I’m considering writing a tome on etiquette for office workers. Some rules are set in stone (eg. be polite to temps, because you never know how long they’ll be here). Others are up for discussion (eg. if the boss’s wife spends a company drinks reception thinking you’re on work experience, but also mis-remembers your name, does it matter?).
For working lunches, I have so far devised two rules: turn up on time, and order a meal that’s easy to eat so you can concentrate on wowing diners with your conversational skills. Unfortunately, I broke both rules on a recent visit to Colosseo Restaurant, Victoria. I and two colleagues bumbled in 20 minutes after the others had arrived, the empty bread baskets a tell-tale sign that we’d delayed the arrival of food. This is always frowned upon, but especially so when your fellow diners might need to get back to the office in good time.
We’d been delayed by late meetings, though we could have blamed our tardiness on the difficulty of spotting Colosseo behind its spider’s web of scaffolding: as our picture shows, its entrance is well hidden at the moment. Inside, however, terracotta floors and palm plants give a pleasingly Mediterranean feel – albeit one disrupted by a vague smell of damp – and the service was prompt.
I opted for linguine with langoustines. It was with a sinking heart that I watched my meal arrive and remembered that langoustines, though tasty, are blighters to eat. The dish was nice – a rich sauce with just enough garlic clung to well-cooked pasta under a generous portion of shellfish – but peeling shells from what are essentially mini-lobsters does not aid free-flowing and dignified conversation.
Other colleagues made more successful choices, in terms of eating ease – but perhaps at the expense of taste. A pizza was deemed “completely unmemorable”, while penne with artichoke king prawns (shells off) was “a little bit bland”, its main flavour provided by the pepper and parmesan on top. This is disappointing for a choice from the specials board; one diner ended up adding rocket from her side salad to give the pasta some zing.
Most skipped dessert, though one Italian diner ordered an affogato – it means “drowned”, he explained, chasing his ball of ice cream through a lake of coffee crammed into an undersized bowl.
Professionally, the meal was a success: Colosseo has the right mix of inoffensive décor, moderate prices and a wide selection of dishes, and conversation flowed despite the variable quality of the food. And personally, too, I was content. I might have found it embarrassing trying to sound expert on cultures of leadership in the civil service while hooking the meat from a tiny, prickly sea creature, but I came away with the idea for my new book. And that gives me the prospect of many more lunches with publishers at which to explore the fine balance between taste and dignity in the cultural minefield of working lunches.