Anyone, especially men, who worked in London in the 1980s will tell you how wonderful business lunches were in that era.

They were long and languorous, fuelled with alcohol.

The 1990s put paid to all that, and lunch al desko with fizzy pop or coffee became the norm, which, sadly, still exists today.

Therefore, it is good to read that long 1980s style lunches are back, in England, at least.

That’s the only good thing that can be said about coronavirus.

According to food critic Kate Spicer, writing for The Sunday Times, the trend started during curfew mandates in Ibiza in 2020 (emphases mine):

Daylight decadence is back. As someone recently said to me: “It’s literally carpe diem.” It arguably all started in Ibiza. With clubs closed, hedonism was a sit-down affair, and lunch became the island’s big ticket.

When holidaying Britons returned from the Spanish resort and our restaurants reopened, lunch followed.

Restaurateurs in London are loving it:

Dan Keeling can tell you what a good lunch sounds like. The co-owner of the highly praised Noble Rot restaurants in London has his office above the dining room at the Lamb’s Conduit Street site. “There’s no maybe about it — people are relishing lunch,” he says. “I know when we’re having a good service because the rumble of laughter, the roar of conversation, the actual vibrations of convivial good living rise up through the floorboards. A service like that can go off on a Tuesday. I love it. I feel like a kid up there, listening to my parents having a party.”

“We’ve been scooping grown men giggling into taxis at 6pm all summer,’’ says Fitzdares’s CEO, William Woodhams. ‘‘What I see is people planning lunches weeks in advance — off the cuff is over, it’s all about a lunch as a main event. Reservations start with a table for two and snowball. With everyone half in the office, half WFH, people are not in London all the time. They’ll come in, plan a morning of, say, three meetings where they might have originally done eight in a day, and then devote the afternoon to lunch.”

This phenomenon is an urban one:

Keeling thinks the urban exodus during the pandemic has reminded people exactly why we love our big British cities: “It’s impossible to recreate that urban glamour and energy in the shires.”

How true!

Other big cities are benefiting, such as Manchester:

At Manchester’s Hawksmoor, the high-end steak and seafood restaurant, lunches are as busy as they have ever been since opening in 2015. Co-founder Will Beckett puts it down to people wanting “face time not FaceTime. It’s not about what’s new and centred round the ‘chef’s vision’. They want a restaurant that nails the food and atmosphere but puts customers at the centre of the meal, somewhere they’ll feel comfortable and loved.”

Not everything is rosy, however. Brexit and coronavirus resulted in Europeans moving back to the Continent. That said, we have six million who successfully applied to remain in the UK, so we should be able to get European hospitality workers, surely.

Still, for those restaurants that can open for lunch, the world is their oyster. One London restaurant co-owner described it as ‘Christmas every day’:

At Luca, the unimpeachable Italian in Farringdon, the co-owner Johnny Smith says they could book lunch sittings several times over. He describes the energy then as celebratory. It feels like Christmas every day. And when people come they have it all — the prelunch drink at the bar, all the courses.”

Good!

Here’s a glimpse of the 1980s lunch, as served at Langan’s, which is reopening on October 30:

At its epicentre was Langan’s Brasserie in Mayfair, then owned by Peter Langan and the actor Michael Caine. It was the destination for “languid, long, late and liquid business lunches”, as Richard Young, the photographer who documented its glory days, remembers. When the stars came out, he would often spot the same people sitting there at 8pm, rolling lunch over to dinner. One of the restaurant’s new owners, Graziano Arricale, says it won’t be having any express-menu business either when it reopens in October after recent refurbishment. “People see Langan’s as an escape from work,” he says. I don’t think the two-bottle business lunch will come back, but going out for friends is different. Our lunch crowd will be in for a long, celebratory two or three hours.”

Excellent!

Another fan of the 1980s lunch was the late Keith Waterhouse, who even wrote a book about it:

The writer and satirist Keith Waterhouse rose at dawn, worked until lunch and then spent the rest of the day over a meal he eulogised in The Theory and Practice of Lunch. The book, published in 1986, is worth digging out to remind our fretful, workaholic Pret generations what it’s like to breathe into the afternoon and take time over eating during the daylight hours. “Lunch at its lunchiest,” he wrote, “is the nearest it is possible to get to sheer bliss while remaining vertical.”

I could not agree more.

However, alcohol is not necessary for a good lunch:

… it doesn’t have to be drunken. Good company is its own high, says the model, make-up artist and sidesaddle stuntwoman Lady Martha Sitwell, who has mastered the sober long lunch. “If it’s a good crowd I’ll slam a few sugary drinks and a good atmosphere will pull you into the afternoon. It doesn’t have to be messy.” Not that she’s anti that. “It’s just pointless pretending you can work,” she says. “It’s straight to the sofa to rehydrate and brainless Friends reruns.”

Yes, it is one’s lunchmates who make the afternoon a memorable one.

That’s why my far better half and I are looking forward to another long, languid London lunch with friends next week. I can hardly wait.