I love The Ivy (1 West Street, London WC2, 0171 836 4751). The evening crowd tends to be a little more racy than the lunchtime business types, but it's consistently enjoyable at any time. The Ivy is a great place for a gossip, and I can sit in there for hours watching who comes in. It's good for me because as a writer I live a rather solitary life, so when I go out I like to imagine I'm involved in the world.
Thankfully, for a posh restaurant it doesn't oppress you with formality or any hideously trendy atmosphere. When I went there recently with my girlfriend we had black squid, which was extraordinary. Delicious, despite being rather black and tentacley, a bit like eating spiders in machine oil. We also had Champagne and oysters, and chocolate mousse - The Ivy's version is definitely to die for. After a meal like that I can begin to understand those people who eat out all the time.
The other restaurant that gets me out of the house is the Ta-Krai (100 North End Road, London W14, 0171 386 1874). It's a great Thai restaurant and it's just around the corner from my house. With a new baby in tow, you can begin to feel as though you haven't seen the outside world in months. So when we feel that way we all go out to the Ta-Krai. They cuddle the baby and whisk him off into the kitchen. He comes back happy and smiling and smelling like a noodle. Meanwhile, we tuck into green curry with prawns and deep-fried bean curd, topped with curry sauce and long beans.
If you add good conversation and a relaxed atmosphere to good food, you have a good eating-out experience, in my book. Basically, you want to be at home but without having to do the washing up. That, to me, is what it's all about. Is my home like The Ivy? No, it's more like a roadside caff ...