As yet another year of not-going-out fizzles to a close, it's time to light the touch-paper and stand well back as First Dates returns on Thursday 6th January for a scorching new season, lighting up Thursday nights with a conflagration of fiery first impressions, burning hearts and old flames.

Once again, the game of love is played at a regulation distance but that won’t stop daters getting up close and personal as eyes lock, hearts connect and passions ignite.

On hand, as always, with warm welcomes, words of encouragement and matchmaking savoir faire are Maitre’D Mateo and table angels Alice and Pete. This year, however, the team has a new face – chirpy cheerleader and barman Neil, who came for a date but ended up taking over as our resident mover, shaker and cocktail maker.

Among the daters hoping to unleash their inner Romeo, Juliet or a combination of both are Ashling and Mervyn from Kilkenny who once sat beside each other in school and now find themselves face to face in the restaurant of Romance; Geniele from Dublin and Shane from Kildare who both turn up nursing broken fingers but manage to get to the point, Margaret from Dublin on her first proper date with a man after years of being a one-woman woman and – in the first episode – Órán our 600th dater, hoping for a plus one with Luke from Mayo.

Returning from previous seasons are the irrepressible Hughie Maughan back for a second shot at love with Jason from Cork; Slovakian bombshell Katarina – hoping to blow the mind of Shane from Meath and hairdresser Lain from Leeds who arrives at the restaurant for a third time with a very special announcement.

So sit back and savour an intoxicating blend of flirtation, faux-pas, doorway malfunctions, fluttering nerves and the tantalising prospect of second dates as Ireland’s most romantic restaurant reopens at 9.30pm on 6th January on RTÉ2.