If you’re the sort of person who bases important career decisions on the calibre of food options near the office, then you’ll probably want to make an extra effort for your next interview in Farringdon. This part of EC1 is where your New Year’s resolution to “bring lunch in from home a bit more” ends up cold and ignored, probably in a Tupperware box at the bottom of the work fridge, where it belongs.
But not all of us have a Hix or St John-worthy expense account handy, and you won’t always want to balance a takeaway box from Leather Lane market on your knees, so when the inevitable happens and you want to venture out for lunch with the people you work with, here’s where to go.
Quality wines are, in an ideal world, what we’d all have at lunchtime. But this isn’t Mad Men people. There’s work to do. Or at least in theory there is. Quality Wines is the wine bar next door to Quality Chop House in Clerkenwell, and it’s an excellent place to hit for a sandwich when you need a break from staring at your screen. The sandwiches change daily, but everything about them is homemade and delicious. Alternatively, if you’re going for one of those lunches that conveniently segways into home time, then come for some pork pie, boquerones, and maybe even a glass or two.
Majestic isn’t a word we use often. In fact, we’re not really meant to use words like majestic. But Fish Central - an old school, white tablecloth fish restaurant that lives on the grounds of a council estate - is bloody majestic. There are blasts from the past, and then there is a man playing Let’s Dance on the keyboard as you eat a prawn cocktail. Admittedly the music is in the evening (and it’s a good walk from Farringdon) but this is still a great place to head to for an old school fish supper (or in this case lunch) for not a lot.
A first glance at the menu of this cute Exmouth Market shawarma spot might not recommend it for an inexpensive lunch. Come with a friend or two though and things get interesting. Get a bunch of mezze to share, or a pitta (lamb, chicken or cauliflower are available, all for under a tenner) with some hummus a side of either rice or salad to share between you - we’d opt for the Iraqi hummus and some mejaderah - and you’re eating well for about £15 each.
This Korean restaurant is pretty small, and usually busy, yet they’ll still usually be able to find you a table sharpish. It’s worth waiting a few minutes anyway though: the service is fast, the staff are friendly, and there’s a very affordable set lunch menu covering all your Korean favorites like bibimbap, kimchi, and bulgogi. The portions are slightly smaller than the main menu though, so if you’re starving, bump on a side of crispy dumplings to start.
There are two types of pub lunch with colleagues: the ones where you all get a bit pissed, and the ones where everyone sits there nursing lemonades thinking this would be a lot better if only everyone were a bit pissed. But what your team lacks in conversation starters, the Clerk and Well makes up for with its big, please-everyone-even-the-picky-eaters menu full of pan-Asian food, which includes small plates, crispy duck, and a good selection of Thai curries with a kick.
The Clerkenwell Kitchen is the multi-purpose unpretentious neighbourhood cafe you long to find in every corner of London. It’s the kind of place that serves coffee, a dozen or so variations of egg on bread, and then a handful of freshly made lunch options from 12 till 3pm on weekdays. Things like soup, pies, and pasta are available for a civilised lunch in this spacious and airy spot, which even has a small garden seating area at the back for those summer days when you can’t face the crowds at Exmouth Market.
Firstly, congratulations for making it this far down Leather Lane on a weekday lunchtime without accidentally eating your weight in halloumi. Your prize, assuming you make it to Kin still hungry, is a play-by-play of every dish you said you’d definitely learn to cook at home after your gap year in southeast Asia, but never did. And frankly who needs to when places like Kin exist? If you haven’t booked ahead, walk past the queue of people waiting for their takeaway curry pots, then order the prawn pad thai and a glass of jasmine iced tea.
We don’t use this word lightly, but whoever first invented the sandwich was a genius. A bloody champion of crust. A messiah of bread. And if you’re looking for a proper sandwich near Farringdon, Tongue and Brisket on Leather Lane is a great bet. This isn’t the kind of sad sarnie shop that’ll leave you questioning exactly how many hours, minutes, and seconds there is until dinner. This is a place for whole schnitzels, and piles of salt beef inside rye (pro-tip: ask for lots and lots of mustard, since they have a natural tendency to under do it). All that being said, if you’re looking for some suave interior design then Tongue and Brisket might not be for you, but if it’s a proper sandwich you’re after, they’ve got you covered.
This rustic-looking, low-lit bar is the sort of place you can walk past a few times without noticing, before it becomes your secret go-to and you make it your mission to demolish the cocktail list one-by-one. OK, that’s Saturday afternoon sorted. But every Monday lunch time it’s all about the £5 burgers. Ninth Ward also do decent lunchtime deals the rest of the week, which are good for the days when you’re a bit hungover and only baskets of fried chicken, hot wings, and beef brisket will do. And if by some happy accident you’re still there after lunchtime, then Happy Hour starts at 3pm. Just so you know.
J&A Cafe is the kind of place where you sit down and - inspired by the quaint courtyard outside and all the bunting - you write the premise to your social gentry novel on a napkin before chugging great coffee. They serve warm, hearty Irish food like homemade stew, freshly baked soda bread, seasonal quiche, and proper, brick-thick sandwiches with fresh relish. They aren’t the cheapest option in the area, but it’s worth it for access to their daily cakes with your pot of tea.
Paesan takes a more traditional slant on Italian food to most places you’ll find in London. And by this we mean that you can take an Italian there and watch as they eat everything put in front of them without complaining once. Paesan’s approach is all about small plates from different parts of Italy - think arancini from Sicily, and burrata by way of Puglia - served with delicious fresh bread. From Monday to Friday they do a piatto unico comprising of salad, antipasti and pasta all on one plate for £9.95, but you could also scrap the lunch menu entirely and get one big main portion of the slow cooked, braised beef shin pappardelle instead.
You know those perfect pubs where you go for lunch and everything’s just great and you’re like why can’t this just be lunch every day? The Eagle is that pub. Honestly. They’ll only hold you a table if you’re early and ask very nicely, so your best bet is to just turn up. Everyone else is usually pretty happy to shimmy up a bit and share their table. Either way, order off the blackboard next to the open kitchen. Get the steak sandwich: it’s huge. Actually, just get everything. You’re not going back to the office any time soon.
Upstairs at Smiths is definitely company credit card territory. But for everyone lower down the corporate ladder, the café downstairs is a decent spot for a casual lunch. The menu’s short, simple, and it’s big on fried stuff, sandwiches, burgers, and meat. All of which is unsurprising, given that it’s opposite London’s most famous meat market. And if there are a few of you, the tables are big enough that you can seat the whole team, and still strategically place yourself far enough away from anyone you don’t like. Bonus.
La Kitchen is a small and unpretentious Vietnamese spot on the Clerkenwell Road that’s perfect for when you’re after half an hour with your friend, or on your own, with a bowl of something tasty. This is a cheap and cheerful place: there are a few stools and tables to sit at, the bowls of pho and bun cha are under a tenner, and everything tastes solid - though don’t expect it to be the best Vietnamese you’ve ever had.
Strictly speaking, this Lebanese restaurant is on the border of Farringdon, but it’s getting included because once you’ve demolished enough flatbread, tabbouleh, and mezze to sustain Lebanon itself, you’re probably going to need a bit of time getting back to the office to walk it off. The portions are always generous for the price, and the staff are happy whether there’s a couple of you or big group. And if you can’t decide what to get or don’t want to faff with separate meals, they’ll just bring a load of different sharing platters for you to dive into and split the bill.
Terroni has been selling Italian produce since 1878. And now it has a café serving quick Italian food with no frills. Which is good, because sometimes 2pm meetings happen and you only have time to order some pasta al forno off the blackboard at the counter, find a seat, eat, and get back to the grind. But it’s also a shop and a deli, so good luck getting out of there without buying some emergency Italian cheese. And there’s no excuse for returning to the office without a bag of biscotti for the troops.
Let’s be honest, Farringdon isn’t short on the sort of pubs that make you feel like you’re very much in a historic part of London the minute you get through the door. And this one definitely has that distinct ‘we’ve been here for ages’ vibe, while also serving some of the best pies in the area. They’re freshly cooked to order and demand is usually high at lunch: so much so that they actually recommend you call ahead to make sure you get one. But it’s all good: while they sort out the food, you can head over to the shuffleboard and have a game while you wait.