Who eats where: The Business lunch: Financial gossip in opulent haunts, but drink is limited


Welcome to the new breed, same as the old breed. Britain's new business elite has a horrible habit of apeing the old elite. The new movers and shakers in the economy can be found rubbing shoulders with their predecessors - the only difference is that they don't drink as much at lunchtime.

The opulence of the Savoy Grill is still one of the top places to entertain. There you will find the troubled Robert Ayling, who is so close to New Labour he nearly left BA to join the Government. He could nod to Sir David Rowland, who is trying to hold on to his job as chairman of NatWest, who might be seen with Wim Bischoff, the Schroders boss who is one of the most influential men in the City.

These guys might venture into the River Room, a favoured hangout of Lord Bell, Graham Wallace of Cable & Wireless, or fund managers spending their massive Christmas bonuses.

Or, there is always still Claridge's. Among the regulars there, often for breakfast, are Michael Green of Carlton and John Ritblat, the property developer.

For the more fashionable, Christopher's American Bar in Covent Garden is a happy hunting ground. Paul Bairnsfair of advertising agency TBWA likes to hold court there, where he will see Nick Land, head of Ernst &Young and husband of literary agent Sonia, or John Gardiner, the charming chairman of Tesco.

The Square in Mayfair is also a favourite. Here you might find Sir Stanley Kalms, the Dixons boss, who has become one of the most unlikely internet tycoons, or Gerry Robinson, the Granada chairman and new head of the Arts Council. Occasionally you could spot Tony Blair's favourite businessman, Ron Cohen of Apax Partners.

In the City, Sir Terence Conran rules supreme. His new restaurant at Liverpool Street, Aurora, is bulging at the seams, but it is his previous City opening, Le Coq d'Argent, that is still the most fashionable. There you might find the effusive Mark Wood of Axa Sun Life, the man who sponsors the FA Cup, or Robert Swannell, the influential mergers & acquisitions chief at Schroders, or Luke Johnson, the brain behind Belgo and PizzaExpress.

The challenger on the block is Prism, the eastern outpost of Harvey Nichols' restaurant chain. There Mike Bishop, the investment chief of Norwich Union, proudly displays his hairless chin, having shaved off his beard.

Further north, some bankers like Maison Novelli, though others find it too close to the Guardian for comfort. A favoured diner is Lord Shaman, the global chief of KPMG.

But perhaps the most legendary lunch venue is Mayfair's Chez Nico. There Martin Taylor, who was then chief executive of Barclays, dined with Michael Williamson of rival bank Standard Chartered, and proposed a merger. When the story leaked, Taylor said he never made the first move. Then someone revealed that it was he who paid the bill.

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