The Ivy is at the corner of West Street opposite St Martin's Theatre, where The Mousetrap has played for so long. Design features include wood panelling and coloured diamond-shaped, leaded windows. Specifically commissioned art works add to the stylish surroundings. Bar space is ample, but the tables are quite tightly packed and pre-allocated, so ask for a suitable table for more confidential discussions. The decor of the gents' toilet intrigues me.
There is an air of success, influence and glamour about the diners; it is a place to combine serious deal-doing, pleasure and relaxation. Captains of industry, senior merchant bankers, media types and business executives are plentiful, and often a star or two from the world of cinema, theatre or rock music are visible.
There is always an enjoyable buzz, and the dress code ranges from City suits to the flamboyant. Many diners are loyal regulars, but everyone is treated equally and the service is both attentive and friendly. Some people, understandably, tell me it can be difficult to book a table. Normally, one or two weeks is adequate for lunch and a week for dinner. If you phone at the last minute, you may benefit from a cancellation. But, if you want to eat at The Ivy from, say, 9pm on a Saturday evening, then book two or three months ahead!
The menu is long and caters for all tastes. Its hallmarks are top-quality ingredients, skilful cooking and simple presentation. My favourite dishes include a definitive Caesar salad, real fried haddock and chips, braised lamb shank and sticky toffee pudding. I usually refrain from desserts, but the temptation is too great. Upmarket offerings include sauted foie gras, Sevruga caviare and cassoulet de Toulouse au confit de canard.
Wines range from a drinkable Vin de Pays 1994 Saint-Laurent at about pounds 10 to a 1982 La Mission Haut Brion for pounds 150, with many affordable excellent ones in between. The skilful list includes 17 wines and champagnes by the glass.
n 1 West Street, London WC2 Tel: 0171-836 4751.
n Open seven days a week
n Seats 100, plus private room.
n Book ahead: lunch, one to two weeks; dinner, one week
n Cost: allow pounds 50-pounds 60 pp inc service and VAT on a three-course a la carte meal with half a bottle of mid-priced wine.
n Barrie Pearson is executive chairman of Livingstone Guarantee, the UK's oldest independent corporate finance house