Imagine what a restaurant critic would make of a Christmas visit to a bustling site canteen. Well, you don't have to: Jonathan Meades has done just that at Bovis' site at White City in west London – and found that not everything was quite to his taste. In fact, he hated it.
For a decade and a half I had what civvies reckoned was the job from heaven: restaurant critic for The Times. I ate myself stupid – and heavy – at Mr Murdoch's expense. And I did so during a period when Britain was enjoying its vaunted gastronomic revolution: it is now possible to eat reasonably well in London and most larger cities – if you have the dosh.

And there's the rub. I believe that this "revolution" has touched only a small fragment of the population, the fragment that reads broadsheets, which might once have been described as white collar but is today far too bloody creative to wear such an item. I'm talking about, say, 15% of Britons. And that's a generous estimate.

Food in Spain, Italy, France, Germany is heterogeneous: Bavaria's repertoire is quite apart from Schleswig-Holstein's; no dish served in Catania would be found on a Torinese menu, and so on. At the same time, a shutterer in Rodez will eat from the same hymnsheet as the local architect whose design he is effecting – not so grandly, maybe, but a congruence will exist.

I doubt than any art director bidden to depict squalor would dare come up with anything quite so extravagantly, so hyperbolically, sordid. ‘Filth’ doesn’t begin to get it

In Britain things are different. Regionality is a fiction devised by tourist boards. Our dietetic divisions are occasioned by class and perceived status rather than by place. The project manager slips away for a vital power lunch with the QS' PA while the guys who heft the sand and cement weary down to a sandwich bar or fuel up in an on-site canteen. No BBC exec has ever been spotted in the gruesome canteen at the kindredly gruesome White City (to think a perfectly mediocre greyhound stadium was razed to make way for this design-and-build abomination by Balfour Beatty). No, the canteen is for the menials who actually make programmes.

Next door to White City, and occluding its natural light, something called a media village is being built by Bovis to a design by Allies and Morrison at the behest of media village idiots. Getting on for 1000 people are employed on site. I do hope that they're more proficient in their crafts and tasks than those who cook for them … My USP as a restaurant critic was that, as a menial who makes programmes, I have spent years in the British backwoods where, astonishingly, there is no Gavroche, no Marco not even a Pizza Express. So, faute de mieux, I was often forced to report on places whose cooking failed to match my preferred on-the-road staples of beer/whisky/crisps. I have, thus, eaten some very horrible meals. Some of them, it must be said, more horrible than that which the chefs (the word is approximate) hired by Bovis dish up in W12: none, however, was ever eaten (the word is, again, approximate) in such surroundings. I doubt than any art director bidden to depict squalor would dare come up with anything quite so extravagantly, so hyperbolically, sordid. "Filth" doesn't begin to get it. Sauce encrusted tables. Chairs caked with – well, I'd rather not speculate what with. Fag butts everywhere. Dried discarded teabags. Heritage sites of ancient spillages. Wrappings of many materials. Crushed cans. Gum, and more gum. Cracked yogurt pots. The comprehensive trashing of the conjoined giant portakabins is, presumably, a response to the cooking: imagine an Intercity buffet after Leeds United's finest have responded to their side's latest thrashing.

No alcohol is served. This is easily circumvented, however, by coming to work still pissed from the night before

There is a certain irony here. Everywhere you look there are walls-have-ears-style posters exhorting adherence to safety practices: "Know Your Fire Extinguishers" and "Don't Be Rash: Dermatitis Can Seriously Affect You For Life". As the contractor boasts, "Bovis Lend Lease Put's Safety First" (I promise that I haven't invented that apostrophe). If it really put's s'afety firs't how come it is' s'o negligent about hygiene? A disconsolate guy mooches about the place putting dirty plates into a supermarket trolley. That's about as much clearing up as gets done.

No alcohol is served. The prohibition is easily circumvented, however, by coming to work still pissed from the night before: that, anyway, is the conclusion that may be drawn from the volume of Lucozade consumed. It was touching to see full grown beef-size men sleeping with their head on the table. They do so without disturbance, for this canteen is strangely quiet. If conversation or idle chat or blarney are signs of fellowship then it must be concluded that this is a quality that's in short supply. Little cliques sit together reading tabloids, playing cards, smoking and, of course, eating, without much enthusiasm. Food is reduced to its basest level. It's mere quick-fix fuel. The notion that it might be pleasurable is ignored. The menu is greasy-spoonish with soggy quiche, baked potatoes and salads as apparently unpopular sops to "healthy" eating. Otherwise it's a matter of high-carb, saccharine and saturated fats. Frying is, predictably, the most commonly employed cooking method.

Given the ethnic diversity of the workers, not to mention the widespread popularity of Indian and Asian food, the dishes are bizarrely insular. Easily the best thing available was fresh orange juice. As for the rest, it's probably no better or worse than that served in a noxious caff near you. The next day I ate in a Kurdish community centre in north east London. It was similarly inexpensive – about £3 a head – but there the similarity ended.

BBC Media Village Canteen

White City Road, off Wood Lane, London W12. Open Lunch only 8am-4pm Price Approx £3 a head. Stepping into this site canteen is a little like entering a private members’ club – if you are not wearing the right gear, you stand out like a sore thumb – but without the pretension. In fact, this is where informal, inexpensive catering comes into its own. There is a wide choice of British lunchtime staples, from burger and chips, through to the healthier salad-and-jacket potato option and the classic pasta in tomato sauce, all of which could be called edible – although the rhubarb crumble didn’t quite reach that mark. It is all served by friendly staff – indeed, nobody stands on ceremony and the ethos is generally one of help yourself. The informal atmosphere is underlined by ubiquitous fag butts, discarded chewing gum and dried teabags. Exclusive access. Members of the public not admitted. Smoking and non-smoking sections. No booking. Vegetarian options available.