Food & Drink: Gastropod

FOR THE past six weeks, the food-writing fraternity has been in turmoil following the appearance of a tantalising advertisement, placed by a headhunter, for the position of freelance editor. 'If you have extensive knowledge of restaurants and hotels throughout the UK; substantial experience of writing about food; keep up with developments in catering,' it says, 'your expertise is now sought for a leading food publication.' No salary is mentioned and, beyond a brief job descripton, no clue is offered as to exactly what publication this might be.

Naturally, every underemployed food writer has applied, although many of them claim to have done so purely out of curiosity. Applicants have received two letters from the Confidential Reply Manager, acknowledging receipt and apologising for delay, but both refer to 'our client' without giving anything away. The ensuing speculation has engendered great fear and loathing, with at least one editor openly wondering if her employer would advertise her job to see if she applied for it.

Perhaps more light will be shed on this mystery when candidates receive their invitations to be interviewed. It might then be revealed that the job in question is that currently held by Tom Jaine, editor of The Good Food Guide.

HEARING that Albero & Grana is promoting the cuisine of Andalucia, the Gastropod high-tailed over to the snazzy Spanish restaurant in Sloane Avenue, but was disappointed to find no mojama on the menu. Mojama de atun, as anyone who has spent time in the tapas bars of Seville could tell you, is a lean fillet of tuna that has been salted and wind-dried in a process perfected by the Phoenicians.

Mojama is a speciality of Ayamonte, a coastal town on the border with Portugal, where the unique micro climate and dry north-westerly wind produce a perfect cure. Like tuna jerky and certain Spanish hams, it is dry and mildly salty with a melting texture, best sliced very thin and served with a copita of cold sherry.

Happily for Albero & Grana's charismatic chef, Angel Garcia, the Gastropod has discovered a supplier of mojama. The Fresh Food Company (081-969 0351), a mail-order firm dealing in exotic food products, is importing both mojama and its even more peculiar cousin, huevos de atun, a roe cured in the same way and traditionally pounded to a paste to flavour sauces or grated over pasta. The minimum order for delivery is pounds 10, which buys 250gm, or about four inches from the middle of the fillet.

ON THE subject of obscure cured products, the Gastropod was surprised to see balik salmon on the menu at Kaspia, the glitzy cafe in Mayfair. So, evidently, was Caviar House, which imports the stuff exclusively from Switzerland and is now threatening Kaspia with a writ.

Authentic balik salmon is painstakingly smoked by a bearded giant called Hans Gerd Kubel, an epicurean philosopher and one-time actor who retreated to the Toggenburg mountains in 1978 to seek spiritual peace. There, he built a copy of a turn-of-the-century Russian smokehouse, and started smoking imported salmon according to a method described to him by an elderly Russian who claimed to be the last descendant of a family of smokers who once supplied the Tsar. 'Balik', apparently, is the Russian word that describes the choicest cut of the salmon.

Caviar House is obviously keen to protect its monopoly on the UK distribution of balik salmon, which is sold at its airport shops and will also be available from its new emporium in Piccadilly. When it opens in October, the Piccadilly store will become the first in London to serve 'loose' caviar by the gram (rather than packaged in tins).

THE Gastropod was dining at the smart new Eco pizzeria in Clapham High Street when talk turned to the talents of its designer, Anand Zenz, and to the fate of his previous restaurant project, a cafe called Nice in gentrified Notting Hill. Looks aren't everything, and even Zenz's skills were not enough to save the place, which was widely derided for its food. Nice closed several months ago, but the stylish premises on All Saints Road have been transformed into Mas Cafe, which serves Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. The chef, Robert Gutteridge, came from Belgo, the Belgian restaurant in Chalk Farm, north London, which has a stark, concreted interior designed, coincidentally or not, by Anand Zenz.

READERS who have turned excitedly to this column to learn if they have won a prize in the Gastropod's competition to find flavours for Albert Clark's range of British ice-creams will have to wait another week. So overwhelmed was Albert by the number of entries, one of which ran to 12 neatly typed pages, that he fled to the beaches of Ibiza to 'chill out'. He has returned with a broken bone in his foot that should prevent him running away again, and the results will be announced next week.

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