Where shall we meet ... in Selfridges?

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The Independent Culture
Shopping may be supposed to be a pleasant pastime, but what it actually means is working up a muck sweat and a fantastic overdraft while simultaneously mounting a full-frontal assault on your self-esteem. The unforgiving striplights, the assistants who think that their association with a label has turned them into royalty, that hunt for a t-shirt without the logo of its manufacturer emblazoned on the chest: it's amazing more people aren't murdered on Oxford Street every year, especially with everyone having low blood-sugar levels.

The food available in the areas where the shops are is almost invariably unsuitable. Who wants to squeeze themselves into a skimpy dress in a communal changing room with a stomach full of greasy pizza? Is a Big Mac and fries the best fodder to set one up for an afternoon dodging pickpockets?

What one needs is high protein, low-bloating food at high speed. Something like sushi, in fact. YO! Sushi had the smarts to fill this market gap some time ago when they opened an outlet of their roboticised Soho restaurant on Harvey Nichols' fifth Floor. Their dominance of the upmarket fast food field extended a couple of weeks ago when they moved into Selfridges Food Hall.

This is ideal department store lunching. Diners plonk themselves on comfortable bar stools round a conveyor belt and hook whatever dish appeals as it slides past; plates are colour-coded at pounds 1.50, pounds 2.50 and pounds 3.50, and waiting staff simply stack them up at the end. An eager handful of chefs feverishly slice and wrap dishes while mineral water comes in unlimited quantities (fizzy and still) from taps set into the counter for a flat fee of just pounds 1. But the squeamish needn't worry about being overwhelmed by chunks of raw fish; little plates of cooked meat, vegetarian wraps and prawns circulate regularly. Anybody who doesn't at least try the fatty tuna, though, is a fool while the salmon roe wrap and the one with scallops and caviar makes both the eyes and mouth water simultaneously.

One odd thing, though, that I have noticed at the Poland Street restaurant: the robotic counter tends to make one surprisingly shy about asking for things. It took me half an hour to work up the nerve hail a chef and request a dish I couldn't see. Funny little things, human beings. Ever so brave when the need is there, but the moment we can get things by pressing a button, we turn into tongue-tied children.

YO! Sushi, Selfridges Food Hall, Oxford St, W1 (0171-629 1234)

DEPARTMENT STORE LUNCHES

The Garden

General Trading Co, 144 Sloane Street, SW1 (0171-730-0411)

Lovely: a conservatory, basement and, weather permitting, an ivy-covered garden. Quality girl-food: quiches, salads and cakes.

The Cafe

Fenwick, 63 New Bond St, W1 (0171-629 9161)

Basement outlet with pale wood bucket chairs and white raised "bar". Salads at pounds 5.10-pounds 6.25, sandwiches pounds 3.40-pounds 3.95, house fizz pounds 7.50 quarter bottle.

Art Bar Cafe

Liberty, Regent St, W1 (0171-734 1234), above

Cramped but cosy second-floor corner with windows but no view. Croissants and rolls pounds 1.10-pounds 5.50, coffee, tea and cakes.

Fifth Floor

Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, SW1 (0171-235 5000)

A great setting, with huge windows and sometimes live music. Sushi, tarty bar, posh restaurant and a lovely brasserie.

Win a free meal for two at a.k.a

a.k.a is one of London's most innovative restaurants and bars. Launched this July, to considerable critical acclaim, a.k.a is a great place to eat late at night - their own brand of "modern British cuisine" is served until 1am. Based in the West End, a.k.a also boasts a "star table" on a deck suspended from the ceiling which can be booked for private dining and is only accessible via an aerial walkway.

Strong design, high-tech visuals and a state-of-the-art sound system complement the good food and friendly service making a meal at a.k.a something to savour. It's well worth a visit whether you go there to eat in the restaurant, snack at the bar or just to enjoy a quiet drink.

The Information has three meals for two (up to the value of pounds 60 per meal) to give away. For a chance to win one, send your name, address and daytime phone no on a postcard to: a.k.a/ The Information, Jori White Public Relations, 59 Brewer Street, London W1R 3FD by 19 Sept. The first cards pulled from the hat will win. Usual Independent Newspapers rules apply.

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