The ladies are still mourning the premature loss of the Patron Saint of Lunching, the Princess of Wales, but the precedents she set, as many a media pundit would tell you, still bring light to our dark tunnels. For, despite the growth of sexual equality and the breakdown of traditional values, Gentlemen still dine at the In and Out and Ladies still lunch. Lunch, in certain types of venue, remains the province of the ladies, presumably because it is one of the few moments the shopping-and-entertaining wife has to escape the strains of seeming interested in the old man's managing director and related contacts and indulge in a bit of old-fashioned dirt-dishing. It's one of the few bloodsports not in danger of being banned.

The requisites for a successful lunch are this: that the venue be sited in a single-digit postcode, that food be familiar with a slight twist (although why people who never finish a helping care about food is another question), that staff be familiar but not intrusive, that decor be both quiet and flashy at the same time. Proximity to the more expensive clothes emporia is a must.

Fulfilling all these criteria is Diverso, a delightful Tuscan diner done out in terracotta, stone, wood and bits of reclaimed Venice by the ubiquitous Emily Todhunter, which betrays on the inside no hint of the fact that it's based in one of those ghastly concrete blocks on Piccadilly. Rather more manic in the evenings, this charming cave is deliciously cool and leisurely at lunchtime, mostly patronised by the better class of American saying "Thank you, we'll surely be back" at unfeasibly early hours.

This is a near-ideal lunch venue; acoustics are such that your bitchier confessions will reach only the ears they're aimed at. The staff are homey and good at remembering to keep your glass topped up. Food is faultless, though portions are a little large for the average luncher: carpaccio (pounds 8.50) and bresaola (pounds 8) are juicy and beautifully laid out, pasta (I heartily recommend the Taglioni with saffron, scampi and baby artichokes, pounds 9.10) and risotto come in brightly coloured earthenware troughs, faggotini (pasta parcels filled with vegetables, pounds 10.50) are to die for.

As you can see, we're not talking cheap, but lunch always comes at a price, even if that price is soaked up by the old man's platinum Amex.

Diverso, 85 Piccadilly, London W1 (0171-491 2222)

LUNCHEON MEETS

San Lorenzo 22 Beauchamp Place, SW3 (0171-584 1074) (below) Fave lunchtime haunt of the former patron saint, a place that's as famous for the freelance paparazzi lurking outside as for the unremarkable food within. Good for spotting people you've seen in a photo, but couldn't name.

Joe's 126 Draycott Ave, SW3 (0171- 225 2217) Scene of the great lunch with Lulu in Ab Fab, this glass-and-iron diner is the height of Eighties chic, just a tad dated in the Nineties. Still, food is substantial (chefs must weep as half-eaten plates come back) and fash-trash punters amusing.

The Atlantic Bar and Grill, Glasshouse St, W1 (0171-734 4888) All a bit Essex stockbroker in the evenings these days, this gigantic Ollie Peyton bordello can bring the strongest credit card out in a sweat. The 3-course lunchtime menu at pounds 14.95, including a couple of glasses of wine is pretty startling value, though.

The Ivy 1 West St, WC2 (0171-836 4751) The main attraction of this snotty restaurant, where booking is requisite weeks ahead, is the guarantee of spotting at least one A-list celeb at every sitting. Food is more comforting - smoked salmon and scrambled eggs - than interesting.

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