When a colleague or a business contact says: “Let’s talk over lunch” does it fill you with dread?
Time is precious. So is the expenses budget. Who can afford to roll back to the office an hour late, feeling too wide of girth and too slender of pocket to focus on the afternoon’s workload?
Fear not. I am doing lunch on your behalf. Each month I will track down a suitable working lunch venue - and grill it for you. Food will be marked on creativity and taste, but also on portion size. At lunchtime, small is perfect. The price must be similarly proportioned; even fat cats want skimmed these days. Atmosphere is always important when dining out, but at lunchtimes you want neither mood lighting and musak, nor lively bon homie. On a business lunch, you need to be heard, you need to be able to see what you’re tapping into your iPhone and you want space on the table for your iPad.
A tall order. But my inaugural venue came up trumps. Browns Bar & Brasserie overlooking the Peace Gardens is a popular destination for city centre workers. In a previous life the building was the Army & General Stores. More recently, it was the HaHa bar.
As we arrive, my lunch partner Faye Smith, of Keep Your Fork marketing and PR, comments: “Great location; stylish and very central.”
We walked there, but if you’re driving in, the Q Park is nearby and so is the John Lewis Car Park.
We are shown to the upper mezzanine. We have booked and our table for two is small, but there are plenty of larger ones free. Beyond some striking chandeliers, there’s a great view - of the bar area below, and the street scenes beyond. The only downside? It’s quite noisy.
Menus are waiting and the £4 drinks we order (strawberry, white peach, cranberry, lime and apple Fruit Punch and apple, pear, elderflower, lime and ginger ale Diamond Fizz from an enticing, 11-strong non-alcoholic range) arrive in minutes. The look fabulous - like fancy cocktails - and taste exotic. Glasses of tap water are brought, too, without us even having asked. Good service.
The food menu confuses us, though; too many sections to select from. The new Light Lunch (served 9-5pm Monday to Friday) looks the simplest. And the cheapest. Starters and desserts are £3, mains are from £6.
We skip starters and choose crab and king prawn linguine (£6) and goat’s cheese, red onion and tomato flatbread (£7), which arrive within 18 minutes of our arrival.
Faye declares her pasta “delicious, al dente, with plenty of crab and prawns.” A few forks in, though, she reckons the lime, chilli & coriander pesto sauce is a tad too pesto-ey.
My flatbread is like a mini, slimline pizza. A good choice for a working lunch; the cheese is tangy, the tomato and peppers soft and sweet and it’s not too filling. The biggest plus? It’s been sliced and isn’t overladen with topping, so I can pick pieces up with one hand and write notes from our meeting with the other.
A stack of shared ideas later, plates are swiftly being cleared and desserts are on order. I stick by the rules with a creamy but refreshing £3 trio of frozen yoghurts while Faye the radical goes off-plan with £7 ‘signature dish’ the Blondie, a brownie made with white chocolate and strawberries with ice cream. It’s pale and sweet, with a crisp outer and an interior the consistency of a Bakewell. Lovely, she proclaims. Expensive, I add (I’m paying).
The bill - a neat £30 - is the only thing that doesn’t arrive promptly. We had to ask a couple of times for it. Even so, we were out of the door exactly an hour after arriving.
Browns Bar & Brasserie
St Paul’s Chambers
St Paul’s Parade
Tel: 0114 276 6710
In and out in an hour: YES
Free Wifi: YES
Parking nearby: YES