1 AUGUST 1987, Page 44

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NN . , Deliveries

EFFORTLESS ease has gone out of fashion. The Americanisation and Thatch- erisation of our culture and the spectre of unemployment they drag behind them have given the work ethic a new gloss: conspicuous combustion is the name of the game. Now the poor darlings earning £100,000 a year in the city don't even have time to go out for lunch. No one really believes they need to chain themselves to telephone and terminal at all hours of the day and night, but taking off a couple of hours to do something as low-profile as eating would be bad for image. (Since expense accounts are largely to blame for ruining restaurants, this is no bad thing.) Bringing in a packed lunch to the office would not help either; so what you do now is get your sandwiches delivered to your desk.

Birley's in Royal Exchange (928 0822) is the Caprice of sandwich-makers. Their sandwiches are for people who would rather die than be seen allowing a slice of Mother's Pride to pass their lips. On offer are a choice of 12 sandwiches (average price £2.50 each), the Lunch Box, Birley's Platter and Birley's Kosher Platter, and these well-stuffed, yielding triangles of soft granary bread come encased in a white card box elegantly edged in British Racing Green — not a trace of greasy brown paper here. Beauty apart, what they've got going for them is that they are delicious sand- wiches. I tried the Birley's Platter, which at £12.90 plus VAT (£1.93) comprises one each of smoked salmon, ham and cheddar, bacon and avocado, turkey and bacon and beef sandwiches. An expensive way of snatching a bite of lunch between, or even during, deals, you might think, but I can't imagine there's a better (no stinting on the

filling here), though I would think, too, that most customers are not paying their own bill. Birley's will deliver all over EC1, 2, 3 and 4, and there's no delivery charge. Coates Café in London Wall (256 5231) have now opened a take-away and delivery service, and they offer much the same menu as Birley's, only the sandwiches are cheaper (not difficult) and not as good (average price £1.75): the smoked salmon was definitely inferior; and the bacon and avocado filling was a smear compared to the wedge-shaped hunks you get from Birley's; other choices include tuna, sala- mi, dolcelatte, brie and a club sandwich. These sandwiches are very much better than you would get from the formica- topped sandwich bar round the corner, but they won't take your mind off your work. Delivery in EC2 only, with a charge of £1 per order.

The trouble with operations like Birley's and Coates Café is that you have to order your sandwiches in advance. The Sandwich Man (253 1675) offers a much more helpful service in that they will come to your office each day with a basketful of sandwiches, cakes and drinks and weave their way through the filing cabinets plying their wares. There is a different choice each day, and highlights of the week include the egg mayonnaise and ham `megabaps', pastrami and stilton and walnut sandwiches. The sandwiches are on the good side of ordin- ary and sometimes better — but at an average price of 65p each, that seems good enough. Their beat covers, roughly speak- ing, Paddington to Wapping.

In New York you can get almost any sort of food delivered at the lift of a telephone, and the order arrives almost before you've put the receiver down. You would have thought that there would be a demand for efficient home-delivery services here by now, too, but if there is it certainly hasn't been recognised. Fone-A-Feast (402 7166, deliveries to West, South West and North West London) was the best I could find, but even so service is bad (an order can take up to 50 minutes to arrive) and the quality of the food not wonderful. From the choice of Chinese, Indian, Persian, Italian and Continental (salad burger and chicken `Moringa) menus, the Chinese is definitely the best. One work-sodden Sun- day night I tried the Feast A from the Peking and Szechuan menu. £27.50 (plus the £1.90 delivery charge) may seem a lot for two, but there was easily enough for four and it was surprisingly good: seaweed, bon-bon chicken, prawn and sesame-seed toast, crispy duck complete with cucum- ber, spring onions, sauce and pancakes, prawns with ginger and spring onions, dry fried shredded beef, sweet and sour pork (this the only dodgy number as the batter had got very soggy), mixed vegetables, egg fried rice and glazed toffee bananas to end with. This really is a feast, and the best bit is that there's no washing-up.

Nigella Lawson