valentine's day hampstead

It's February - known for its gloomy days and chilly evenings (which equate to plenty of nights in and Netflix binges. But there's one day of the month that no-one's oblivious to - February 14th. And, obviously, as an Italian restaurant, it's a day we've come to know well too - Valentine's Day. Whether you're single or partnered up, a sucker for romance or someone who dreads the commercialisation associated with this big day (the cards, flowers and chocolates in the shops are either something you love or hate), most of us don't know much about the history of this 'Day of Love.' So how did it all come about? And who was Saint Valentine anyway? One aspect of the day can be traced back to Roman times, in a festival took place each February.

The festival was known as Lupercalia. A group of priests, known as the Luperci, involved sacrificing animals, dipping their blood in knives then wiping it off with wool dipped in milk. After an obligatory feast (the Romans loved to eat), it's said that the Romans made thongs out of the animal skins and ran around Palatine Hill, hitting women they saw near them. The thong slap was supposed to make the woman fertile! This pagan celebration remained very popular until at least the 5th century (long after Emperor Constantine had legalised Christianity). This might have been why Christians adopted it (it's certainly a convenient explanation).

As for Saint Valentine himself, we know that he was born in Italy in the 3rd century, worked as a doctor and then trained for the priesthood. The Emperor at that time, Claudius, had forbidden his young soldiers to marry, in an attempt to keep his army strong. Valentine took pity on these couples and married them secretly. When this was discovered by the Romans, he was asked to renounce his faith but refused. Eventually, he was executed but before this happened he supposedly sent a note to a child he had been teaching - the daughter of his jailer! This, we think, is how the tradition of sending cards began...

Today, Saint Valentine is responsible for watching over lovers...and is also the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages. He was buried in Rome but many centuries later, an Irish priest exhumed his remains and took them to Dublin. It is now a tradition in the Irish capital for those seeking love to show up at The Whitefriar Street Church on the Day of Love itself and ask him for a little help in the romance department, in the hope that he will answer their prayers!

Last night, at La Gaffe, we aimed to make the evening more about cheer than gloom, and had a busy evening, serving guests some of our favourites, including Julienne steak, sea bass and light and creamy Tiramisu. Our food's got a reputation for being good, so we weren't surprised to see a lot of clean plates at the end of the evening.

We pride ourselves on serving contemporary dishes in a traditional, intimate environment and whilst we don't have a dessert trolley (as we did back in our early years) we still like to hand out a little something to each of our diners on Valentine's Day. This year it was 'Baci'. A combination of velvety milk chocolate and a whole hazelnut inside - these Italian treats (which come from the Perugia region) are little bites of heaven!

And whilst we're sure our diners loved them, they're not just for lovebirds on Valentine's Day - in fact, some might argue that eating them alone, with a good book, a fine wine or a favourite TV series is wonderfully indulgent... At La Gaffe, we're open 364 days a year (the day after Christmas Day, Boxing Day, we close our doors for a well-deserved rest) so take a look at our menu, as well as our guest accommodation, at If you like what you see, then book a table for lunch or dinner. We're waiting for you...