Food & Drink: Gastropod

THE Gastropod wended his merry way to Christopher's, the smart American restaurant in Covent Garden, London, for a lunch billed as 'A Salt Course', during which guests were invited to taste a series of dishes prepared with salt as per the recipe, with no salt and with 10 per cent extra salt. Despite a hopeless addiction to cigarettes that has no doubt wrought havoc with his taste buds, the 'pod concluded that he really doesn't like salt at all, not even Reichenhaller Alpine Salt extracted from sea salt trapped beneath the Bavarian Alps 60 million years ago. Apparently popular in Bavaria since the salt mines opened in 1517, it has only recently made it to the shelves of Waitrose.

Over lunch, the challenge of arranging three samples of cold cucumber soup, followed by fish cakes with tomato sauce, green beans and new potatoes, proved too much; samples became mixed up, and the assembled food writers were forced to rely on their stressed-out taste buds to tell the subtly seasoned from the totally bland.

By this point, the Gastropod had become far more intrigued by the goings-on at an adjacent table: Neil Kinnock was being entertained by Rosie Boycott, the editor of Esquire magazine, which features a restaurant column written by Ken Livingstone called 'Eating for Socialism'. Perhaps the former leader of the Labour Party was being persuaded to write a column called 'Drinking in Moderation', or, judging from the number of Silk Cut the pair consumed over their coffee, 'Liberal Smoking'.

THE punningest press release the Gastropod has seen for some time announces the launch of the 1993 Fish and Chip Shop of the Year competition. 'We've coley just begun,' it says, 'just for the halibut,' to find the 'first plaice'. In coming weeks, customers at chippies the length and breadth of the land will have the chance to nominate their local for the prize, and seven lucky people will win free fish and chips for a year.

The fish and chip shop of the year before last, Chez Fred in Bournemouth, has just opened a branch in Golders Green, north London, where the frying is done in vegetable oil rather than beef dripping, and fish can be rolled in matzo meal or dipped in batter and washed down with Krug instead of Tizer. Fred aims to revive the splendour of Edwardian fish and chip parlours, which is more than can be said for Skamps on Blackpool's South Shore, where the speciality is 'elephant's footprints': slices of spam deep fried in batter. Good Cod]

FURTHER to this column's campaign to promote coypu meat as a delicacy, the Gastropod is grateful to Griselda Barton, who has been trawling through the published correspondence of the visionary painter Samuel Palmer and came across the following anecdote in a letter to his elderly, eccentric friend Mrs George, dated October 1870:

'I knew a very poor man in Kent who had been a smuggler. Life had passed roughly, yet he had one, only one, comfort left: a rat pudding] He took no steps to catch them, but, governing his appetite by patience, calmly awaited the return of the village rat catcher. Then, having carefully cleaned, skinned and prepared his delicacies . . . at last he sat down, with a thankful heart, I believe, to the only solace left him, until the last one of the sexton and the spade.

'We are such geese of routine, such fools of fashion, that if rat pie - I beg your pardon, tart is the genteel word - if rat tart became a favourite at Balmoral, in a short time they would be seen on every dinner table in London, with tails elegantly coiled and arranged outside the crust, like claws on a pigeon pie - there I go again, pigeon tart, I mean. What a thing it is to be naturally vulgar]'

THERE was little vulgarity and no rat pie on the menu at Whites, the gentlemen's club, when it celebrated its 300th anniversary with a series of banquets featuring stuffed artichoke, turbot, lamb, goat's cheese salad and summer pudding. For the occasion, it threw open its doors to women for only the second time in its history (the first being a party to mark the engagement of the Prince of Wales), and among the 944 guests was Baroness Thatcher.

The current Prime Minister, being more a man of the people, prefers a good curry to such high-falutin stuff. Apparently Mr Major's favourite curry is a lamb dish, Dumwalla Gosht, which he sampled at the Taj Hotel in Bombay during his visit to India earlier this year. It was re-created for him, his wife and 125 of his fellow MPs by a team of chefs flown in to the St James Court Hotel in London: lunch was served at 1pm and completed by 2.15pm, allowing Mr Major, with fire in his belly, to race back to the House of Commons for Question Time.

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