Spirit of Wales; Curry in a hurry; Bridging the gastropub gap; Savoury sweet

Spirit of Wales

Spirit of Wales

'Independent' writer Michael Jackson approves of Penderyn Welsh single malt, the first whisky distilled in Wales for more than 100 years. Matured in bourbon casks, finished in Madeira barrels, and distilled in the Brecon Beacons, it is one of a thousand whiskies in the fifth edition of his Malt Whisky Companion (out in May). 'Meaty, spicy and minty', and £29.99 a bottle from Tesco and Sainsbury's in Wales, Oddbins in Cardiff; or www.welsh-whisky.co.uk

Curry in a hurry

Balti isn't the be-all and end-all of eating in Birmingham. Not any more anyway. The city is fast becoming a gourmet destination, and House of Fraser is doing its bit (along with Harvey Nichols and Selfridges). New to its smartly packaged World of Food ranges are these proper South-east Asian pastes (not to be confused with cook-in sauces) which make nicely spicy Thai, Malaysian and Balinese curries a cinch - just add coconut milk and meat, poultry or fish. £2.25 for 175g. House of Fraser, Corporation Street, Birmingham (0870 160 7225).

Bridging the gastropub gap

It's got bars. It's got restaurants. But unlike London, Manchester hasn't kept pace on the gastropub front. Until now. The Bridge, an 18th-century former gentleman's club and pub, has been taken over by one of the city's best known chefs, Robert Owen Brown (ex-Reform and Lounge 10), to provide a cocktail of earthy, classy and comforting food, wines, and cask-conditioned ales. Make mine a crispy Morecambe Bay shrimp pasty, and a pint of Ruddles. The Bridge, 58 Bridge Street, Manchester (0161 834 0242).

Savoury sweet

Chocolate ... banish the thought. If you can't get it out of your mind, but for obvious reasons would rather not become fixated on a bar or a box of chocs, think of other ways of getting that hit. Chantal Coady is a chocolate obsessive, maker and owner of Chelsea's incomparable Rococo chocolate shop. Her book, 'Real Chocolate', now out in paperback (Quadrille, £9.99) is a source of comfort and fascination for lovers of pure, hard-core chocolate, not the fatty, sugary British kind. Recipes for chocolate devilled kidneys, cocoa-flavoured pasta (with beetroot and goat's cheese filling - pictured), and roast lamb with chocolate, anchovy and capers join more conventional chocolate sauces, bombes, tarts and mousse.