Hot for lunch

If there is an art to writing after three courses and wine, I never mastered it. But now that the long, boozy lunch is endangered, I’m having serious second thoughts

Counterpoints

I used to dread sitting down to a long weekday lunch. If there is an art to writing after three courses and wine, I never mastered it, and the prospect of cutting my working day short at midday made me grumble. Now that the long, boozy lunch is endangered, however, with Lloyd’s of London the latest employer to ban the 40,000 people who use its building from drinking alcohol during daytime hours, I’m having serious second thoughts.

It is not as though a sandwich eaten al desko has ever had much to recommend it. Any time saved by sandwiches is sure to be squandered on snacking later on. Besides, I find my best work comes after a change of scene — a walk, a chat, an hour in a gallery. Nothing could be more refreshing than a meal with a friend after a morning spent working in silence. Conversation stirs creative thought.

The more queues I pass outside Pret and Itsu, the more tubs of quinoa and trays of sushi I see nibbled on the Tube, the more I crave a proper plated lunch washed down with a glass of claret. The 20th-century Tory MP Lord Molson famously earned the nickname “Hot Lunch Molson” in his youth because he insisted on a warming meal. Oh to be Hot Lunch Dunn.

One of the factors driving Lloyd’s — and no doubt others — to impose bans on lunchtime booze (and also, incidentally, drugs) is the number of reports of harassment and inappropriate behaviour in the office. No one wants to share their workspace with a drunken idiot, but might a glass with a hearty meal (as opposed to a paltry salad) not be conducive to business? It always used to be — from the City to Fleet Street. I grew up enjoying anecdotes of wonderfully protracted lunches in the Golden Age of journalism.

“I used to like taking people to the Wig & Pen, San Lorenzo — Nigel Dempster’s favourite place — or Trattoria Terrazza in Soho,” recalls my grandfather, Don Short, who was chief showbusiness correspondent of the Daily Mirror. “I took Helen Mirren to the Terrazza once, and Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland, many others. Often these lunches would last two to three hours. The role of a long lunch with a glass of wine is to make that person feel relaxed, happy, and be more forthcoming while staying sober.”

Rolling news and online journalism have ensured that such lunches are now out of the reach of most of us. But there are some enticing watered-down alternatives which can help to prop up ailing businesses. I’ve started to seek out restaurants which offer a couple of courses and a glass of wine within a guaranteed hour-long sitting. That may be quicker than a return-trip to some busy sandwich shops — or cooking your own casserole — and far more satisfying.