October 05 2009
Twenty years ago, when chancellor Nigel Lawson was handing out champagne tokens and mobile phones were the size of bricks, the long lunch was de rigueur. Office seniority depended on it: the longer one’s jacket stayed on the back of one’s chair, the more kudos was earned. Very important lunchers would tarry over the digestifs long enough for waiters to start upending chairs on the tables around them. Lunch could then move seamlessly into dinner, punctuated only by a restorative bottle of fizz at some nearby hostelry. Happy days.
While modern corporate culture might frown upon lengthy lunching, any enlightened business should, I think, recognise its morale-boosting, stress-busting potential, although I admit it will probably be many years – if ever – before lunches once again reach the dizzying lengths of the late 1980s. Brevity, however, need not lead to deprivation. Many excellent restaurants – particularly those in residential areas, where lunchtime business can be slow – offer terrific deals for the shrewd luncher. These restaurants are falling over each other to put pinstriped bums on seats, and some of the offers are just too good to ignore.
The grandfather of all set lunch menus is at Le Gavroche (pictured): three courses, half a bottle of wine, water, coffee and petits fours for £48, which – for cooking of Michel Roux’s standard – is an absolute steal. The temptation to stray off-piste is the only hazard: I once left at 4.15 pm, the divine perfume of Sauternes still in my nostrils and the bill somewhere north of £400. You have been warned.
Thierry Thomasin, chief sommelier at Le Gavroche, has continued the noble tradition at his own place, Angelus, where the same formula is a mere £36. Chef Martin Nisbet delivers high-class, French-inspired cooking, and the wines – as you might expect from M Thomasin – are impeccable, although a bottle of the restaurant’s eponymous, fabulous Saint-Emilion will scupper the budget.
In the City, dedicated lunchers need look no further than Club Gascon, where three courses of Pascal Aussignac’s innovative cuisine from south-west France can be had for a ridiculous £18 at lunchtime, leaving plenty in the wallet to explore (should duty permit) the excellent wine list. Perhaps the most indulgent venue for lunch, however, is an Indian restaurant. Like going to the cinema during the day, there is a sublime, illicit thrill in emerging, hours later, into bright daylight. You might try Café Spice Namaste in Prescot Street, or the Cinnamon Kitchen in Devonshire Square. Returning to the office wreathed in the exotic fragrances of the East is the very essence of a good lunch. A chicken tikka sandwich from the canteen will never taste the same again.