THE Gastropod is an eager student of the noodle, and is prepared to travel at a moment's notice to the ends of the earth to undertake research on the subject. It was noodle business that took him to Swindon.

Home to a large Honda car factory, Swindon also has a small country house hotel that is owned by a Honda subsidiary. Stanton House Hotel is designed to offer travelling salarymen the comforts of home: the brochure boasts of a Japanese interpreter and a karaoke machine.

But so far as the Gastropod is concerned, its chief attraction is first-class Japanese food at half London restaurant prices: we are talking tempura soba for a fiver here. Making noodles (as anyone who has seen Juzo Itami's film, Tampopo, knows) can be a complicated process. But not for Tsutomu Igarashi, chef at Stanton House. He is the proud owner of the only Sanyo SIS-MR108 automatic noodle-making machine in Britain.

It is the size of a filing cabinet, with a flour hopper on top and a control panel at the side. Mr Igarashi presses a button, the machine whirrs and a perfect portion of noodles trundles out on a conveyor belt at the bottom. No intricate kneadings, no resting, no rolling, no cutting. The Gastropod was astounded; Tampopo would have been devastated.

Those who have not seen Tampopo and are mystified by the Gastropod's interest are advised that the video has just been re-released by Electric Pictures. Those who have, and understand, are advised to phone Stanton House on 0793 861777, check what is on the menu, and make a booking.

THIS summer's essential beach reading for foodies is The Gourmet Detective by Peter King (Breese Books, pounds 5.99). The protagonist is a former chef turned culinary sleuth whose bread-and-butter work involves tracking down obscure ingredients and unravelling inscrutable recipes (until he becomes embroiled in the murder of one of the guests at a dinner for the prestigious Circle of Careme).

One topic The Gourmet Detective touches on briefly is obscure designer fish - in particular one called Orange Roughy which comes from New Zealand and tastes like bass. Less ambitious sleuths can track down a new treat at Tesco. The latest designer fish to hit the slab is St Peter's Fish, which comes from Africa and tastes like bream.

Not to be confused with John Dory, St Peter's Fish is practically unknown in this country, but has become popular in the United States, where it was nominated the 'most tried new fish of 1993'. In Britain, Pisces Aquaculture is farming St Peter's Fish in a Derbyshire pool which is warmed by water that flows from a nearby textile mill.

Enviromentally friendly and nutritionally sound, St Peter's Fish is also inexpensive, versatile and endorsed by Anton Mosimann. It comes in two varieties: silver, available now at branches of Tesco with a wet fish counter, and red, which takes longer to mature but will be ready in the autumn.