February 2004

A london-eating feature in conjunction with Royal Exchange

Seduce someone by taking them to Royal Exchange. Click for special offers

Royal Exchange in the City was, until 1991, the home of the London Financial Futures Exchange (LIFFE). But after a major redesign, that included glassing over the superb 19 th Century courtyard and its beautiful 17th Century floor tiles, the airy space is now the ultra-stylish, ultra-chic home to a selection of some of the world's finest brand names. Around the perimeter can be found Boodle & Dunthorne, Church's, Tiffany&Co, Theo Fennel, Prada and many more world-class brands. All places to buy something very special indeed for the one you love.

But before you dive into an orgy of spending there's the Conran Grand Café & Bar to tempt you. Placed in the centre of the courtyard, this cool seafood bar is orbited by nicely spaced tables (each with its own central well for the ice bucket), and is a spot to rival the best brasseries of Milan, Rome or Paris with a tempting display of oysters, langoustines and other shellfish. And is there better food to dive into on a romantic date than seafood?

There's something sexy about seafood. Just eating it is a sensual experience.We chose the langoustines and within minutes were cracking shells, scooping rich mayonnaise and licking fingers (not each others, not at this stage!).

This being a Conran bar it all comes perfectly presented - the fat langoustines all lined up like bathers in a Busby Berkeley musical lazily waving their claws at you in the air-conditioned breeze.

A beautifully dressed leaf salad is served with each platter and we ordered extra as it was so good - the sharp dressing well balancing the unctuous mayonnaise.

Around us other people were slipping oysters from beds of crushed ice - there are five types to choose from - or happily wiggling the last delicious morsels out of lobsters. The oak smoked salmon looked very tempting as did the Plateau de Fruits de Mer. And of course the Sevruga caviar costs as much as you might expect, but if you're going to impress you might as well push the boat out all the way. Every cold seafood dish is plated up at the bar by the chef, whose speed and skill are a pleasure to watch. Upstairs on the Mezzanine there is a further stylish Conran Bar under the colonnades with the same menu as downstairs, together with additions like excellent crostini.

After a good Crème Brulée and a tasty steamed pudding we were nicely sated and ready to window shop.

If this were indeed Milan, Rome or Paris, the classy shops would all be open beckoning you to glide in on a wave of Chablis with some serious shopping in mind. This being England they all close at 6pm. So if you really want to enjoy the remarkable shopping experience, don't leave it too late in the day.

There isn't anywhere else like Royal Exchange in London. The airy space, the beautiful shops, the rich crowds and the excellent Conran cafés and bars all come together to deliver a superb shopping experience that the weather can't spoil. And for a pre-Valentine's day treat it's hard to beat. Take someone you love and prepare to be generous.

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