Food and Drink: Gastropod

AS HAS been remarked in this column before, the Gastropod feels a natural affinity for L'Escargot, the venerable Soho institution, not merely because of its name but also because the young pod spent many formative hours below stairs there. So it has been saddening to observe the decline of the old place, to see it fall into the hands of the receivers, and finally to hear of the departure of the legendary hostess of the first-floor dining-room, Elena Salvoni, after an unsuccessful attempt by a band of her faithful customers to secure the lease in her name.

When L'Escargot was acquired by Jimmy Lahoud, who also owns the nearby Italian tourist trap, Quo Vadis, it was truly the end of an era. Elena took away her photographs of favoured celebrity diners and the Gastropod managed to salvage the old sign.

Now, the eau-de-nil interior has been whitewashed, the carpet, with its motif of snails' trails, has been replaced by parquet, a new kitchen is being installed on the first floor and the dining-room is due to open on 22 April. However, the ground-floor brasserie is back in business from Wednesday.

The good news is that with two Michelin-starred chefs on the premises, the food is likely to be considerably better than in recent memory. Garry Hollihead and David Cavalier, of Sutherlands and Cavaliers respectively, both achieved one-star status before their restaurants became victims of the recession. They have teamed up to revive the culinary reputation of L'Escargot with a menu of traditional French provincial cooking.

In Elena's place, Jonathan Ross, who sports a similar hairstyle, has been roped in as a 'celebrity shareholder'. Rather than wringing his hands like Elena and greeting one with the words, 'You, of all people, should know better', Mr Ross will be polishing his impersonations and thronging the place with his celebrity pals: Frank Bruno, Keith Floyd and Danny Baker were all present and larger than life at the preview party last week.

The Gastropod wishes the new venture well, but was intrigued by a rumour that Elena's supporters were close to settling a deal on the place next door, formerly La Bastide. Not so: La Bastide is to become another Soho drinking club called The Union. But Elena fans will be warmed by the news that her stormtroops are actively considering two other Soho premises. Watch this space.

THE whole food world is holding its breath in anticipation of the Glenfiddich Awards, which will be announced in a grand ceremony at the Savoy next week. Having seen the shortlist, the Gastropod is disappointed not to have been nominated in a single category, but not nearly so upset as he was to be pipped at the post for the title of the Pizza and Pasta Association's Writer of the Year, which has been won by Craig Brown of the Sunday Times.

Markedly absent from the 'television programme of the year' category of the Glenfiddich shortlist is the Gastropod's favourite show, Get Stuffed] For the uninitiated, this is a series of short programmes that punctuate the late-night schedule on ITV and feature penurious student types demonstrating cheap and cheerful recipes in health-hazard kitchens, assisted by the anarchic Mystery Chefs.

The Gastropod also recommends the Get Stuffed] recipe book (Boxtree, pounds 4.99), subtitled 'banquets for bankrupts'. It offers such wholesome dishes as potato-and- lentil curry, beany pie and frankfurter casserole, and should be required reading for teenagers making their first tentative stabs at cooking for themselves.

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