Food & drink: The Truffler

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The Independent Culture
PHOTOGENIC CHEF Jean-Christophe Novelli is spreading himself less thin these days. His restaurant empire is reduced to a lean and manageable brace: the original Maison Novelli in Clerkenwell and Novelli W8 in Notting Hill. Novelli EC1, the brasserie next to the Maison, will merge with its more expensive neighbour next year. Novelli was always appreciated more as a great chef than a restaurateur, so it's good to see him back at the stove turning out his daily variation on stuffed pig's trotter, and pairing roast scallops with almond and cauliflower mash.

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BLACK IS still the new black, and should you wish to scare guests with a very dirty-looking martini, reach for a bottle of Blavod. Poured over other coloured drinks like cranberry juice or Blue Curacao, it makes some lurid cocktails. On its own, this pleasantly smooth brew matches the caviar beautifully. But added to orange juice it turns the contents a murky green, and makes a bloody Mary look a little grubby. Blavod costs around pounds 11.99 from wine shops and supermarkets.

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THE INTERNATIONAL Festival of Chocolate is on today and tomorrow (pounds 7.50 on the door) at the Royal Horticultural Halls & Conference Centre, Greycoat Street, London SW1 (01870 901 0020). Those who can't make it can visit www.chocolatestore. com. The selection isn't overwhelming, but there are many Belgian and Swiss offerings, chocolate brownies, humbugs and slabs of Valrhona.

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YOU ARE all invited to Selfridges' Terrence Higgins Trust celebrity party night this Wednesday. Ten per cent of everything sold between 7pm and 9.30pm is donated to the charity, and those helping out include Tamara Beckwith on champagne, Stephen Fry on wines and spirits, and Helena Bonham-Carter and Richard Wilson will be in the splendid gourmet goodies- stuffed food hall.

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ICONIC BARMAN Salvatore Calabrese, at The Library Bar in the Lanesborough, has invented a Christmas Martini to go withminiature Christmas puddings made by the hotel's chef. These puds - the shape and size of an olive - are soaked in Sambuca, set alight and dropped into a potent blend of gin, with a dash of brandy and chocolate curacao in a Martini glass. Stirring stuff.

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TWO OTHER Christmas puddings to recommend: The National Trust's lovely, light and fruity recipes, including a large, round, muslin-wrapped one for pounds 8.99, and two smaller sizes for pounds 5.99 and pounds 2.50, are among Truffler's faves. (Mail order 0870 620 4024.) The Village Bakery in Cumbria tells a seasonal tale of supermarket treachery. Last year it supplied Sainsbury's with organic Christmas puds, which were highly commended in the Organic Food Awards for the past two years. This year it was told the supermarket was producing an own brand and would not be repeating the order. So get the original direct from the Village Bakery (01768 881515), priced pounds 3.50 to pounds 8.50. The bakery has also just won a Soil Association Organic Food Award for its Hazelnutters biscuits, and sells these, plus breads, jams and Christmas cakes by post.

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