Lunch should be part of the working day, not just a break from it, says Paul Finch
I once had to fill in a corporate questionnaire about lunching habits and, in particular, the length of time customarily taken. Various boxes were available for ticking, starting with one suggesting ‘15 minutes’ might be a popular option. This alarming proposition didn’t get very much better since the final box posited no more than ‘one hour’. Happily there was a comment box, which I was delighted to fill in with the following: ‘Two hours excluding travel time’.
Of course, the travel time may be negligible. My recent lunch with FAT took place 30 seconds from the AJ office in the excellent Eyre Brothers restaurant. But it may involve considerable journeys, as Sam Jacob reminded me. At a recent Venice Biennale, we suggested he might like to join the Architectural Review lunch party, and that we would be setting off shortly. Since it was only 10.30 in the morning that may have seemed a little early. On the other hand, we were heading for the Da Romano restaurant on the island of Burano, and our journey began with a longish boat journey from Riva Schiavoni, leaving at 11am.
To the Puritan tendency the idea of the long lunch is anathema
To the Puritan tendency, the idea of the long lunch is of course anathema, on at least two counts. First it means you are not ‘working’. Second it probably (though not inevitably) means you are enjoying yourself. The pointed glance at the clock as you resume your seat is a reminder that lunch is, in the minds of some, to be rushed and limited, not leisurely and savoured.
This brings us to the rather ghastly concept of the ‘working lunch’, which at worst involves inferior sandwiches in a boardroom with cans of Diet Coke or Lilt to wash down the carbohydrates. One up from this is lunch in a proper restaurant with a ‘business’ agenda. Depending on the guests, this can be pleasurable, but it can be the reverse if it becomes apparent that there is not much business to be had, and that the lunch is a waste of time. This puts you off the food and, possibly, the restaurant. Having had more business lunches than hot dinners, I can attest to this.
No, a proper lunch is one where conversation, information, gossip and ideas flow freely. World Architecture Festival was invented in Moro in Clerkenwell, for example; Architecture Tomorrow in Pearl Liang in Paddington. Thought is generally improved, of course, by appropriate courses and liquid refreshment. (The late-lamented Keith Waterhouse was an exponent of the lunching art, recording the two most frightening phrases spoken to a true luncher: ‘Shall we go straight to the table?’ and ‘White or red?’)
Lunch is fundamentally a specification activity
Which brings us to the point about lunch and architecture: lunch is fundamentally a specification activity, where the plan, as it were, is already established. You get to choose the materials. This is why it is always fun watching architects read a menu, before inquiring about specials and, quite possibly, whether there are specials that are neither on the menu nor the blackboard. I do not find this in the least tiresome, since it suggests a proper degree of seriousness about the task in hand. You can learn a lot about a person from their food order, not to mention wines and (possibly) spirits.
The best lunch for an architect is, of course, the celebratory one, at which a commission is confirmed. Famously, Irvine Sellar’s Berlin lunch with Renzo Piano became truly memorable when Renzo sketched out his idea for the Shard on a napkin, which the happy client has to this day. Bon appétit indeed.