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IN recent years, I’ve found myself really enjoying dining-out solo. I don’t mean finding somewhere convenient and fast because your friends are busy, or you can’t be bothered to cook. I mean the pure, unadulterated indulgence of actually dating yourself. Choosing somewhere that you really want to go, and spending the day getting excited about what you might have. So put in as much effort as you would if you were meeting someone else. You deserve it.
In an age when we are constantly at the end of a phone and emails wake us up before alarm clocks, it’s more important than ever to take pockets of time for yourself. Dining alone means no compromise, no consideration for anyone else. It means not having to share the gyoza - you can handle those on your own. It means venturing away from the mundane dry white wine that your friends always order. Pass the goddamn Gewurztraminer, I am dating myself!
I’ve had some terrible solo-dining outings, mostly interrupted by creeps. Sometimes staff have done ‘pity eyes’, assuming I’ve been stood up and sometimes I’ve just been overlooked. So what makes a great spot for going out alone?
If you go out mid-afternoon, you beat the dinner rush and get to catch a little afternoon sun. However I appreciate plenty of people work 9-5, so consider booking ahead to make sure that a table is ready for you when you arrive.
Are there smaller tables? Is there a bar area for dining, or even communal seating? The less conspicuous you feel, the more likely you are to enjoy it. This is an exercise in being comfortable about occupying space as an individual, so it can be intimidating to sit at a table for four on your own. Think about what would make you feel at ease.
I don’t want to be mothered, but I also don’t want to be pitied or ignored. It’s a fine balance for a waiting team, but it’s important. As I'm perfectly happily with my alone time, would they notice if I'm being bothered by other customers? Is my custom still valued, even though my bill won’t amount to that of the table of eight opposite? Choose places where staff will make you feel comfortable and valued.
Keep in mind that because nobody is there to share with you, so you might be a little limited on how many things you can try. If the menu consists mainly of small sharing dishes, you might be better visiting with a friend so that you can make the most of the offering. Or just order everything and take it all home.
If you dine alone, there is every chance you will need to justify yourself to people who think that you need company, and insist on joining you, or invite you to their table. I once had a drunk man shout at me across an Italian restaurant, demanding to know ‘why is that girl eating alone?’ I don’t really need any attention drawn to me when I’m messily slurping tagliatelle. Be prepared to politely rebuff other diners. A simple ‘I’m treating myself to a night on my own. Enjoy your meal’ works well. It’s polite, but firmly ends the conversation. These instances might be rare, but my experience proves the need to prepare for this, no matter how sophisticated the venue may be.
Here are a few of my favourite spots. Places where I feel comfortable, welcome and valued as a customer.
This is a tiny spot on Meanwood Road. Hana Matsuri is an absolutely cracking spot for authentic Japanese grub. It only has eight covers, so you definitely need to book. All the seats are at the counter, so if you like a bit of theatre, you can watch the chefs at work. At one counter you can see the sushi and sashimi prep, and at the other you can see hot dishes being prepared. This place is not cheap, but that’s all part of the treat. I opted for tuna sashimi, a couple of hot dishes and washed it all down with some Saki.
Hana Matsuri, 580 Meanwood Rd, Leeds LS6 4AZ Tel: 0113 295 5920
The Reliance is a stalwart of the Leeds food and drink scene, known for serving up delicious contemporary British food in a relaxed, bright and airy setting. They cure their own meats, which you can enjoy in-house or to take home. Staff retention is high and they're well trained, so you will recognise faces that have been there for years and they will get to know you. Solo dining here is great during weekday afternoons, or midweek evenings. You can always opt for a smaller table in the bar area if the busy restaurant feels overwhelming.
The Reliance, 76-78 North St, Leeds LS2 7PN Tel: 0113 295 6060
Ham & Friends is almost synonymous with hygge, the Danish word for a culture of cosiness, comfort and happiness. This is the big sister of Friends Of Ham, and as with their other venues, the eye for interiors is meticulous. This venue has been lovingly pulled together, so I always leave feeling full of inspiration for my own home. There’s a great selection of natural wine available and I love sitting at the bar and chatting to the staff about it. They also serve up some fantastic meat and cheese boards, as well as some really creative small bites. Take a good magazine, in fact get yourself to Colours May Vary and treat yourself to a fancy one. Turn your phone off, take a proper time out and luxuriate in all the good things this place has to offer.
Ham and Friends, 7 Merrion St, Leeds LS1 6PQ Tel: 0113 468 3890
The ultimate neighbourhood bar. The Brunswick team is made up of some eccentric but utterly lovable beer fans. Check out their Instagram page for some top comedy videos, possibly the best online content of any bar or restaurant in the city. The menu is made up of a selection of British seasonal dishes, so you can choose whether to order a couple of small bites or opt for one of their mains. The venue is bright and airy, no frills, just friendly folk and delicious food. The Bloody Mary is always great, but I opt for a beer every time here.
The Brunswick, 82 North St, Leeds LS2 7PN Tel: 0113 247 0546
I’ve only ever been here as a solo diner and it’s pure bliss. This is a tiny spot opposite The Grand Arcade on Vicar Lane. It’s simple: grab a seat, order a drink, and wait for your pizza. I’m a huge fan of a bianca base. This is a very casual spot, so is ideal for your first solo outing as you never feel too conspicuous. If you want garlic bread to start and pizza for main, go for it. You can always reheat any leftovers for breakfast in the morning because no-one's judging you.
Pizza Fella, 14-116 Vicar Ln, Leeds LS2 7NL Tel: 0113 243 9882