A Square Meal in the Square Mile

Calling all those who are absolutely dependent on a fine lunch to see them through the day. Patrick ‘Sir Lunchalot’ Tolhurst (with his fellow members of the round table) has gone forth and eaten, and here presents the definitive guide to what food in the city is worth your hard-earned buck.

What an enormous task to undertake! In order to overcome the mountainous assignment of choosing the good, the bad and the ‘I won’t describe it for fear of being sued’, this assessment will be broken into categories that fit the various types of city luncher.

The big cheese
What is the best place for the top dogs? Where do they entertain their clients and how much do they spend? ‘Tower 42’ is a good place to start. The highest building in the City has stunning views both from the restaurant on the 24th floor and the seafood and champagne bar at 590 ft. Lunch in the restaurant starts at £50 and just goes up and up! However, say you’re not that hungry and opt for a swig of champagne and a few light seafood nibbles upstairs. The potted shrimps on toast are deliciously expensive; but if you can see Battersea power station it must be worth two pounds a shrimp.

One place that is rated particularly highly within the City is the Coq D’Argent on top of No. 1 Poultry. Conran’s British take on French cuisine starts at about £30 a head for two courses and a glass of wine. As with all of these restaurants, the price is determined by the quality of the wine you drink and here the wine list is as extensive as any of its competitors.

One should also note that the big spenders often have to go beyond the Square Mile to satisfy their tastes. Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant, ‘Petrus’ had a party of twelve bankers spend £44,000 on a meal in July 2001. Meanwhile, the gentleman’s clubs of St James are a very good place to entertain, providing that one is a member…and not female.

Lets do lunch
Those of us not yet among the champagne-quaffing elite will take more interest in the next section: restaurants where one can eat for £50 to £100 a head.

Chain restaurants do not really need an introduction and I am sure all reading this will have been to a ‘Pizza Express’ before. While it’s generally accepted that the pizzas were a lot bigger two years ago, the menu is now significantly enhanced, and the Cajun is a special favourite that will leave your taste buds feeling gently tickled.

A recent pleasant surprise was a ‘Pitcher and Piano’, with a specials board providing two or three tempting options and in Sir Lunchalot’s humble opinion, far outstripping anything seen in an ‘All Bar One’.

One of the top chain restaurants is undoubtedly ‘Strada’, at 8-10 Exmouth Market. It serves mouthwatering Italian food, with pizzas made in traditional wood-fired ovens using time-honoured methods from the Amalfi region. A truly authentic experience.

But the true delight of the City is its range of independent eateries, rather than its formica-fronted franchises. The gnocchi gorgonzola of ‘Tempio’ (EC4) is very impressive despite a rather eerie subterranean set-up. However, they have absolutely nothing on their nearby rivals ‘Drakes’ (Dorset Rise) that has the looks, the atmosphere, the service and a menu so tasty that newspaper managers moved to Docklands to give their expenses accounts a break.

Those who cherish their opportunity to have a large meal should try ‘Fat Boys Diner’ in Bishopsgate – it does exactly what you’d expect. For vegetarians ‘The Place Below’ in the crypt of Bow Bells church on Cheapside is ‘definitely the best in the City’ – and this comes from a veggie working in London for over six years.

Liquid lunches
Well, we can’t forget the pubs. Admittedly, we’d like to – most pubs in the City offer terrible value for money, and £8 for a burger and chips is just too much to ask. But when in those crucial sporting moments, when the Aussies are beating us at rugby/cricket/tennis (take your pick) we all need a good pub lunch. The one that gets the nod is the ‘Cheshire Cheese’, 48 Crutched Friars, described by one source as a ‘good traditional boozer that has avoided being bought out by Ikea.’

Cosi ti piace?
Yes, I’m talking about the deli. That little local place run by Italians with a huge selection of pasta, and toasted sandwiches, stuffed full of Parma ham or oozing with melted mozzarella. The staff recognize you when you come in (or at least pretend to), are always friendly, and satisfy your 11am craving for cappuccino.

So who has the focaccia to beat the rest? We investigated claims on behalf of ‘Appeninos’ (Devonshire Row) that ‘there is no better sandwich in the city! There is an infinite choice of delicious fillings and real Italian coffee’. Well yes, the sandwiches are that good, but the price is a tad high, with no change from a fiver for a sandwich and drink.

Nearby ‘Assenheims’ on Copthall Avenue may not have such depth in the sandwich department, but they do make the best spaghetti carbonara ever to be served in a polystyrene thermal insulation tray.

But the final honours go to the west of the City, where ‘San Carlos’ on Fleet Street have sandwiches to make your eyes water and an Arrabiatta sauce that sweeps you halfway across the Tiber. Of course, the owners aren’t Italian at all, they’re Portugese, but they still know how to cater for the ciabatta crowd.

Chain meal
If you are not a person who opts for any of the above, the chances are that you like the franchise sandwich or the chain salad. Prêt a manger is always a very popular choice, but after rigorous consultation I have two recommendations that do a lot more than just fill the gap. Katharine, the salad guru of the round table, is an aficionado of Marks and Spencers food is and says the cold spinach, pesto and pine nut salad is ‘as close to Liguria as you are going to get’. My own preference is for the toasted chicken sandwiches of ‘Au Bon Pain’ – all imagination and melted cheese; and the Emmental absolutely does it for me!

La dolce vita
The City has never been famous for its budgetary constraints or its bargain lunches. But it does offer the discerning luncher a great raft of options, from the mildly pricey sarnie to the outrageously extravagant oyster. But for pleasure per pennies spent, you can’t beat the little Italian deli round the corner!

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