Work friends occupy a unique space in your life. You see them more than your actual friends. You talk to them more than your family. They’re the only people who are sincerely interested in your impassioned monologues on so-and-so’s email etiquette and that isn’t even because they’re contractually obliged to be polite to you. They get it because they live it too and, after a year of Zoom quizzes and Google Calendar invites to ’Friday bevvies!!!!!!’ - they also get that screen socialising just isn’t it.
So, after a year of meetings, birthdays, and virtual celebrations via two sides of a screen and that video calling app - it’s time to meet socially and safely for real. We’ve put together this bunch of London restaurants, pubs, and cafés that are perfect for a casual and comfortable get together with your colleagues.
If you’re hankering for a bowl of nourishing and familiar pre-2020 capitalism then heading into The City should do the trick. Whilst you and your colleagues’ eyes well up with nostalgia at the glinting exterior of empty WeWorks and the troubling image of tumbleweed-filled Prets, consider stopping by at Koya for a bowl of udon to settle your unease. Their City branch, in the spaceship that it is Bloomberg Arcade, has a menu that’s perfect for part-sharing and part-not - sort of like conversation with your colleagues. There’s hot and cold hand-pulled udon, donburi rice bowls, and nibbly bits like pickled vegetables or tempura.
Big Jo Bakery
Although its name could read like the remnants of a subpar joke from a subpar ex-colleague about someone ‘in HR’, Big Jo is actually the sibling bakery and restaurant to Jolene. This spot on the Hornsey Road is as good for lunchtime catch ups with workmates over slices of ricotta, potato, pancetta, and wild garlic pizza, as it is for one-on-one evening gossip sessions featuring Basque cheesecake and bottle of something organic and funky. There’s plenty of seating outside and you can book via their website.
It’s been a year. What a bloody year. A year! These are things you will all more than likely say to the people you have been speaking to through a screen for… a year. Once this has been processed, or until the next person mentions the past 12 months, order a massive tarte flambée. This is one of the best things you can get at Bellanger, the Islington brasserie of the Wolseley, Delaunay, et al family. It’s a flatbread covered in creme fraiche, with slithers of caramelised onion, and chunks of pancetta. Combined with a glass (go bottle if the conversation topic is: the past year) of something crisp and a seat overlooking Islington Green, and you’ve got a pretty good get together on your hands.
Like all great neighbourhood restaurants, Theo’s toes the line between conservative likeableness - it’s a Neapolitan pizza restaurant after all - and something a little different for everyone to talk about - like their superb homemade chilli sauce or £7 cocktail list - and that’s the ideal dynamic for a meal with people you see everyday out of contractual obligation. Both their Peckham and Elephant & Castle branches are excellent casual lunch or dinner locations, with the former having a secluded garden if you really want to get comfortable.
For Hackney-based workmates who are looking to avoid entering Broadway Market in hazmat suits, Towpath Café is a lovely and thoroughly idyllic choice. Even on rainy days, the canal-side spot manages to retain a feel good atmosphere that has people smiling and joking into their sausage sandwich, taramasalata and radishes, or grilled cheese with quince jam. It’s only open from Thursday and strictly walk-in, but there are few better places to eat and chill in this part of London.
Meeting up with colleagues who live all over London can be a pain in the arse, so choosing somewhere nice and central with plenty of transport/escape routes, like King’s Cross, is a savvy move. There are plenty of options around here, but Café Bao would be top of our minds. It’s self-service only which gives lots of ~flex~ depending on who and how many of you there are, as there are lots of seating areas around Coal Drops Yard. You can sit and chew bao sausage rolls in hand. Or you can walk-and-talk along the canal with a selection of cookie caramel, salted egg custard, and molten chocolate and cherry baos. A perfect park bench meal, if you ask us.
The easiest way to deal with these kind of things is to satiate people: with pasta and a big old name like Padella. London’s most famous handmade pasta restaurant doubled up with a spot in Shoreditch (as well as London Bridge) just before the pandemic, and the good news is is that you can now book on their massive terrace. Alternatively you can harness the power of technology via the WalkUp app which queues for you. And yes, that is basically another form of booking. But if it gets you all close to a plate of that pici, who’s arguing?
The pub. The pub! Remember them? The scene of many a Friday night, as well as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday ones too - depending on your industry, of course. Well the pub is still and always will be a good option, especially if its kitchen is as good as The Canton Arms. Foie gras toasties, roasted fish with Mediterranean vegetables, and hand cut chunky chips regularly feature on the Stockwell boozer-cum-restaurant’s menu. Also, there’s plenty of outside seating and it’s heated as well.