The mission Maggie O'Farrell sets out to discover if there is such thing as a free lunch but has a very hairy experience ...

oon: the lunching hour begins and

I am entering Quo Vadis, the Soho

restaurant backed by artist Damien Hirst. I reckon he can afford it. As I approach the desk, the two women behind it part their lips in what, in some circles, would pass as a smile. "Hello," I say, "I'd like to have lunch, please. For free." There is a pause. The smiles disappear. "Is that possible?" I ask. "No." They look at me as if I'm a bit of something that's fallen off one of Damien's art works. "No," they say again, just in case I didn't understand.

Nearby, at Sir Terence Conran's Mezzo, the man's reply strikes me as bizarre: "You're wearing trainers." We look down at my feet together. "Does that mean that if I wasn't wearing trainers I could get a free lunch?" "We're booked up," he says. "What, for free lunches?" "You're wearing trainers," he says again. The man's obviously on some strange autopilot, so I leave.

I try a few other places: the man in trendy Bar Italia pretends he's lost his grasp of the English language; and the nice Canadian boy who's stacking the fridges of the sandwich store Pret a Manger just looks frightened.

1pm: I loiter with intent outside the Groucho Club, the media hangout. A man in a suit gets out of a cab. "Hey!" I greet him, wondering why I suddenly sound American, "would you mind buying me lunch?" He stops, his fingers plucking nervously at his mobile-phone aerial, and makes the noise "Hhrrrrggh?" I repeat my request. "Do I know you?" he asks. "No," I reply, and he runs away, throwing himself through the Groucho's doors. My stomach emits a growl the type of which is usually heard only in the proximity of Longleat.

1.30pm: food is now a matter of urgency. I decide that crashing a corporate gathering is my only option. In what I am convinced is a matter of divine psychicness, the man on reception at the Sony building says, "Have you come for the lunch?" I sign for a security pass and float down the stairs wondering if I should marry him. But plans for our future are rudely interrupted when I see that the room is filled with men networking earnestly, holding glasses of mineral water, and the only edible things around are a few bowls of crisps. I scoff down as many as I can and ruminate over how similar the words "lunch" and "launch" sound. A woman cannot live by crisps alone. I leave, without a backward glance for the reception man.

Outside, Soho's Golden Square is filled with people eating sandwiches. I approach two women who are sunning the tops of their Wonderbra-enhanced chests. "Hi. Do you have any food you could give me?" They stop, mid-chew, and stare at me. Then they resume their conversation.

As a last resort, I sidle up to a lone man who has inexplicably rolled up the bottoms of his suit trousers. Success! He produces a sandwich - a fresh mozzarella and tomato nirvana of a free lunch. I am so close, I nearly have it in my hand when he says: "Only if I can touch your hair." I decide that a) he's a weirdo and b) hair-touching constitutes payment. Decline, and stalk off to the cashpoint

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living