AT A lunch to announce the Time Out Restaurant Awards this week, there were few surprises apart from the sight of the compere, Griff Rhys Jones, sporting a palpably fake moustache. Sir Terence Conran accepted the award for best new restaurant on behalf of Quaglino's, and Christopher's in Covent Garden was deemed the best place for Sunday brunch in London.

Less predictably, Harvey Nichols's Fifth Floor restaurant beat The Brackenbury and Kensington Place to win the Best Modern British category. Jigsaw, a tiny bistro in Askew Road, W12, beat Eco, the trendy pizzeria in Clapham, and the Tokyo Diner in Soho, for the title of Best Budget Meal. Most endearing were the winners of the Best Vegetarian Meal award, Tony and Tym Yeoh, who run Mantanah, a Thai restaurant in Portland Road, South Norwood, (that's deepest SE25).

Tony Yeoh explained, anxiously, that the award had little to do with him since it is his wife's restaurant, and he only helps out in the evenings when not working as a hospital ward manager.

Most entertaining was the performance of Nigel Barden, food correspondent for London's local radio station, GLR, who had brushed up his Turkish to make the presentation to the Best Ethnic Restaurant. The winners, from Mangal in Arcola Street, E8, accepted in broad cockney.

Most vexing to the Gastropod's delicate ear was the repeated use of the same snatch of music as each winner came to the podium. As Valerie Outram of the Crown & Goose in Camden, north London, winner of the award for the best bar, observed through gritted teeth, 'It's so nice to hear Herbie Hancock's 'Cantaloupe' again . . . and again.' Readers will know the tune, in the version by US3, from the latest Kentucky Fried Chicken ad.

SO PROFOUND has been the influence of Asian restaurants on our eating habits that an alien might assume chicken tikka masala to be the national dish of Great Britain. The Afro-Caribbean community, however, has been rather less effective at promoting the delights of curried goat and red beans and rice.

But when Fioretta Foods (founded by a food scientist, Dr Lola Greene) unveiled its Chicken Egusi with Coconut Rice, and Jerk Chicken with Rice and Red Beans, at the Ideal Home Exhibition, the response was overwhelming. Egusi, for the uninitiated, is made from ground melon seeds and used to flavour and thicken many West African dishes; jerk seasoning is highly spiced and is used to coat meat which is cooked long and slow.

Both these cook-chill products are now stocked by Tesco and are selling so well that the Fioretta manufacturing facility - an old bakery in Stanmore, Middlesex - can hardly keep pace. The Gastropod further recommends Fioretta's Plaintain Chips, in Original Chilli flavour, which are not in Tesco but are worth seeking out in your local health food store.

THE Wine and Spirit Education Trust organises evening classes around the country to teach people all about wine - where it comes from, how it is made and how to taste it. The entire certificate course has also been condensed into a three-day event, which takes place next week at the trust's London HQ and is massively oversubscribed. Another has been scheduled to start on Wednesday 22 June. It costs pounds 105; phone the trust registrar on 071-236 3551.

THE Beetle and Wedge at Moulsford, Oxfordshire, is a picturesque Victorian hotel overlooking the stretch of the Thames immortalised in The Wind in the Willows. Run by Richard and Kate Smith - he cooks, she manages the restaurant and buys the wines - it has a solid reputation.

The only problem was that the dining-room was a bit small, but now that has been fixed. A local firm of conservatory specialists has rebuilt the room, extending it on to the bankside terrace and installing vast picture windows, affording spectacular views.

Somehow, 'The Dining-Room' no longer does justice to the splendid new space, so the Smiths are looking to the Gastropod's readers to come up with a new name. Suggestions should be addressed to Kate Smith, please, at The Beetle and Wedge, Moulsford, Oxfordshire OX10 9JF.

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