Kettner's Studio: The return of the epic lunch
We’re out of lockdown and working remotely – it’s time to indulge, says food critic Samuel Muston
Thursday 31 March 2022 By Samuel Muston
I looked at the clock and had a strange sensation. I had, unless my phone deceived me, been here for six hours now, and I had no intention of moving from the seat I’d occupied for so long. I’d become part of the soft furnishings as far as my friendly waiter was concerned. I was, also (possibly) a little unsteady on my feet. There was only one thing for it really. I was to order another course. Perhaps another bottle, too. All was well in my little bit of the world…
Steak tartare had come and gone, as had a perky sea bream and some Ruinart Champagne. I say some advisedly, because I can’t remember how many bottles we’d gone through, exactly. But then that happy amnesia as to cost and consumption is part of the joy of the very long lunch, isn’t it?
Something was in the air that day, clearly, for we were not the only office refuseniks in that shimmering Art Deco dining room of Kettner’s Studio in London’s Soho. There was a little battalion of us eating, drinking and carousing when we probably ought to have been working, thinking, and striving.
For many years now, people have been sounding the death knell for the long lunch. They were too busy, we were told. People didn’t want to drink Chardonnay in restaurants when they could drink a kale smoothie and hit the gym. They simply couldn’t justify that much pleasure on a weekday. We were all saints now; there was no room for sinners.
As with so many things, the rot first started to set in in the City of London. When the big beasts of American banking arrived in the 1980s, they displaced the bowler hatted gents who benignly whiled away the afternoon in Rules or Pont de la Tour. The new rules of the game were unwritten, but obvious: we’ll pay you more but, my god, you are going to work for it.
There’s a reason why the Square Mile seems to have the highest concentration of sandwich shops in the Western world. If you were to stand outside one at lunchtime before the pandemic, you could watch a sea of harried humanity stream in and then back out with their ham sandwich and a flat white. Often, they had started eating it before they were out the door. It was a sad state of affairs for people earning north of six figures.
The pandemic, of course, changed everything. After two years shut up like hamsters in a cage, most of us are ready for something different, for something a little more hedonistic. It’s time to really lean into pleasure again, and the long lunch is the perfect vehicle.
Dinner is often an obligation or else a wind-down from a day of toil; something you put in your diary and then wish you hadn’t. It involves trudging about when really you just want to be on the sofa – whereas a weekday long lunch or a Kettner’s bottomless brunch feels slightly illicit, a touch naughty, and that sense of being up to no good with your fellow lunchers breeds a devil-may-care camaraderie. You are willing conscripts in a war against responsibility. And after years of being just that: of following the rules, doing your bit, not coughing on the tube, it’s good to relax a bit. Plus, you can do it and still be in bed at a reasonable hour. It really is the perfect crime.
As it was, my day at Kettner’s Studio ended at about 8pm, crowned off by a Dirty Burger drowning in a delicious lava of melted cheddar. Eight hours seemed like a decent enough shift. I emerged, blinking into the night sky, swaying like a coconut tree in a breeze. At least I’d managed to avoid the fate of the writer Dorothy Parker who wrote of a particular long lunch: ‘I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.’
For those few hours, I had no cares, knew no stress and thought only of conversation and my belly. If only every day could be like that day.
Click here to find out more about Kettner's Studio.