IT was a busy Tuesday lunchtime, and the poached salmon was clearly flavour of the day. On one side of the room, designer Pierre Cardin was holding court. At other tables were the founder of Club Med and the great-grandson of Louis Vuitton, and jeweller Patrick Mauboussin was sharing a bottle of wine with yet another group. It was a typical day for Maxim's in Paris's Rue Royale - owned by Cardin - the celebrated if rather over-rated restaurant which has spawned sister eateries in Beijing, Singapore and Tokyo. But despite the presence of the many French counts-cum-bankers, the aristocrats with the double-barrelled names who run champagne and wine houses, law firms and investment companies, one man was at the centre of attention: Andre-Pierre Tarbes, a retiredwealthy lawyer who has been credited with bringing together Europe's most prominent businessmen under the umbrella of the Maxim's Business Club (MBC), and who has succeeded in perpetuating a network in the spirit of the the ''old boys' club''. But now Mr Tarbes is looking further afield to expand the club and, after having welcomed in a number of British, Japanese and American executives, is casting his eyes even more towards Asia, citing increased interest in the region among French companies. Already among the handful of Asian business people who are MBC members is hotelier Adrian Zecha of Hong Kong. With membership now at 1,250, the 25-year-old club serves essentially as a forum for networking, facilitating international business and socialising. Prospective members are thoroughly scrutinised before allowed in, and long-standing inductees include the likes of the president of France's national electric company, the publisher of French Vogue and the business brains behind major French fashion houses like Hanae Mori, Celine, Nina Ricci, Louis Feraud and Hermes. Indeed, the discreet and inherently low-key - some would say stuffy - nature of the all-male club is not dissimiliar to that of some establishments in Hong Kong, which is why members have suggested that Mr Tarbes make enquiries about setting up an exchange privilege system between the MBC and its closest counterparts in Asia. The club's membership policy is described by some as discriminatory and somewhat archaic - no women at all, unless accompanied by a male partner who is a member, and no men are made new members if they are over the age of 45. But Mr Tarbes said the all-male policy might change soon as growing numbers of women were asking to become members. ''In any case, they have to be very high up. We have just allowed in a young man, only 25, who is a very clever banker. We can see he has a bright future ahead of him. But to allow in someone so young is an exception.'' The scramble to be included in the club's shiny silver membership directory is primarily because of the immediate entree members gain to the teak-panelled offices of politicians and chairmen of multinational companies. ''We offer introductions to important people. If one of our members needs to get something done, he can usually find another member who will be able to help him,'' said Mr Tarbes. ''That is why so many overseas people doing business in Paris want to become members. They have an instant set of contacts.'' Members tend to do all their business entertaining at Maxim's, and are therefore constantly in touch with well-connected hotel owners, financiers and other specialists. But Mr Tarbes is now especially eager to receive enquiries about overseas membership from people keen on doing business in Europe and on the lookout for contacts. ''The world is becoming smaller and in international business we need to see how we can help one another. Contacts are so important, and this is one thing we can help provide,'' he said. Apart from lunchtime speeches with the likes of the French prime minister, Edouard Balladur, and visits to generally off-limits places, MBC members indulge in after-hours activities befitting their lifestyles: trips to Leningrad and Vietnam - which take in a little business too, of course, top seats at a glittering Lucianno Pavarotti concert, skiing at exclusive resorts, weekends at the family home of the makers of Chateau Latour in Bordeaux, watching bull-fighting near Marseilles, sailing at St Tropez and sports favoured by the haute monde like clay pigeon shooting. ''Trips outside Paris organised by the club are different because we get to stay in private homes and have a more authentic feel of the place,'' said one long-time member. ''And under these more intimate circumstances, of course, it is much easier to do business.'' The soirees organised by the club are straight out of another era: wives dust off their ballgowns for grand evening functions held at the restaurant, while lower set-menu prices are offered to members who choose to entertain there. Still, other members, particularly younger ones, believe the modus operandi of the club to be outdated and in need of overhauling. ''It's good because of the contacts you make,'' said one top French advertising executive. ''But it can be boring because it's so snobbish. It's just a lot of people with a lot of money. That's why it might be a good idea to have some new faces from therest of the world. It might liven things up a little.''