Money Can’t Buy You Love

ALEX BOWER recommends a plan for free love this Valentine’s Day. *The Tab warns this is not the way to pull.*

Alex Bower Budget cheap coffee Dinner free fudge kitchen hotel chocolat indigo John Lewis Library romantic sandwich tea valentine's day Wine

Fancy just getting to know someone, without investing the big bucks? Here’s how to get more for your money this Valentine’s Day.

Mid-morning cuddle

If you’re free in the day, a cheeky trip to John Lewis – the haven for those who will happily pay £50 for a profoundly wank chrome lamp – is on the cards.  The top floor has a wide array of ridiculously comfortable sofas where you can just sit and have a relaxed chat. It’s quiet but still feels naughty, because you’re definitely never going to buy one. If you really back yourself there are also beds on this level, some of which are relatively secluded. It’s amusing to watch newly married couples lie tamely on their prospective bed as if that’s all they’re ever going to use it for.

Opposite John Lewis, on the ground floor of The Grand Arcade, is the new Hollister store. It looks like a beach cabin and instead of windows has LCD screens displaying pictures of beaches and people objectively hotter than your date. The dark wood panels add a classy ambience, the music is quite low (except on weekends) and it’s generally rather dark, which makes it feel like a romantic meal without the meal.

Lunchtime literacy:

Ironically enough, a great place to get away from the bubble is Cambridge’s public library, which occupies the top floors of Grand Arcade. The bottom floor has loads of funky and even comfortable new age seating, and the sense of ironic escapism is great if you’ve bagged yourself an artsy type. Nearby books and DVDs provide starter conversation topics and on the top floor you can find the cheapest café in Cambridge – try £1 for a coffee and £1.50 for a sandwich. The food isn’t bad either.

The downside to this is that your date will tell all of his/her friends that you took her to a library on a first date.

Afternoon tea:

If you fancy more free stuff, try visiting Whittard on Petty Cury, where you can have free chocolates and shots (of tea). Fancy some fudge? Get across to the Fudge House just opposite King’s. You can actually get quite a lot of fudge for your money (which is none) so it’s worth a go.

Only in Britain can taking free samples still feel naughty, so with any luck, she’ll have you down as a bad-boy before you can say “I didn’t go to my beginning of year tutor meeting”.

Some people don’t like tea, but that needn’t be a problem.

If you have a Starbucks card, you can stick with the cheap-date format and get them a filter coffee for just £1. Or, if you time it right, you could cash in on a full Cafe Nero loyalty card and get one for free. However, the combination of unimaginative high-street chain and heavily discounted beverage is unlikely to make your date feel special, and it is probably more romantic to go to a cafe with a slightly lower highly-strung businessman count. Why not check The Tab‘s Top 5 cups of coffee for some ideas?  It’s not going to come free, but the servings will be more generous than at Whittard.

Dinner time:

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and women dig candlelit dinners in a big way.  Cook something that’s not too heavy – if you plan on taking the trip to lover’s lane later you don’t want to be feeling bloated and inert. Try pan-fried salmon (less than £5 from Sainsbury’s) with some boiled potatoes and boiled or steamed vegetables.  Enjoy with some nice wine like Gallo White Grenache 2009, which is a decent rosé for just under £6. And it’s pink, which is romantic, obviously.

Turn up the ambience by getting some LED candles (The Tab is obliged to tell you to not use real candles because of fire, but it’s mostly because the fire alarm going off is the worst thing can happen to any date).

Late-night romance:

Finally, take a trip to the astronomical tower up by Churchill. It’s post-date perfection if it’s a clear night and you find star-gazing romantic. A friend of mine swears that he walked in on some people having sex there. It has a massive telescope. The downside is that you have to join Astrosoc to get the key, but if you are in already, or have a friend who’s a member, you’re quids in on some free loving.