Spoil your loved one - or yourself - this Valentine's Day and cultivate some food for thought via these films.

Babette's feast

(Dir: Gabriel Azel) 1987

Babette's Feast is not a romance, but it is a romantic celebration of gastronomic pleasure. Ending with one of the most exquisite meals portrayed on film, food becomes the ultimate art form with transcendent powers to nourish the body and the soul.

When Babette wins the lottery she spends it all on a sumptuous feast, a gift for the devout Danish community who took her in years ago when she fled France during the 1870 Franco-Prussian war.


Her guests are not gourmands but a group of elderly renunciates who subsist on a dismal diet of gruel. They don't realise Babette is a famous French chef - a culinary genius who crafts each dish with loving attention to detail that is rarely seen on film. It's all filmed beautifully in rich earthy tones, like a Dutch still-life.

Gorgeous moments of gentle humour where vintage Verve Clicquot is mistaken for lemonade will make you smile. As will the pious guests' fear that the strange procession of boxes shipped in from France, filled with all manner of "weirdness" - pomegranates, figs, live quail and turtles - might be the hallmarks of a witches' sabbath.

The feast is perfectly timed and balanced. Beautiful offerings such as buckwheat blinis, with caviar and cream fraiche, matched with amontillado, Belgian chicory salad with walnuts and vinaigrette, quail in pastry or "Les Fromages" with blue cheese, papaya, figs, grapes, pineapple and pomegranate, are some of the menu choices you could use as inspiration for a selection of amazing nibbles.

Not to mention the vintage 1860 Veuve Clicquot that flows throughout the night. Nothing will say "Happy Valentine's" quite like a bottle of Veuve.

(Dir: Alexander Payne) 2004

For wine-lovers, enough time has probably lapsed to revisit Sideways, one of the smartest and funniest tragi-comedies made in years.

Miles (Paul Giamatti), a struggling writer and wine aficionado, takes his best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a B-grade actor and hopeless womaniser, on a wine-tasting road trip to celebrate his upcoming wedding. Things get messy when Jack decides to grab his last chance at freedom before settling down.

On day one he's already hooked up with a wine-pouring "babe", having lined up a double date for Miles, whose fumbling ineptness is explained by a painful divorce. Double dating has never been this funny - or excruciating.

While Miles hopes for some civilised bonding time, the sobering reality of the trip is summed up (sorry, spoiler) when Jack crashes Miles' tired little car into a tree to explain his black eye and broken nose, a parting gift from his lover after discovering his imminent wedding.

Seriously good acting and a brilliant script make this film warm and full of soul-merging cerebral wine talk, male libido, mid-life crises, friendship and, finally, a heart-felt romance between a realistic heroine and a guy who almost never gets the girl.

Set in Southern California's Santa Ynez wine district, the story is told in gorgeous, dappled afternoon light that makes you want to grab a picnic basket, head outdoors and imbibe wine in the last of the evening warmth (you can always watch the film when you get back home after dark).

Buy the most exquisite bottle of pinot noir your wallet will allow, match it with a cheeseboard or gourmet picnic, and savour each sublime moment as you snuggle with your sweetie.

Like water for chocolate
(Dir: Alfonso Arau) 1992

Like Water For Chocolate was a huge hit at the time of its release, and it's easy to see why. Combining all the elements for romance, the film is like a fairy tale of repression, love, revolution and beautiful recipes with magical qualities.

Centred around a wealthy Mexican family at the turn of the century, the film tells the story of young Tita who is prevented from marrying the man she loves and is forced to remain at home to look after her cruel mother.

Heartbroken, Tita pours her heart into the food she makes with dramatic consequences that border on comedy. Guests sob uncontrollably and amorous passions are ignited, causing a fire and urging one sister to flee naked into the arms of a passing revolutionary.

It all sounds a bit silly and the film has dated, but it does provide rich material for an off-beat, theatrical Valentine's dinner party. The elaborate food preparation and lavish banquet scenes are simply gorgeous, and definitely worthy of being screened large through a projector, if you have one.

I suggest projecting the film silently against a wall visible from the garden (turning up the music instead), and turning the deck into a wonderland for an al fresco, Mexican-style banquet.

Throw white, embroidered linen over the outdoor table, beautify it with rustic Mexican or Portuguese-inspired dinnerware, light candles in old jars and scatter vermillion rose petals.

Get adventurous and make a dish from the film that works as a love potion, such as Tita's exquisite mole or the delicate roasted quail in spices and rose-petal syrup.

It's complicated
(Dir: Nancy Meyers) 2009

If you prefer your films lightweight, feel-good and just a little bit schmaltzy, this cute romantic comedy might just be your thing. It's also a good choice for the Valentine's gal who is home alone, with moments of Sex and the City-style comedy - perfect for an indulgent night in.

An estranged couple, Jack and Jane (Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin) are thrown together and a drunken one-night stand results in an embarrassing affair, in a karmic reversal of roles.

Jane is now the other woman, cuckolding the same woman who stole her husband. Just desserts for Agnes (Lake Bell), a much younger, beautiful marketing guru - complete with pilates-sculpted body, tiger tattoo and a steely smile - who has Jack on a short leash to the fertility clinic.

Complicating matters further is the sweet attraction evolving between Jane and her shy architect, a puppy-eyed Adam (Steve Martin), forming a love triangle that leaves lots of room for comedy.

There's plenty of eye candy for foodies, too. Jane just happens to be a pastry chef with a thriving artisan bakery, and is constantly whipping up delicious treats and wafting between her beautiful organic garden and the kitchen.

On her first informal date with Adam she makes croque-monsieur - the famous French ham and gruyere toasted sandwich - oozing with bechamel sauce, followed by to-die-for lavender honey icecream. Both are surprisingly easy to make if you want something delicious for the sweetest of Valentine suppers.

Or perhaps you might find inspiration in the late-night baking scene. After a night of partying, Jane shows Adam how to make chocolate croissants from scratch - a tactile lesson in the tender art of shaping and rolling dough.

Perhaps a late-night session and a selection of cheeky patisserie will rekindle some of the old magic?