Monday, October 01, 2012


Here's my latest Paris vs. London lunch rant - written for HiP Paris. Read it over there, or below.

I was born in London, and have lived here all my life apart from extended sojourns to other parts of Europe that are more conducive to joie de vivre, and, well, Paris. I can’t help but compare the two lifestyles and poor London always comes limping in at second place, looking all harassed with its suit creased and carrying a can of lager and a half-eaten burger. The aspect of quotidian life that gives me the most pleasure in Paris and that has the potential to have me hopping on the Eurostar to Paris from London on a whim is… lunch.

In Paris: At 1pm lock up the office, switch your phone off and go for a two and a half hour lunch with your colleagues at a charming local restaurant, dining from the three-course prix fixe menu. After a leisurely coffee and some more chitchat, pay the reasonably priced bill (probably with luncheon vouchers), and it’s back to the office well rested and energized for the rest of the day’s work. (Note: I did say stereotypical.)

In London: At some point between 11am and 4pm rush out to any old shop close to the office that sells sandwiches in plastic cartons and grab one. Maybe get an apple or a packet of crisps if you’re feeling flush, because that sandwich just cost the equivalent of €6. Run back to your desk and continue typing with the other hand while you eat, trying not to get crumbs stuck between the keys. Repeat every day for forty-five years.
The End.

No contest there, obviously. London: nul points. Reading that, one would have to ask why anyone would want to live in London if that routine is an indicator of what should be expected from daily life. I know that a lot of French people pop out for a sandwich too sometimes, but I have seen the brimming restaurants of Paris at lunchtime and have even shed a tear or two of joy over this beautiful ritual still being observed by many.

Life in London can be manic, soul crushingly mundane, all work and no play. The distribution of your time can seem so wrong: It takes you an hour and a half to get to work on overcrowded public transport; you work all day in a windowless fluorescent lit cell without a proper break, then grab a takeaway on the long way home where you finally crash in front of the television/internet. But I refuse to live my life that way, and thanks to the gods of freelancing, I am able to keep the Parisian spirit alive most of the time. In doing this over the past few years, I’ve come to know that London is full of exactly the kind of relaxed, inventively delicious cafes and restaurants that you’d want to meet a friend at for a casual weekday lunch. Even for a sandwich! Forget the three-course lunch idea – although a lot of the fancy, expensive restaurants in London do a prix fixe menu – but you’re never going to make the most of it on your lunch break realistically.

Below I’ve listed a few of my favorite lunch spots across London.

Verde & Co – Spitalfields
Beautiful sandwiches and generous salads can be found at this tiny spot (it seats 6 people max) in Spitalfields. The coffee is very decent too.

Leila’s – Shoreditch
Come late morning for eggs with sage, or later for whatever healthy, satisfying stew is on for lunch.

Allpress – Shoreditch
New Zealand coffee shop and roastery that also does curiously tasty tramezzini sandwiches and cakes.

Tina We Salute You – Dalston
The breakfast pide is good at all hours of the day.

Granger & Co – Notting Hill
Bill Granger’s bright and airy dining room in Westbourne Grove seems so fancy, but is surprisingly reasonably priced. The hot pressed mozzarella and sage sandwich is delicious.

Comptoir Libanais – West End
This is technically a chain, with a few other branches, but it’s one of the few places just next to Oxford Street that I like to escape to for its tasty Lebanese salads and wraps.

Rose Bakery at Dover Street Market – West End
See, Parisians love Rose Bakery and so do we. The perfect merging of Paris and London, my friends and I jokingly refer to Rose Bakery at DSM as ‘detox’ because its vegetable lunch plate neutralizes too many late nights and sets you up for another month of London life.

Fernandez & Wells – West Soho
Go to the one in Lexington Street for a glass of wine and a sandwich/charcuterie or the one in Beak Street for a coffee and a sandwich/cake.

Ducksoup – Soho
There must be hundreds of restaurants in Soho to choose from, but the natural wines and small menu of simple dishes here keep me coming back whenever possible.

Elliot’s – Borough/London Bridge
The idea here is to utilize the food market on its doorstep and to offer a changing menu reflecting its produce. I’m not sure how strict this policy is but the food is fresh and simple. Along with the Wright Brothers Oyster & Porter House, which does a mean pint of prawns, it’s one of the only ‘sit-down’ places worth going to in Borough for lunch.

Jose – Bermondsey Street
This tapas and sherry bar is in what is now one of the most vibrant streets in London. The food is amazing and inexpensive, in an unpretentious, friendly setting.


K. said...

The perfect list of eateries.

Margaret Kelley said...

Ugh, and I thought London was more glamorous than ( those of us who try to lunch) in NYC. Sad sad. OK, back to my pret a manger triangle sandwich!

P R I M O E Z A said...

i know, i know. i often feel like i live in the wrong country. can we share an apartment in paris?

Lucy said...

True, I am currently eating marks and spencers meal deal at work, but I think it depends where you work in London and what company you work for. I used to go for long lunches out at restaurants, and we had a dining room in the office so we could sit and be civilised with a glass of wine and order takeaway from the best restaurants served on plates.