Valentine’s Day is considered a gimmick by some but when it comes to the promise of classic romance, aphrodisiacs have been long considered as one way of softening even the hearts of the most stoic of cynics.

To get the mood just right this Thursday, there are certain foods and drinks that you can turn to. When it comes to classic romance, nobody knows better than the French so we’ve turned to world-renowned chef Jean-Christophe Novelli to help us plan the perfect Valentine's day meal.

Novelli has a strong connection with Ireland, having established his first ever offering Novelli at City Quays at Belfast’s AC Hotel – both of which were launched in 2018. To celebrate Valentine's Day this year, Novelli and his Executive Chef Jim Mulholland have carefully created a menu that excites all of the senses and sparks romance.

For those entertaining at home, Novelli has shared with us his tips for how to utilise aphrodisiacs in your Valentine's Day dinner to get the mood just right. Check them out below.

Chocolate

Chocolate is such a sensual food, known for its reported aphrodisiac properties. Scientists say the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate come from two chemicals it contains. One, tryptophan, is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal (cheeky!). The other, phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, is released in the brain when people fall in love.

Read more: Our top five chocolate recipes

Looking to impress a loved one? You buy them a box of chocolates. Really want to push the boat out? Make a chocolate fondant or pudding for a romantic dessert.

"We included a chocolate fondant dessert on our Valentine’s menu because who doesn’t love chocolate? And if you love the one you are with or want to get their good hormones going, chocolate fondant is the perfect dessert to spoon feed your beau!" says Jean-Christophe.

Oysters

Did you know that it’s oyster season? This divisive food is the perfect aphrodisiac at Valentine’s, thanks to the fact that they are full of testosterone-boosting zinc! Encouraging your partner to try something new and experiencing new foods together is a great way to bond. Jean-Christophe recommends that you have French champagne (another aphrodisiac!) alongside your oysters to perfectly set the tone.

What's the best way to eat an oyster? Executive Chef Jim Mulholland say that it's up to you:

"It's an urban legend that you're supposed to let it slide down your throat without biting into it. You can either tip it down your throat in one go or give the fish a few chews, but you won’t know until you try it."

Read more: Seafood recipes

Asparagus

A real French delicacy, asparagus is rich in vitamin B6 and folate, both of which can boost arousal. It’s the perfect finger food to feed your other half on Valentine’s Day.

The best way to cook asparagus to keep the flavour and texture at its best is to keep it simple. Soak the asparagus for as long as you plan to boil it, then drain your spears using a colander or a paper towel. For a simple and tasty dish, add a bit of coarse salt and a drizzle of olive oil to your asparagus before serving it et voila!

Figs

These luscious fruits are jam-packed with amino acids, making them the perfect treat to feed your lover. Why not create a simple asparagus and fig dish to pack double the aphrodisiac punch on Thursday night? Fig, goats cheese and asparagus makes for a winning trio.

Red Wine

Whilst Champagne is up there in the list of romantic drinks, it’s safe to say there is nothing as romantic or Valentine’s appropriate as red wine. Rich in colour and flavour, French red wine is the perfect drink to accompany your dinner of love.

Read more: Our best budget wines

Jean-Christophe has also given us some dreamy recipes for you to try out this Valentine's Day. Packed full of flavour, these two dishes are sure to get you in the mood for romance. Check out Jean-Christophe's French Onion Soup and Navarin of Lamb here. 

If you're not planning a home-cooked dinner full of aphrodisiacs, why not let Novelli at City Quays sort it out for you? Set right by the waterside, the restaurant features floor to ceiling windows which offer some of the most dreamy views in Belfast. The menu changes with the season, ensuring the best tastes and textures, so even if you can't make it on Thursday, you can be sure of a romantic dinner regardless of the time of year that you visit. Click here for more details about Novelli at City Quay.

Will you be cooking any of these aphrodisiacs this Valentine's Day? Let us know in the comments below.