Food to delight a dealer: roast beef and treacle stodge

On the Floor
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The Independent Culture
What is it with boys and their lunches? There you are, on a rare excursion out of the office, and with a broker who's stumping up the readies for it all, and where does he announce he's taking you? To some ghastly chop house, whose only claim to fame is that it was founded at least two centuries ago.

So there you sit in some gloomy panelled room on uncomfortable wooden benches, elbow to elbow with your neighbours and unable to avoid eavesdropping on their conversation, even if you have decided within nanoseconds that it's the most fatuous one you've ever heard.

Added to that, the chop house is the last bastion of the Great British Waitress, iron-haired and iron-hearted, who treats her customers like the naughty little boys and girls they must have been in the nursery. The ones in the place I am dragged to most are particularly ancient; indeed, they may well have been here since the place opened. They're also incredibly stern, so I dread not being able to finish everything on my plate, certain of some terrible, nanny-like admonition and no pudding for me, young lady.

All this would matter little, of course, if the food were up to snuff, but it's not. Frankly,it's not just the waitresses who've been here since kick-off. The meat is always tooth-rippingly tough and tasteless, with great slabs of fat, and is served with at least one other kind of meat. The dishes also have ridiculous names. "Dr Johnson's mixed platter", for instance, is a cholesterol-soaked fry-up of steak, lamb chop, bacon, sausage, liver and kidney, with half a tomato. It makes you realise how Dr J got so stout, especially as it's all washed down with claret.

Eating vegetables is obviously considered a nasty foreign idea in these establishments, so that half a tomato is about all you'll ever find on your plate. On the other hand, there's no over-boiled cabbage, either, so it's not all bad news. I dread to think how Doris and her other fearsome helpers would react to a punter who refused to eat their greens. Probably keep them there all day until they had finished every last mouthful.

The one bright point is the puddings: spotted dick, jam roly-poly, ginger sponge, treacle tart. It's like a roll-call from an 18th-century book of English cooking, and I'm all for it, though I'd be even more enthusiastic if I hadn't had to put away all that meat and claret beforehand. There's something so soothing about all the sweet stodge and custard that I can almost understand why the place is always packed out with fresh-faced ex-public school types nostalgic for the certainties of childhood. But not quite.

Then comes the hot drinks. It is at this stage that your host will invariably tell you that the chop house started life as Mr T's Coffee House, and that Dr Johnson favoured the table in the corner. It's just as well to know, since you'd never guess this bit of history after tasting the thin, sour brew they serve as coffee nowadays. Urgh!

So you can imagine my dismay when Biggles, my favourite broker, rang up to invite me for a slap-up lunch next week. I was just casting around for an excuse to say no, when he piped up, "Oh, by the way, I'm afraid the chop house is off the menu. Doctor's orders. No meat, no claret for me for a while."

"But it's your favourite place," I said, secretly relieved. "You're always taking me there."

"To be honest," he replied, "I don't like all that meat.And those awful waitresses. It's just that I know you enjoy it so much there ..."

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