Food and Drink: Gastropod

ROBERT PARKER is the most influential wine writer in America. His word is law and his bi-monthly newsletter, Wine Advocate, is the supreme arbiter of taste. If he gives a wine the thumbs up, the price trebles and it still sells out.

Such great power might corrupt even the most honourable of men, but Mr Parker likes to hold himself proudly aloof, both from the wine producers who may wish to ingratiate themselves with him, and from much of the wine-writing fraternity. He is generally dismissive of British wine writers, whose impartiality he has called into question.

His resolute independence is, of course, to be applauded, but it seems that Robert Parker may now have become just a tad hubristic. In the most recent edition of his Wine Buyers' Guide, he reports on dodgy dealings in Burgundy and appears to accuse one particular wine merchant of dishonesty: 'On the dark side,' he writes, 'rumours continue to circulate that Faiveley's wines, tasted abroad, are less rich than those tasted in the cellars - something I have noticed as well. Ummm. . . .'

No doubt there are some shady coves knocking around Burgundy who might dilute their wines, or switch them on you, but Francois Faiveley is not one of them. 'Parker has accused an ethical person of doing something underhand,' commented a Burgundian broker. 'It's like accusing Cartier of putting plastic in its watches.'

Mr Faiveley is suing Parker for libel. He says he feels that someone has to stand up to this man, who wields so much power without responsibility. Rather than sue him in the United States, where Parker is a qualified lawyer, he has issued a writ in France, where the losers of libel actions are required to grovel publicly by taking out apologetic advertisements in the newspapers. Ummm. . . .

THE Gastropod was intrigued by an announcement of goods for sale at a food warehouse in Covent Garden more than 200 years ago. The selection is as eclectic as the most fashionable contemporary provisioner could assemble: French, Spanish and Italian olive oils; 'true' Bologna sausages with garlic, and without it, and mortadellas, too; pistachio nuts trom Aleppo; preserved apricots from Provence.

This document was dug up by David Bernstein, the director of a gourmet mail-order company called Morel Bros, Cobbett & Son, which was relaunched last year but has a history stretching back to 1818, when a pair of Italian brothers called Morel traded as 'oil men and general warehousemen'.

The reactivated company obtains classy products from around Europe and posts them anywhere in Britain.

Mr Bernstein has found some extraordinary stuff, including the most superior tea- bags in the known world. Little muslin pillows filled with real tea and individually sewn, they are made by a Parisian firm, Betjeman and Barton, which was founded by a relative of the late Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman.

The full range of teas and many other wonders are more fully described in a frightfully smart catalogue that Morel Bros, Cobbett & Son will be happy to send to anyone who requests one (071-384 3345, fax 384 3123).

ANOTHER NEW mail-order service, Chefs' Choice, supplies professional catering equipment to home cooks across the country. The catalogue, which will be sent free to those who call 0272 414 151, displays such essential tools of the modern kitchen as pasta-drying trees, meat-basting syringes and swivel-bladed speed peelers.

Among the handy gadgets for stoning cherries and coring apples, most captivating to the Gastropod was the Decoretto: 'Ingenious device for the instant creation of radish garnishes.' Neat.

AN unconventional pair of television cooks make their discreet debut on BBC 1 next Wednesday afternoon, presenting a programme called Gourmet Ireland.

Paul and Jeanne Rankin are the proprietors of Roscoff, which is not only the best place to eat in Belfast but also the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Northern Ireland.

He has long hair and a bit of a beard; she has the remains of a Canadian accent. Together they traverse the country visiting suppliers, and return to their state-of- the-art demonstration kitchen to cook. In the first programme they visit a Benedictine nunnery and jam factory in Connemara and make a superb tarte Tatin with apples from Armagh.

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