- Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher, Features Editor, MR PORTER
First, let us acknowledge the fact that Valentine's Day is largely a construct of the greetings card industry, and that we shouldn't need to be told when to demonstrate our affection for our girlfriend or wife. Despite this we firmly believe that a card, flowers, fine food and fine drink must be forthcoming on 14 February, whether you're still dating, or have been married for a decade. Just imagine the following scenario: her work colleagues ask her, on the Monday after Valentine's Day, what you did to mark the day? "Nothing," she replies. "He believes that we don't need Hallmark to tell us when to make romantic gestures." Are her work colleagues impressed by your independent thinking? No. They just think, "Jesus, he must be as joyless as he is mean."
The only way to avoid this is to embrace Valentine's Day, and treat its unappealing commercial façade as a low bar to be transcended, rather than a reason to opt out entirely. While this isn't something that should be reduced to a formula, here at MR PORTER we have found that the following combination works reliably well: a bottle of Billecart-Salmon champagne, some very good (or at least beautifully packaged) chocolates, a generous bouquet from a great florist, a tasteful card and a home-cooked dinner.
For advice on how and what to eat we turned to the food writer Mr Tim Hayward (see his recipes in The Knowledge) and London restaurant reviewer Mr Joseph Connolly, whose new book The A-Z of Eating Out devotes considerable space to these matters.
Whether you are cooking at home, or braving a restaurant, it's important to dress appropriately
Here's Mr Connolly on the subject of taking her out for dinner on Valentine's Day: "In three words: you simply mustn't. Here is an evening not for eating out, but for cooking - whichever one of you is best at it. A romantic setting by all means: it is always far too cold for outside eating, so here is an opportunity to create your very own little piece of paradise within (though do not do what they do in films and drape your lamps with chiffon scarves because they will smoulder and then catch light, and there is nothing so guaranteed to break the romantic mood as the front door being axed down by a bunch of firemen)."
Unless you've gone to laudable lengths and prepared food in advance an after-work supper for two can be very simple, as long as the quality and presentation are first rate. In other words exactly the kind of food Mr Ian Fleming described James Bond enjoying in his famous novels. If you lack the time, ability or inclination for a full meal then you should still be able to hit the spot by serving Scottish smoked salmon, scrambled free-range eggs, sourdough bread and unsalted Normandy butter, with vintage champagne to drink and the best chocolate mousse you can buy for pudding. Heavy linen napkins and spotless, mouth-blown wine glasses will go a long way.
Whether you're cooking at home, or braving a restaurant (and of course there are restaurants where Valentine's Day is only subtly acknowledged) it's important to dress appropriately. In Mr Connolly's view, "It is no hardship whatsoever to wear a tie, and it provides a grand opportunity to add a little smidgen of oomph and colour to something otherwise humdrum." However, he goes on to admit that, "Really, it all comes down to manners: dressing in a way that makes everyone feel comfortable, although not to the extent that you altogether go against your natural inclinations." In other words a man should wear what he likes, as long as his dinner companion is subtly aware that he's made an effort, and the result is stylish. For an ideal outfit see above.