If the way to a man's heart (and woman's) is through the stom­ach, it's time to take the Valen­tine's Day woo to the ta­ble. But to eat out, or in? AN­THONY HUCKSTEP and KATE GIBBS hitch them­selves to the de­bate

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - @huck­ster­gram An­thony Huckstep is the na­tional restau­rant critic at de­li­cious. Visit de­li­cious.com.au/eatout for Aus­tralia’s best eat out guide. Kate Gibbs is the man­ag­ing ed­i­tor at de­li­cious. on Sun­day. Find recipes and in­spi­ra­tion to get you in the mood

Join the great Valen­tine’s Day de­bate – to eat out, or not, on Fe­bru­ary 14?

ARE YOU kid­ding? You’ve got enough to worry about on Valen­tine’s Day to spend any of your time cook­ing. I mean it’s not only your sig­na­ture souf­flé that needs to rise, right?

Sure, you can cook. You’ve mas­tered Jamie Oliver’s 15-minute feeds in 13.5 min­utes (well done, you), but you can’t cook your trusty Tues­day night chicken parmi with a tikka twist on Valen­tine’s, oh no. You have to do some­thing spe­cial, don’t you? Some­thing that chal­lenges the realms of gas­tron­omy and leaves your part­ner’s mouth agape, as the dan­ger­ous com­bi­na­tion of sharp knives, fire, fa­tigue and fat fingers risk it all for a culi­nary form of fore­play.

You need a dish that makes Ram­say look like an id­iot sand­wich, and He­s­ton like a Squib (if you don’t read Harry Pot­ter, Google it). Noth­ing short of a menagerie of molec­u­lar morsels nor­mally mas­tered by a brigade of the world’s best restau­rants will do.

Yep, three days of solid prep us­ing ev­ery pan in your pe­riph­ery means a pile of dirty dishes higher than a hip­pie. And there’s noth­ing sexy about wash­ing up.

Take the pres­sure off – go to a restau­rant. Din­ing out sim­ply pro­vides the plat­form for the in­ten­tion of the ac­tual day: to spend qual­ity time with your loved one, rather than spend five hours in emer­gency be­cause you flam­béed your eye­brows.

Even the pro­fes­sion­als screw up a ro­man­tic din­ner at home. ‘ The naked chef’ him­self, Jamie Oliver de­cided not to dress to im­press while cook­ing for his now-wife Jools. When he opened the fan-forced oven to take a gan­der at his whole sea bass a jet of hot steam at­tacked his man­hood, forc­ing it to swell to such ex­tremes it looked like a sea bass it­self. Talk about coitus in­ter­rup­tus. Where you choose to dine is vi­tal. With the throng of love­birds look­ing to lure Cupid’s ar­row, you need to act early, and act smart. Now, I might be break­ing the code here, but I’ve got a se­cret to the suc­cess of your Valen­tine’s Day ad­ven­ture. Be­fore you pick a restau­rant, just pre­tend you al­ready have. Ask your part­ner to guess where they’ll be go­ing. Their first guess is, of course, their ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion. Now you have to get a ta­ble at all costs – good luck! If they say, “You’re not tak­ing me to Bob’s Sushi & Pizza World again are you?” – don’t, what­ever you do, take them there. Save that for the break-up. Un­less of course, Valen­tine’s Day ends in a hap­pily ever af­ter, which you can for­malise af­ter dessert, not in the hos­pi­tal. EV­ERY year, with­out sym­pa­thy or apol­ogy, it’s Valen­tine’s Day again. Ter­ror stricken, too many of us try to throw money at the prob­lem, book­ing in to the most ex­pen­sive and ap­par­ently swoon-wor­thy place we can think of, lest we spend next year alone. It does sound ro­man­tic; be­ing or­gan­ised and thought­ful enough to se­cure a ta­ble weeks, even months, ahead – and that’s what you have to do, un­less you want to wine and dine your beloved at Pho Sure on the high street, jostling with all the other be­lea­guered cou­ples who also for­got to care about V-day un­til the last minute.

But even the ef­fi­cient are des­tined to fail when it comes to eat­ing out in a bid to cel­e­brate love on that day. The best laid plans of mice and men usu­ally turn to zip, es­pe­cially on high-stakes nights. A loved-up pair slurp­ing oys­ters and play­ing foot­sies is no aphro­disiac for ev­ery other poor soul in the room hop­ing to rise to the oc­ca­sion later.

And noth­ing steals the ro­mance from a two-hun­dred dol­lar prix fixe than a man or woman get­ting down on one knee at the ad­ja­cent ta­ble. Cue ev­ery other un­hitched hu­man in the place brac­ing them­selves for an evening of Cham­pagne-fu­elled bat­tles of why-not-yet and then-when. Restau­rants are a dead end for those not nec­es­sar­ily lock­ing in love-for-life tonight. Eat­ing at home is chic, it’s cheap(er), and it was ro­man­tic enough for Meghan Markle when Prince Harry, we gather, got down on one knee over a roast chook. There’s time to con­sen­su­ally and con­sciously lock in a restau­rant any time of year, but only the dis­or­gan­ised, the in­ca­pable (and maybe chefs) should set foot amongst the mad­ness – the over­wrought waiters and over­priced menus – on Fe­bru­ary 14. Chilled oys­ters on a plate. By gosh, the man can cook. A good chicken in the oven, salt and pep­per, a squeeze of le­mon, does a hero make. Re­veal­ing your prow­ess in the kitchen is sexy. If you can’t con­jure the en­ergy to put a meal to­gether, what else will you not quite muster when de­sire comes? To have found some­one en­er­getic and nim­ble enough to cook for you, some­one to man­age the te­dious hus­tle of gro­cery shop­ping, to choose a lush Ital­ian salad recipe in­volv­ing peaches and pro­sciutto they think you’d love, makes you ex­traor­di­nar­ily lucky. Ef­fort trumps a hefty bill any day. If I put my hand on my heart – be­cause it’s about love af­ter all – in this modern world the most ro­man­tic thing you can do for your beloved on Valen­tine’s Day is to pro­pose… that you do the wash­ing up. @kate­g­ibbs

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