Food & Drink: The Truffler

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The Independent Culture
WITH ALL these exhortations to buy food online, a certain Internet ennui is setting in as my trotters waggle the mouse around to pinpoint yet another delicacy from one specialist supplier or another claiming to be comprehensive.

What's wrong with a nice catalogue you can browse through in the bath, and a telephone? Now there's a web-based fishmonger, The Fish Society (also known as www.thefishsociety.co.uk), which does have a catalogue (0800 783 9580), but it's hard to get excited about a list of fish and seafood that can be delivered frozen. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the sound of ringing tills. If you do fancy catching your Christmas fish on the Net, put in orders to The Fish Society by Tuesday for delivery on 17 December.

AT THE risk of sounding trivial, Truffler couldn't help noticing that Peter Mandelson was toasting the sealing of the Northern Ireland peace agreement with a saucer-shaped champagne glass.

Although a solecism in serious champagne drinking circles, these glasses are enjoying a retro revival. Purist champagnistas say they squander the precious bubbles and are inferior to flutes. But since the Atlantic Bar & Grill pioneered the revival of the saucer-shaped glass (which legend has it was modelled on the shape of Marie Antoinette's upper embonpoint) their return has spread, and Habitat is now selling them in the run up to the eve of the Millennium in sets of six for pounds 6.95. Recommended only if fizz gets up your nose.

THE WAY the Sea Breeze has swept through fashionable bars as a cocktail de nos jours cannot be simply because cranberry juice helps prevent urinary tract infections. But the Cranberry Information Bureau puts the case for the red fruit's beneficial properties - and currently they're everywhere.

Ocean Spray, the marketing co-op for North American cranberries which pretty much has a monopoly, has just introduced Orange and Grapefruit Cran-malades, and Cran.Jam in raspberry, blackcurrant, strawberry and all-cranberry varieties. Dried cranberries make delicious nibbles, and fresh ones are now in the shops. Not only are they in annual demand, but threaded on to string alternately with popcorn they make very pretty Christmas tree decorations. How Martha Stewart would approve!

DEM BONES, dem bones: how glad we are to have the backbone back in our oxtail, and that charges have been dropped against hotelier Jim Sutherland for flouting the ban.

My spies north of the border also tell of a mood more cheerful than any since 1996, and higher prices at the unflinchingly titled Scotch Premier Christmas Carcase Show - Britain's top beef show - in Inverurie earlier this week.

The carcases were auctioned after the judging, and John Gainsford, Selfridges' meat buyer, who'd set his sights on the supreme champion (a Limousin crossbred), beat Coventry butcher Allan's to it. "I was a bit worried the price might go through the roof," admitted Gainsford, before returning to London with the rosettes, prizecards and award-winning beef, which he'll be selling on the bone before the end of the year.

ALTHOUGH I imposed a moratorium on use of the M-word, I cannot resist mentioning an opportunistic enterprise calling itself dine.dine.dine (0845 650 2154 or www.dinedinedine.co.uk or sales@ dinedinedine.co.uk). Within the M25 (not the M I had in mind), it'll deliver a hamper containing a three-course ready meal (lobster and smoked salmon roulade, beef Wellington and dark choc truffle bombe) and half a bottle of champagne for pounds 150 per person, on Millennium Eve. A disposable camera is included to record the occasion - though what kind of an occasion do you call sitting round eating a reheated meal?

IF YOU must resort to the microwave over the festive season it might help to know that the Tesco Finest, devised with the assistance of Anton Edelmann, The Savoy's chef, has received the royal seal of approval.

At least, the Matured Christmas Pudding has. Following a blind tasting of rival brands, 1,400 of Tesco Finest's Super Luxury Christmas puddings are being distributed to the Queen's staff as part of their annual bonus.

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