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Office Worker's Lunches in London

What do London-and-other-UK-city-based Chowhounds who work in offices do for lunch?

Do you:

a) Make and bring your own lunch to be eaten at your desk
b) Buy from Pret a Manger / Starbucks / EAT / supermarkets / similar?
c) Eat out in cafes?
d) Eat out in restaurants?
e) Eat in the office / building canteen?
f) Skip lunch?

Does anyone else struggle to find interesting, tasty lunch food in London that won't leave you bankrupt?

(For example, buying one hot chocolate from Pret each working day for a month comes to almost £40. Ouch!)

If you bring your own lunch, how do you keep it interesting?

Your thoughts are appreciated,
Dolly, Hungry In The City.

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  1. Good question, DD.

    When I was working, I usually brought lunch to eat at the desk. Usually sandwiches or salads. Occasionally some "leftovers" to heat in the microwave.

    I suppose that, since I retired, that's what I still usually have. There is a difference, however. Working in a town centre (and with greater income), it was easy to introduce some variety visiting a cafe, pub or chippy - or getting something from one of the sandwich shops.

    Nowadays, I need to make an effort to go out for lunch and don't bother so often - unless, of course, I'm "out" for another reason. However, one of the joys of my new life is being able to enjoy a pub lunch, taking as much time as I like to read a newspaper from cover to cover, without worrying about getting back to work. It's one of those cloud/silver lining things :-0

    1. I'm an aficionado of EAT's soups - you can get a nice thick chunky soup (clam chowder is a fave) plus hunk of bread for £3.30 a go. I'm near berwick st so I like cafe soho's hot dishes for around £5, joy cafe does tasty spicy morocca meatballs and rice; there's also a good local mexican whose take-outs fill you up all day.
      I probably spend too much on lunches! I keep planning to bring my own in..but never get around to it...

      1. It's a great question actually. The answer is definitely not your option f) and pretty definitely not your option e). I do quite a lot of option a) and then the rest is a mix of b) c) and d) with much less emphasis on b)

        Whereabouts in the city do you work? Up until May 2005 I worked between Farringdon and St Pauls and I had compiled a list of some 40 odd lunchtime places which foodwise IMO were more interesting + chowish and less pedestrian + cityish. Some of them required a 15-20 minute walk but my lunchtimes were precious so I would go that extra mile to get the better food option. The list is probably a little out-of-date but I'm happy to give you some names + ideas if that helps.

        7 Replies
        1. re: oonth

          funny - i worked in the st. pauls area too and used to feel peeved at the lack of good eating choices. my list was astonishingly small: the korean at london wall, cafe meditteraneo at spitalfields, a salad bar by old bailey and a couple of things around smithfields.

          1. re: howler

            A lot of the places were in and around Old Street, Clerkenwell, Farringdon etc, the options going that way (rather than Cheapside/Ludgate Hill way) were much better. Whitecross Street (and its market) was a godsend - on that street alone, there was Carnevale (for great salad bar takeout), Tassili (for great harira and other Moroccan + general bits and pieces), a respectable fish n chippy, Pham Sushi for modern Nobu imitation sushi rolls/modern style sashimi etc, the Gujurati sister/brother van with a super samosa chat and some very decent veggie curries, other places I am forgetting about (and not to mention the cheap CD stall on the market itself). At the junction of Old Street and Goswell Road there was De Santis for fine paninis and decent pastas/risottos and next door Soupacific, a terrific pan Asian soup shop set up by a Malaysian woman. At one point there were good gastropub options particularly the Sutton Arms in its heyday and the Coach & Horses and the Eagle were other options. Artillery Arms was a favourite traditional pub until they overhauled their kitchen. Essence, next door to Sutton Arms, did surprisingly decent tapas/pan Mediterranean. There was a great takeaway basement salad bar on the street leading to Cafe du Marche (think it may have been called the Tapas Cafe), it's sadly now defunct. Amongst Japanese options, Ribon @ Holborn Viaduct was very good and very shabby, no frills Japanese; also a good Japanese takeout place right opposite Farringdon tube, they used to do excellent salmon/salmon roe on rice with delicious miso/mustard dressing. And K10 near Moorgate was very good conveyor belt modern style, infinitely better than the dross that is Yo Sushi. I wonder if one of the Smithfield places you refer to is Beppe, the classic cafe with those truly jumbo sandwiches, made with surprising attention to detail and enthusiasm by the son of the owners. Oh there was this fabulous place off City Road run by an eccentric Polish guy and his 2 wives (that was our joke anyway) which did exceptionally good toasted submarine style sandwiches with quirky names; they also did some Polish stuff like stuffed cabbage leaves, piroshki etc; and great chips somewhat out of leftfield. Now I remember, it's called Super Sandwich and it's on Leonard Street next door to Dragon Bar.

            And then I moved to NYC and found myself working in the WFC downtown. And that truly was and is a culinary wasteland so I started doing all my lunches at home or heading into TriBeCa.

            I'm going to try and dig out that list and update, there are places that I am forgetting about. I may go for a wander down there one afternoon for old times sake, to jog my memory and to see what remains.

            1. re: oonth

              I have to agree that Whitecross St is great for lunches - for everything from a fry up to Thai food. There are one or two good greasy spoons down there, and I really love the food sold on the street by the Italian guy and his wife under the green umbrella - it's quality cooking. I don't live in London, but I'm often on Old St, as that's where my head office is, and we're just by Whitecross St, which is great.

              1. re: oonth

                Thanks oonth! That's an awesome list for me to work my way through.

                1. re: DollyDagger

                  Not a problem, once I get hold of my list, I'll let you have a few more names.

                  And since I stopped working in the area, new places have sprung up including the excellent Saki (Japanese) on West Smithfield, the equally excellent Vinoteca (Mediterranean/Wine Bar) on St John Street and the pretty good Piada (Italian) and Kurz & Lang (German wurst house) also both on St John Street. I enjoyed the sfogliatelle at Piada and the curry wurst at Kurz & Lang.

            2. re: oonth

              That would be really helpful, if you don't mind sharing your list. My office has just been moved (not literally) to the Barbican so anything near Farringdon is good for me (and my colleagues).

              1. re: DollyDagger

                No probs. I think you'll find some 20 odd names in my reply to Howler above. And whilst I use the past tense throughout that reply I am sure that a lot of those places are still going although in most cases I'm not sure of current quality. I will follow up.

            3. Mostly option a, because I work in a culinary wasteland (White City), and also because I'm mean and resent spending money on mediocre food. I often eat leftovers from the previous evening - today I had vinegared aubergines with chilli and spring onion and brown basmati rice! Occasionally I'll wonder down to the Uxbridge Rd for a superb falafel from a stand at the entrance to Shepherd's Bush market.

              1. I do a combination of all of the above. I'm fortunate that I work a university so I have access to pretty cheap lunches either sandwiches from the canteen, or something warm like a jacket potato from the staff club. To make my own lunches interesting I tend to make a different kind of soup every Sunday afternoon, and some weeks make a batch of rice and beans.

                1. I usually bring my own food (sandwiches/leftovers) for budgetary reasons, but I do try and explore interesting local cafes when funds permit. I'm in Holborn/Covent Garden, and in no particular order, I like
                  -Just Falafs in Covent Garden market
                  -Kastner & Ovens, Floral St
                  -Sfizio on Theobalds Road (for the panzarotto)
                  - Hummus bros, Sicilian Avenue
                  - Fuzzys Grub (Bouverie St, off Fleet St) for the roasts and pies
                  - The Ship Inn, Gate St (for pub lunches)
                  -Daddy Donkey, Leather Lane (bit of a trek,but decent burritos)
                  - Food for Thought, Neal St (always a queue, but decent veggie food and not too pricey)
                  -Leon (seemingly everywhere) for the soups, salads, and stews

                  Further afield, I also really like Rasa Express, on Charlotte St for the bargain £3 curry lunchbox, and Salumeria Dino, off Goodge St, for lovely panini. There's also a decent cheap pizza place near there, I forget the name but there's another branch on Strutton Ground, near Victoria, which has a few decent cafes.

                  I'm sure there are more, but none come to mind right now!

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: babybat

                    babybat - is rasa express part of the rasa chain? sounds great...are they all veggie curries??

                    1. re: DietStartsTomorrow

                      It is part of the Rasa chain:http://www.rasarestaurants.com/UserPa... they do a veggie curry meal and a non-veggie option, and also a biryani (good value as you get 2 veggie curries as well as the biryani). The soft drinks are a bit overpriced and it helps if you can nuke the food in the office microwave, but a very good option if you're in the area. The other branch is towards Euston station:http://www.rasarestaurants.com/UserPa...

                      My OH used to work on Gower St and get his lunch there most days, he's recently moved away from the area and laments the loss of cheap and delicious curries for lunch!

                      1. re: babybat

                        Never do the pret route, don't like the smell! Mostly do option a) because my OH works in the food wasteland that is ST James's and had stopped eating lunch... I plan most weeks to make something Sunday that is good cold for a couple of days and then later in the week I make something I can take in next day as leftovers. So this week I had friends round to dinner Sunday and made spiced roast shoulder of lamb and new potatoes - http://practicallydaily.blogspot.com/... Had cold lamb and potato salad Monday. Made stewed lentils with herbs Monday night had leftovers with lamb Tues/Wed. Tonight is penne with arrabiatta and enough with luck for lunch. Friday I shall buy - I'm lucky I too am close to Whitecross Street and Mario and Carol's Italian stall is also my favourite - always great food. Or else try the chorizo stall on Fridays or there is a small Austrian deli in Chartehouse Street towards Smithfields that makes great soups and wurst and black bread. And lovely cake. Or go to Comptoir Gascon next to SOS and buy baguette and some cheese for a truly decadent lunch.

                        1. re: bron

                          I need to try out the Mario/Carol stall, I don't remember it being there when I was a regular at the market. Did they set up shop some time post May 2005 do you know? Same goes for the chorizo stall.

                          Austrian deli is called Kipferl and is on Long Lane, that is a good place you're right. So too Comptoir Gascon, they actually have some tables inside now and a lunch menu which is good. But you're right, buying some bread, cheese, cold cuts and foie gras (they used to have 5-6 foie options but now it's down to 1-2) is a great way forward especially in the summertime. And you can go sit + picnic in the church yard next door to Cellar Gascon off West Smithfield.

                          1. re: oonth

                            I got some of the Kasewurst from Kipfurl - it's really good! Any other recs there?

                            1. re: babybat

                              Can't remember specifics but I enjoyed most things I bought from the breads to the salads to the mustard + sauerkraut in jars to the viennoiserie items. And yes the wurst are probably the stars of the show especially that kasewurst which is delish. Here's the link to their website, looks like they've expanded:

                              http://www.kipferl.co.uk/

                            2. re: oonth

                              Apparently Mario and Carol used to run a deli on the site where Waitrose is, and had to leave because of the new development (much as I think Waitrose is one of the better supermarkets ethics-wise, it's a disgrace that such great small local businesses just disappear into oblivion). They used to serve a few hot meals at the deli. I think they've only been selling food on the street for about a year or two.

                              1. re: Theresa

                                Actually Mario and Carol had the tiny shop called Alba next to the restaurant - called Alba - but did indeed close after Somerfield turned into Waitrose as they lost a lot of their business. They make fresh food every day but if you don't get there before about 1 o'clock they have probably sold out - which is sooooooo disappointing.

                                The little shop then got taken over by one of the Italian guys who worked in Barbican Grill - currently closed for refurbishment - selling pizza and pasta. But with roadworks and building and stuff at the front it too seems to have gone under and the shop now looks a bit shabby.

                                I am also a fan of Vinoteca for a sit down lunch with a glass of wine.

                                Do you know that St Johns also sell bread and cakes - they have the most utterly fabulous sourdough.

                              2. re: oonth

                                I've been craving a good sachertorte... perhaps Kipferl is the place to go!

                      2. It really should be option (a) for me, but because I work smack bang in Tottenham Court Road, the choices are too tempting.... I usually go to Soho's Hummus Brothers, or grab a massaman/green chicken curry from Papaya (St Anne's Court). Malleti's great for a grab and go pizza slice. Sometimes I'll trek to Brewer St to have a set lunch at Ten Ten Tei. Or, I'll go the other way towards Goodge St and have a panini at Salumeria Dino. There's also the super cheap lunch sets at the korean restaurants on St Giles' High St, though Bi Won near the British Museum is decent (though the last time I went the kimchi chigae tasted more like tomato soup than kimchi...), as is the London Review Cakeshop for their freshly made sandwiches and teas. My biggest vice has to be Busaba Eathai's thom ga chicken noodles though... :S Sometimes if I have time I'll trek over to Charing Cross/Chando's Road and have chicken kara-age at Hazuki - AMAZING!

                        But I'm getting a bit bored and I tend to stick to the same things because of time (too much effort to go around exploring)... so if anyone has any ideas for cheap, decent food around TCR, it'd be much appreciated.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: supercharz

                          I haven't been myself, but I've heard good things about the Indian YMCA on Fitzroy Square, just off the north end of TCR. And it's certainly cheap. Communal tables and food served canteen-style, open to residents and non-residents alike. http://www.indianymca.org/ (under Facilities).