In the 1980s and 90s office life was very different. Not only did people rarely have computers on their desks but smoking was permitted, hangovers celebrated and a variety of behaviours that today that are considered taboo or even legislated against, were the norm. Social manners, expectations and tastes have come a long way over the last couple of decades and it’s hardly surprising that our midday lunch break or after-work drinks have changed with them.
I remember my line manager, a woman of wit, charm and intellect actively encouraging me to read Jeffrey Bernard in the late eighties and to almost adopt his hedonistic lifestyle that was funny but I doubt added much, if anything, to my effectiveness. Dutifully I did, and was one of the first to to see ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell’ in the West End with Peter O’Toole in the lead role. The play showed Bernard, the famous Fleet Street hack who, with a bunch of cronies, would spend every available hour boozing while still churning out exceptional, scathing copy for his ‘Low Life’ column in the Spectator. His drinking buddies at The Coach & Horses in Soho included other highly productive yet equally well-oiled characters like the artist Francis Bacon and cartoonist Michael Heath.
“tastes have come a long way over the last couple of decades
This was a typical workplace (at least as I knew it in the city) back then, when come 12 or 1pm it was the done thing to slide out from the smokey desk having spent the morning sipping sweet machine-vended coffee and head to the nearest barstool in the similarly smoke-filled pub next door. There, for lunch, colleagues would drink one or two pints of lager or glasses of wine with some crisps or other equally unhealthy bar snacks.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, those ways have passed. Jeffrey Bernard became increasingly unwell (as did most of us) and the dinosaurs eventually died out. In the new millennium more focussed and healthy, though not necessarily more productive, ways swept in with Windows, Smart phones and a new approach.
Big brand supermarkets and lunchtime sandwich deals popped up on every corner so you could actually work and eat at your desk, especially once the smoking bans in offices were in place. Hanging out in the pub or the local greasy spoon was no longer ‘cool’ to the next generation workforce who increasingly liked to socialise on the exercise bikes or weight machine at the gym. Lifestyles were changing, diets were adjusting. People were getting healthier, more discerning and sophisticated.
Deli’s replaced old style cafes, pubs got wise and began offering some pretty interesting plates of food now that the air was not a thick smog of exhaled tobacco. Interiors everywhere got ergonomically designed so workers could continue using laptops while they crunched through a freshly made salad. Less was spent on drinks and more spent on the food. Even restaurants offered lunchtime deals that could be justified a couple of times a week by the average office worker.
Over the next few editions we will continue to look at the lunches (the Business Lunch, the Packed Lunch and the Take Away) and how the tastes of consumers have been educated and satisfied by providers. In the meantime here are some of the splendid local places where you can indulge the tastebuds without either breaking the bank or the waistline.
If healthy Italian food is your idea of a perfect lunch, like a buffalo mozzarella or goats cheese and beetroot salad for starters, and risottos, ragus or pan-fired fish for mains – then Bermondsey Street has just the place for you. The desserts, of course, are more indulgent than strictly healthy but every once in a while three courses won’t hurt!
Antico’s philosophy is simple; high quality Italian food in a comfortable atmosphere. Dishes are kept simple so every single ingredient showcases its clarity of flavour.
With a Pre Fixe lunch menu at £17 for 2 courses or £21 for 3 ensures an affordable and super tasty lunch experience.
214 Bermondsey Street
020 7407 4682
Right in the middle of Bermondsey Street is a delicatessen that will make any lunchtime memorable. B Street Deli has an array of seasonal sandwiches, sensational salads and detox juices all prepared fresh each morning with high-quality ingredients in mouth-watering combinations.
Sandwiches are made from local artisan freshly baked bread and the salads range from a classic Greek or Caesar to chicory, pink grapefruit and orange salad with toasted walnuts and honey dressing or lentil and shredded duck with bean sprouts and edamame.
With a daily changing menu B Street Deli does make lunch a surprise special event every day.
B Street Deli
88 Bermondsey St, SE1 3UB
020 7403 3943
At lunchtimes there’s a truly relaxed South American vibe at Constancia while the same dedicated service that you would enjoy in the evenings is still on show.
With a range of classic empanadas, steak sandwiches, 100% Angus beef burgers and salads there’s no need to weigh yourself down in the middle of the day just because you fancy something meatier or more hispanic than a shop sandwich. Enjoy fabulous quality beef cooked on the classic Argentine flame grill or crunchy salads and vegetarian empanadas (filled pastries) on Thursday or Friday lunchtimes.
52 Tanner Street
020 7234 0676
Dean Swift in Shad Thames brings a contemporary flavour to the traditional pub without losing the ‘eternal values’ associated with the great British pub. Serving beer brewed with craft and flavour alongside fresh quality food in a pleasant and relaxed environment is what they do best.
Pub classic lunches like Fish ‘n’ Chips are available but their daily specials (ranging from Smoked Poussin to a BLT with chips to Mac ‘n’ Cheese) offer something for everyone. They now also offer a Lunch Time Loyalty Card where customers can receive their tenth lunch free.
Grazers, snackers and sharers are not left out – the ever popular Scotch Egg with a runny yolk means the days when beer and crisps were sufficient lunch time companions are long gone!
Twitter @DeanSwiftSe1 for regular updates
10 Gainsford Street
Butler’s Wharf, SE1 2NE
020 7357 0748
The ground floor lounge of the Bermondsey Square Hotel is a fantastically versatile place to relax during the daytime on your own, with a laptop, with friends or even with buggies. It has been designed with a practical, elegant and humorous style throughout and the food served there matches it well.
The menu is modern British with great soups, veggie burgers or rotisserie chickens and a pantry area offering home-made cakes, pastries, frappes and mocktails to enjoy before going back to work afterwards and still performing at your best. If you can be prized out of those comfy seats that is!
Bermondsey Square Hotel
Tower Bridge Road, SE1 3UN
020 7378 2450
When it comes to lunch, the Quarter Bar and Lounge near London Bridge station have made it a fine, delicate experience. Pick three meat or vegetarian options for a ‘Slider’ mini burger mix with fries or try their Poached Salmon (with capers, peppers cherry tomato and red onion) Salad or even the Chilli and Coriander Grilled Tiger Prawn skewers.
With great sharing platters and lighter bites available you will be spoilt for choice while the setting alone is enough to elevate lunch to another level altogether.
Quarter Bar and Lounge
London Bridge Hotel
8-18 London Bridge Street, SE1 9SG
020 7855 2296