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Food and Drink: Gastropod

ORDINARILY staid and notoriously stodgy, the trade magazine Caterer & Hotelkeeper has appointed a new editor, and its publisher has acquired one of the Gastropod's favourite publications, Inside Hotels. Before the effects of these momentous developments can be felt, however, the Caterer's letters page has become required reading as a debate rages over the competence of restaurant critics.

The controversy was kicked off by an article in the magazine discussing the damage a bad review can do to a restaurant's business, and fuelled by restaurateurs' aggrieved reactions to the Sunday Times Restaurant Watch Campaign. First, Nico Ladenis wrote to the Caterer to let the world know that Fay Maschler of the London Evening Standard is banned from all three of his restaurants. Ms Maschler's editor, Stewart Steven, replied by calling Nico a 'spoiled egotist'. Then Jane McAndrew, wife of Ian, wrote to berate Jonathan Meades of the Times, whom the couple continue to blame for the sudden death of their Knightsbridge restaurant, 116.

Reviewers are frequently amazed that restaurateurs take their criticism so seriously, but chefs are famously temperamental and it is hardly surprising if some of them snap when subjected to a bad write- up with no right of reply. Jonathan Meades said in the Caterer's article that he had written 700 or so reviews without being sued, but Mrs McAndrew's letter points out that few small businesses can afford to initiate legal action.

Perhaps the Restaurateurs' Association should retaliate by setting up its own Critic Watch, establish a fund to prosecute the perpetrators of malicious or inaccurate reviews and circulate their descriptions. In fact, some places do this already. David Woolfe, until recently the restaurant critic of Decanter, was once approached by a waiter who asked if he was a critic. 'How did you guess?' asked the startled Mr Woolfe. 'Because we have a rogues' gallery on the kitchen wall,' came the reply, 'and you're in it.'

IN THIS, the European Year of Older People and Solidarity Between Generations, it is as well to remember that old age can happen to any of us and it is important when you are getting on a bit to keep your pecker up by eating right. That is the message of Easy Cooking in Retirement by Louise Davies, published by Penguin at pounds 5.99.

Dr Davies is a nutritionist who began her career in the wartime Ministry of Food, where she was detailed to write a monthly bulletin telling dieticians and home economists how to make the most of what was available on ration. When rationing finally ended, she began a bi-weekly radio spot, telling housewives what to do with the wondrous produce that was becoming available once more. Originally commissioned for a 12- week run, 'Shopping List' became a regular feature of the Today programme for 12 years.

Now well past retirement age, Dr Davies continues to advise various organisations on older people's nutrition, and fully supports the movement toward solidarity with younger generations. The chapter of her book that she most enjoyed compiling suggests recipes for grandparents to have fun with when entertaining children, including such esoteric delights as Hard Boiled Mice and Witches' Cake, made in a cauldron with a secret incantation. The Gastropod applauds Dr Davies's invention and is delighted she has been able to produce such a confection without recourse to the eye of newt and toe of frog.

OLD PEOPLE and food critics are not the only ones who will be profoundly moved by an announcement from the Manna Food Company concerning a product that it claims is considerably better than sliced bread. It is no secret that the body requires at least 1/2 oz or about 18 grams of fibre each day to keep it functioning efficiently, and that those of us lucky enough to be living in the developed world have untold problems as a result of our refined, decadent diet. Since the average rural African, subsisting basically on maize, excretes three times as much as you or I do in a daily bowel movement, it is not for nothing that constipation has been called 'the white man's burden'.

Help is at hand, however, in the form of a laxative fruit loaf, Fibrolux, made by a company called Manna Breads from germinated organic wheat, prunes, figs, apricots, linseed and honey.

A doctor writes: 'I welcome this attempt to put right the nation's bowels, about which there has been too much muddled thinking these last 100 years. Here at last is a concentrated high-fibre food which the colon will love: rapid transit, lots of residue and bowel action to end all bowel actions.'

Manna Breads says the loaf is made with sprouted wheat grain containing proteins and vitamins normally lost in milled wheat flour, and is full of the kind of soluble vegetable fibre that the body can most easily assimilate, not to mention complex carbohydrates. The recipe is allegedly based on that given by God to the Essenes, who lived by the Dead Sea 2,000 years ago. Manna Breads' press release quotes no less an authority on nutrition than Jesus.

The Fibrolux Luxury Digestive Loaf is the fifth in the range of Manna Breads, packaged to give a shelf-life of five months. The recommended price is pounds 1.39 for a 1lb/400g loaf in health-food shops around the country. Safeway will be test-marketing Manna Breads at selected London stores and the Gastropod, already a convert, cannot wait to become a regular consumer.

WITH ONLY a couple of weeks to go until there is once more an R in the month, the Gastropod is also looking forward to what is billed as 'the biggest and most exciting event in the bivalve diary'. The British Oyster Opening Championship, held in London on 2 September, is basically a race to find the fastest shucker of 30 oysters. The winner goes on to Galway to compete in the International Championships at the end of September. In recent years the competition has been dominated by dextrous professionals from London's leading oyster bars, such as Armando Lema of Green's and last year's winner, Sam Tamsanguan of Wilton's. This year the organisers are keen to broaden the field and are looking to the Gastropod to find fresh blood. Are there any slick shuckers out there who fancy their chances?

You will have to be good to win - Sam's average time last year was under 10 seconds per oyster - but you do not have to be that good simply to take part. Potential contestants and wannabe star shuckers should contact Cathy Stuart on 071-371 6466 for an official entry form.