OXFORD STREET AND PIMLICO: Ask Nico Ladenis what he looks for in a restaurant, and he says 'cleanliness'. Mr Ladenis's safe havens consist mainly of his own three restaurants, of which two - Simply Nico (48a Rochester Row, SW1 071-630 8061) and Nico Central (35 Great Portland Street, London W1 071-436 8846) - consider the common purse. At Nico Central, a pedestrian could stagger in for a simple lunch of cool rare beef with potato salad, red onions and basil for just pounds 6.90. Guigal's delicious 1990 Rhone is pounds 4 a glass. Mostly these restaurants work around civilised set-price menus. Prices: pounds 20 for two-course lunch, pounds 23.50 three courses, pounds 25 three-course dinner at Simply Nico; a la carte lunch at Nico Central approx pounds 15-pounds 20; set-price dinner pounds 25. Both open lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Major credit cards.

SOUTH KENSINGTON: Those who greet friends continental-style, with a series of airy kisses, must have heard of Launceston Place, 1a Launceston Place, W8 (071-937 6912). It is Smooch Central for ladies who lunch. Its labyrinth of connecting rooms, with artful Edwardian clutter, lends a sense of privacy conducive to gossip.

Cooking, by Cathy Gradwell, mixes styles one might find in a 1960s edition of Larousse Gastronomique (perhaps a puff pastry feuillete with morels and spinach in a creamy sauce) with modern imports (seared tuna with an oriental dressing). Good Rhones and a very good red Chinon for pounds 17.50. Set-price lunch and pre-theatre dinners: two courses pounds 13.50; three courses pounds 16.50. Sunday all meals from a five-option pounds 16.50 set-price, three-course menu. Open lunch Mon-Fri and Sun; dinner Mon-Sat. Major credit cards except Diner's.

BARBICAN: Pippa Ungar, the owner of brand new cafe-restaurant, Carnevale, 135 Whitecross Street, EC1 (071-250 3452) wanted a chic, clean vegetarian restaurant. The layout is simple: a tiny take-away sandwich bar to the front, and a pristine restaurant and garden to the rear. Its food and drink could not be more refreshing: lemonade, gazpacho, rocket salad. Its 'deli plate' might consist of spiced chick pea salad, a small round of goat's cheese, roast peppers and slow-cooked okra. Two courses are pounds 6.50, three pounds 8.50. Open 8am-7pm Mon-Fri. Cash and cheques only.

CLERKENWELL: The George & Dragon had its uses: diehard drinkers could drink till they died; nobody blinked at stag-night humiliations. Then, last winter, new-wave restaurateurs moved in with a Mediterranean theme and named the place The Peasant 240 St John Street, London EC1 (071-336 7726). Roman-born chef Carla Tomasi displays kitchen-made pickles at the bar and serves rough food - sometimes too rough. Still, simple dishes, such as hotly spiced Lebanese nuts, grilled halloumi cheese and Tuscan bean soup are pleasing. Service can be slow, even rude. Approx pounds 15-pounds 20, all in. Open Mon-Fri 12 noon-1pm; last orders for lunch 2.30pm, dinner 10pm. Visa, Access.

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