What's the best meal of the day? Four writers argue their case

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Famously, George Bernard Shaw put it so: “There is no love sincerer than the love of food”.

Quite so. But when best to ignite the love affair? First thing, with black pools of espresso and eggs all ways? At lunch, over clouds of pastis; or at supper, when there’s no work to worry about? Or perhaps the most joyful meal of the day is not really a meal at all, but the stolen moments after a night out, when food arrives without judgement and is eaten the same way?

Here, four of the Standard’s writers make a case for the best time of day to eat. Who’s talking sense, and who’s out to lunch? Let us know in the comments.

A case for breakfast

by Ben McCormack


Breakfast, many of us have been told since childhood, is the most important meal of the day. Yet few things in life are less likely to make me spring out of bed than the threat of a bowl of cornflakes. This penance on a plate was invented in the 19th century by John Harvey Kellogg. An enthusiastic Seventh-day Adventist, Kellogg believed that bland foods such as the cornflake would curb the urge to masturbate, to him the greatest of all evils. Never mind the science — breakfast boosts energy and improves concentration — focus on the sin!

Kellogg, it is safe to say, was not a believer in the Russian proverb to eat your breakfast alone, share your lunch with a friend and give your dinner to your enemy. For, properly done, there are few things in life more self-pleasuring than breakfast.

The breakfast menu is a manifesto for gluttony, a creed for the greedy. When I heard that the Goring hotel had re-opened its Dining Room at the end of last month, after a multi-million refit, my first thought was not of lunching on lobster omelette or sharing a beef Wellington for supper. Rather, it was that finally someone will make me fried bread again and not raise an eyebrow when I ask to wash it down with hot chocolate.

The Goring is, to my mind, the best breakfast in town, so all-encompassing a feast of hot and cold dishes and drinks that it qualifies as the world’s poshest all-you-can-eat, which makes the £39 price tag a bit of a bargain. It’s a similar story at The Ritz, where the full £56 breakfast grants access to the most beautiful dining room in London for a fraction of the cost of lunch or dinner here, and will leave you so stuffed that there’s no need to eat until the evening.

But breakfast needn’t be so smart. Visit a greasy spoon like the Regency Café in Westminster or E Pellicci in the East End, and you’ll encounter somewhere as democratic as a pub, with everyone from labourers to lawmakers starting the day in the same way with a full English for less than a tenner.

The Goring’s breakfast is so all-encompassing a feast of hot and cold dishes and drinks that it qualifies as the world’s poshest all-you-can-eat

Nor is this narrow jingoism; a full Scottish, with haggis and black pudding, is as much of an ode to the finest Caledonian ingredients as a plate of Gigha halibut or Orkney scallops. Ditto a full Irish, with Scots Stornoway black pudding and tattie scones swapped out for Clonakilty white pudding and a pile of roast potatoes.

This is, admittedly, a very Anglophone view of eating. Yet few things sound as joyless to me as the dreaded phrase “Continental breakfast”. Can you imagine what a full French might comprise? Coffee and a croissant, with a thimble-sized pot of Petits Filous if you’re lucky. A full Italian — espresso and a cigarette — is, however, entirely wonderful.

London’s reputation as the world’s greatest city for eating out rests on our magpie restaurant culture, from Australasian to Yemeni. But breakfast, at least, is a dish we can proudly claim as our own lard-soaked own. They say you can’t outrun a bad diet. You can if you have the rest of the day to run it off.

The lessons of lunch

by David Ellis


Popular culture can be instructive, and so it is with Wall Street, Oliver Stone’s 1987 depiction of corruptive, corrosive wealth. “Lunch,” rat-a-tat-tats Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko, “is for wimps.”

Gekko — greed moulded as a man — is a shoulder-padded sack of lesson to learn from. Trust nothing he says, do exactly as he doesn’t. He needs those lunch hours for business, money-chasing, competition. His is an artless life, because pleasure is secondary. Lunch done properly is not about deals or handshakes or getting things done: lunch is about fun.

It has to be: lunch is inherently naughty. Not Sunday lunch, the family lunch, perhaps, but the rest. The ones in the week are the best, when heading out from the office feels like playing truant, and every furtive glance at the emails confirms — hopefully! — the getting away with it. It’s a little crime with no victims. It is mischief.

There are not all sorts of suppers: you simply go, and it may be long or short, but that’s it. But lunch comes in different colours: there are the fast-food, hangover-clearing pit-stops; the laze-under-the-sun park picnic. There are the Long Lunches and PFLs (proper f***ing lunches), which should not be measured by length but indulgence. There are the three martini lunches for lawyers, pub lunches for old friends, salad bar lunches for those reforming themselves. There are working lunches — still naughty, but pretending not to be, protected by the illusion of Achieving Things — and affair lunches. Lunches can take the form of an afternoon tour: pint and a snack here, main and a glass of red there; ice cream at that place; brandy at so-and-so bar. In the evening, there isn’t the time, and places turn away little parties of twos-and-threes coming in for only a couple of moments. Lunch loosens shackles, supper puts on chains.

At lunchtime, staff, often at the beginning of their shifts, are fresher, more cheerful, less run down by d***heads. You yourself may also be feeling fresher, more cheerful, less run down by d***heads

Lunchtime deals are also readily available, and never frowned upon, so lunch is often cheap. Lunch is democratic but also classless: we all call it the same thing. Lunchtimes are usually quieter, too, and so service is more attentive. Staff, often at the beginning of their shifts, are fresher, more cheerful, less run down by d***heads. You yourself may also be feeling fresher, more cheerful, less run down by d***heads. It is a good combination. Lunch begins once you’re past the morning groans, and before the evening’s yawns. Go for lunch at a friend’s house and you’ll cheerily head off at dusk; go for supper and half the evening’s spent wondering about an Uber. Host that lunch and nothing changes; it’s so much easier for someone to outstay a welcome when it’s getting late.

Lunch isn’t for amateurs and needs a little respect. Lunch may take an afternoon, but rarely steals away a morning. A 12-hour lunch and the next day might be possible; not so with a 12-hour supper (besides, good luck having one; town shuts down too early). A Long Lunch and you might end up among the gleeful post-work crowd in the pub; five hour suppers end among the coked-up, weary office crowd already dreading the next morning. The tone is different. Besides, it’s a matter of possibilities: lunch can become supper, but supper has never become lunch. Lunch is a meal with different dreams.

In defence of dinner

by Clare Finney

 (Rysher Entertainment)
(Rysher Entertainment)

There is a word beginning with L which I have come to dread; which I go out of my way to avoid, at the cost of several relationships. It is the main reason I have yet to reply to 9,876 emails and 37 WhatsApp messages. It is “lunch”; the meal that never comes at a convenient time of day because by definition it falls smack bang in the middle of it. It arrives in the guise of a meeting or me-time; but as a polar bear is to ice and snow, so lunch is to disrupting flow; supremely well adapted.

It’s no reward for a morning’s honest work, for the whole affair is polluted by the prospect of returning to one’s desk half-addled by bread and Chablis. One could not drink, of course; but one cannot not be full without spending a resentful £13 on soup, or leaves or something similarly overpriced and underwhelming.

The other option is to commit, as David admirably, devotedly does, to not returning to one’s desk at all. I’ve been roped into this (by him) before and it is good fun, but it makes my point. Lunching absolutely scuppers working.

Far worse, it scuppers all other meals. One doesn’t breakfast if one’s lunching. One cannot enjoy olives and an aperitif if one has been wining and dining since half one, or have a little slice of cake at four-ish.

Enter a dining room at dinner time, and everyone is on the same page. The lights are low, the music up and no one’s desks are beckoning

And one certainly can’t relish dinner, the one meal one can fully enjoy — and that ultimately is its greatest crime. It’s culinary sabotage of the highest order. Unlike lunch, dinner is always at the right time — the day’s end — and so by extension one is always deserving. I like dinner for all the reasons I dislike lunch. Enter a dining room at dinner time, and everyone is on the same page. The lights are low, the music up and no one’s desks are beckoning. Even the suits have loosened their ties: for dinner meetings are reserved for people with whom you want to let loose and converse on more frivolous subjects than finances. In the bright scrutiny of daylight, sensible decisions have to be made. Darkness, however, is laced with possibility.

If the novelist Angela Carter is right (and she often was), and anticipation is the greatest part of pleasure, then the most pleasurable meal is that which one anticipates the longest. And that is dinner, the meal one has all day to dream, design and plan for. It’s the meal that means no work, no kids, no sandwiches and no “thanks, I’ll just have water.” It’s the meal which can have any number of beginnings — a pint and crisps, a glass of rose and olives, the gym — but has only two endings, both of which are highly palatable. One goes out out or one snuggles into bed. ‘And that’s lunch!’ is the saying. But it’s not: it’s dinner.

In praise of post-boozing bites

by Joanna Taylor


If you’re reading this, you’re likely thinking: “This woman is an idiot.” And, honestly? Fair enough. Because in a city full of trend-setting, rule-breaking, palette-enriching restaurants open during sociable hours, who on Gordon Ramsay’s green earth would declare that their favourite meal is a post-party bite? But hear me out.

While no, London still isn’t a 24 hour city (sigh), I believe there is plenty of delicious fun to be had past bedtime. Admittedly, though, this is less about the quality of the food, and more about the freedom we are granted in eating it. To state the obvious: a good night on the tiles — one full of deep belly laughs, just the right amount of booze and plenty of questionable dance moves — brings out the best in us, loosening the chains of the daily slog and freeing us of our dreary inhibitions; dissolving all the guilt and shame attached to what one should and shouldn't eat. Without the threat of embarrassment, or the post-Ozempic taunt of the evaporating elite, we’re catapulted into an alternate universe where calories don’t count, snobbery is outlawed, and gastronomic freedom is ours.

A good night on the tiles brings out the best in us. We’re catapulted into an alternate universe where calories don’t count, snobbery is outlawed, and gastronomic freedom is ours

What does that look like? Just about anything you like. There are sensible choices available, of course — places such as Durak Tantuni, Beigel Bake and Meat Liquor, which make for an acceptable fourth meal of the day — though for me, the thrill lies in a trip to one of the remaining late night offenders, whose charm mutates as the night wears on until suddenly anything is possible. A waft of Wok To Walk will have you prodding a man for noodles; Chicken Selects sparkle like the Clove Club’s pine-dusted chicken under the frosty glare of the N29; and any smear of Bar Italia’s chicken parm-tinged grease could possibly, maybe, just about pass as lipstick — at least in the dark light of Gerry’s, anyhow. Though the most delicious morsel of all is that the guilt and shame-ridden consequences are tomorrow’s problem. As for right now? It’s time for another punnet of chips.