European leaders sat down to a cold dinner and an even more frosty atmosphere among some of their number last night.

The event was delayed for hours as preliminary negotiations before the EU summit even began dragged on and on. Many had taken the chance to grandstand to the assembled television cameras outside, sparking some unusual metaphors.

Angela Merkel appeared to compare the summit to a football match saying her country was going for "goal".

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The Dutch, dismissing the many threats of a veto ahead of the grouping, opined that you did not bring a "loaded gun" into a meeting.

The austere dinner arrangements themselves also triggered some surprise.

There were clear steers that European Council president Herman Van Rompuy was trying to send a signal that the leaders were here to do business.

And as the day wore on the point at which the phoney war might end and all 27 EU leaders might actually meet together – and, importantly, eat – got pushed back further and further. Earlier they had rubbed shoulders in the airy confines of the European Commission building in Brussels, using that most officious of words 'bilateral'. The UK delegation shared the same corridor as the Germans and the Austrians, with the Italians just around the corner – all on what was euphemistically referred to as the "70th floor".

And such is the colourful world of eurocrat counting, in order to see Mr Van Rompuy for the face-to-face negotiations that every country has David Cameron had to travel all the way down to the 50th floor. But the rule of thumb is to divide all those numbers by 10.