (£60 including nationwide delivery, paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk), which includes heart-shaped cheeses, chutney, crackers, truffle honey and a box of marc de champagne chocolates.

You can even order your beloved breakfast in bed, with a hamper from the upmarket bakery chain Gail’s containing pastries, bread, preserves, orange juice and coffee, allo delivered directly to your door

Or indulge yourself with a hamper from gourmet deli Delicario. Its ‘A Touch of Valentine’s Romance’ (£78, delicario.com) features top-of-the-range champagne, artisan truffles and an Italian hazelnut cake in a sleek gift box. Yum.

POUR THE PERFECT TRENDY COCKTAIL  

Missing your local pub or trendy cocktail place? Bring the bar to you by ordering letterbox drinks.

NIO — which stands for ‘Needs Ice Only’ — offers pre-mixed cocktails delivered in pouches through the post, which you simply need to shake and pour (£39 for six, niococktails.co.uk).

Or sip on a Valentine-themed raspberry rose pink gin fizz from The Cocktail Man, which includes miniature bottles, a pomegranate noir candle and dried rose petals (£36.99 for five servings, thecocktailman.co.uk).

You can even brush up on your knowledge while you booze by signing up to a virtual wine-tasting or cocktail-making class, including advice from the experts and delivery of all the kit you’ll need in advance (tickets from £60, designmynight.com).

DANCE WITH STRICTLY’S SWEETHEARTS

Clear the kitchen floor and don your dancing shoes for a lesson with Strictly Come Dancing’s Aljaz Skorjanec and Janette Manrara, who are running a 90-minute Zoom class from their home at 7pm on February 14.

Guests will learn the rumba, the most romantic of all the routines, as well as getting a signed photograph of the pair (tickets from £20, designmynight.com).

Strictly Come Dancing’s Aljaz Skorjanec and Janette Manrara, who are running a 90-minute Zoom class from their home at 7pm on February 14

‘The lesson will be suitable for all abilities — couples or on your own,’ says Janette. ‘We will also be having a lovely sit-down chat with everyone who joins us and answering any questions you may have, while sharing some of our favourite moments of our very own love story.’

It’s a must for Strictly fans — guaranteed to bring you one step closer to the coveted glitterball.

ENJOY A SHOW OR VISIT THE LOUVRE

If you'd normally celebrate with a trip to see a play, musical or comedy show, there’s no need to miss out. Turn your home into a theatre with a virtual performance from one of hundreds of venues showcasing their back catalogues online.

Watch Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus, Rory Kinnear in Othello or Vanessa Kirby in Julie by subscribing to the National Theatre’s ‘At Home’ service (£8.32 a month, ntathome.com), or dip into the Barbican’s free collection of videos (barbican.org.uk).

If you want a Valentine’s Day chuckle, Next Up Comedy offers live and recent stand-up events and festivals, with headliners including Ed Gamble and Shappi Khorsandi (£29 for six months, nextupcomedy.com)

Or whisk your other half off to Paris with a virtual tour of the Louvre (louvre.fr), where you can peruse art, including a private viewing of the Mona Lisa.

SAY IT WITH A DIY BOUQUET

With most florists shut, choosing a bouquet can be tricky, especially if you know little about flowers.

The experts at Selfridges can help, offering free 30-minute virtual consultations with their in-house florist Moyses Stevens (arrangement far left).

Customers can use the advice to select arrangements from Moyses Stevens (12 red roses from £120, selfridges.com), or branch out and go it alone.

Experts at Selfridges are offering free 30-minute virtual consultations with their in-house florist Moyses Steven

‘Red roses are the obvious choice,’ says Moyses Stevens florist Gemma Kavanagh. ‘If that’s not quite right, our mixed bouquets with white and pink roses, alongside seasonal foliage, can look softer and prettier. If in doubt, white and green blooms for gifting are a safe bet.’

She also suggests sending British-grown ranunculus: ‘They’re not only beautiful, but they’re a fabulous substitute for peonies as they look very similar.’

CREATE A CINEMA IN YOUR HOME

Turn your TV into a silver screen with a home movie kit from Celestial Cinema, which includes a projector, a 70 in screen and adapter cable, to stream films on to your walls — or, if you’re willing to brave the weather, al fresco (from £89.50, ccinema.co.uk).

And there’s no need to stock up on snacks with a box-set hamper from London-based Pique Food (£45, piquefood.co.uk), which provides nachos, drinks, popcorn, treats and pick ’n’ mix for two.

BOOK A BAKE OFF MASTERCLASS

Sweet-toothed sweethearts can enrol in an online baking class with the stars of The Great British Bake Off — or organise a private lesson for two.

Valentine’s events include rose and raspberry macarons with Dan from series nine, tarte tatin with Ian from series six, and heart-shaped passion fruit pavlovas with Howard from series four (tickets cost £35 or £50 per household, bakewithalegend.com).

And if you don’t fancy making it, order a ‘Lockdown Lovers’ Aphrodisiac board’ from Didsbury deli A Taste of Honey, featuring truffle brownies, cherry pie and doughnuts (£25, @tasteofhoneym20 on Instagram).

SINGLE? GO VIRTUAL SPEED DATING

Being alone this Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to mean a lonely night in. Join the world’s biggest speed-dating event, featuring 100 singles from the UK.

Suitable for ages 21-60, all you need is a webcam and a smartphone and the four-hour event guarantees you’ll meet eligible singletons who match your preferences (tickets cost £20, dateinadash.com).

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