The restaurant workers

Inside the entrance atrium, a stained-glass window directs a dim, blue light on to those who arrive in hope of lunch. As I advance tentatively, a tall woman in a close-cut, grey trouser suit leaves her lectern and apprehends me before I can fully adjust my eyes to the sepulchral gloom.

“Are you meeting someone, sir?" she asks firmly.

I give the names of the people I am meeting. The woman consults a large, leather-bound ledger, the sort that I suspect St Peter would consult upon the arrival of the recently deceased at the pearly gates. She consults it for some time and with great seriousness before looking up with surprise and saying: "You are the first to arrive."

When we have overcome this faux pas - achieved when I say: "Yes, I am slightly early" - the woman leads me into the main part of the restaurant. I have not been here before and although I am aware of its reputation as the latest place to be seen at in central London, the interior design is unexpected.It consists of a series of booths in a grid across the room, in the style of an American diner, and is less a stage to dominate than a honeycomb to get lost in.

The woman takes me to one of the booths. I enter with difficulty and ask her to get me a drink. She smiles but ignores the request. I look at the other booths. The lunchers therein are either men talking business or women meeting friends. Though it could well be the reverse.

The women are wearing very expensive jewellery; the men wear the casual, off-duty clothes that are, in this part of London, the mark of the on-duty.

I glance at the woman in the grey suit as she talks to a couple drinking £7-a-bottle mineral water. Their faces are orange and greasy with vitamin supplements and oils. Her return glance suggests that these strange people are in the right place and I am not.

I agree and feel the urgent need to run for the door, but this is where the purpose of the booths becomes apparent. They are laid out in such a way that it is impossible to run for it. If you want to get out quickly, the only option is to leap in and out of five booths. The three waiters have arrayed themselves along the potential escape route, apparently aware that a breakout is being considered and ready to thwart it.

These waiters then advance towards me. Simultaneously, the people I am waiting for arrive, as does a small Czech girl in a pinafore carrying a basket of bread rolls.

Looking through this crowd, I see the woman in the grey suit. She approaches and grins much as a pterodactyl must have as it swung over one
of the smaller early mammals.

Michael Hodges writes the Class Monitor column for the New Statesman. He was named columnist of the year at the 2008 Magazine Design and Journalism Awards for his contributions to Time Out.

This article first appeared in the 16 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The war against science