Food & Drink: Gastropod

INTREPID shoppers venturing into the 57,000 square feet of brand new Tesco superstore at the Holmbush Centre, Shoreham-by-Sea, will find the Consumer Advice Centre at the rear, between the bakery and fresh produce section. It is, in fact, a demonstration kitchen equipped with all mod cons, where customers can sample some of the 1,700 own-label products Tesco has developed.

Each week about 300 people will be asked to compare the taste of up to 18 different products with that of their branded counterparts, and to grade them by appearance, aroma, flavour, texture and overall appeal. Seasonably, this month's delights include ice-cream, cheesecake and next year's prospective Christmas pudding recipe (perhaps it will be tasted against this year's).

The advice centre's primary function is market research. Its data will be analysed by the head office computer, and thereafter recipes may be adjusted, or their packaging altered; complete redevelopment of a new product, however, is rare. By the time a ready-made pizza, for instance, has been professionally scrutinised by marketing managers and buyers, food technologists and home economists, all Tesco is really seeking from its consumers is final confirmation that the product is appealing.

Other instore advice centres are to be found at Neasden, Cheshunt, Pontypridd, Sale and York.

WINE CELLARS (081-871 3979), the wine merchants of Wandsworth, south London, which has been acclaimed by Wine magazine as the Italian Specialist of the Year, 1992-93, has just received its supply of the new season's olive oil, cold- pressed in Tuscany only weeks ago. The yield this year has been extraordinarily low, an average of only eight litres per 100kg of olives, but the quality is exceptionally high. So, inevitably, is the price.

The extra virgin olive oil comes from three separate estates. Selvapiana, in the heart of Chianti country, produces the most peppery and expensive oil at pounds 10.39 for a half-litre bottle. Capezzana's oil, pressed from a milder variety of olives, is softer and fruitier and costs pounds 11.89 for 75cl. Between the two in price and flavour is Il Lastro at pounds 10.69 for a 75cl bottle.

TALKING of delightful liquids, Esme Johnson's sensational Chateau des Sours Rose boasts a fully perfumed, fruity nose and a luscious palate typical of other wines from superior Bordeaux vineyards. Auberon Waugh called it 'the best rose in the world', and it has become so popular that this year Corney & Barrow has taken the unprecedented step of offering it en primeur, as if it were fine claret. Mr Johnson used to own Majestic wine warehouses before buying a chateau in Entre-deux-Mers and teaming up with a talented young winemaker, Hugh Ryman, to produce an unashamedly exotic rose first marketed two years ago. Now a bottle of the 1991 vintage cannot be had for love nor money. Such is the demand that Corney & Barrow (071-251 4051) is offering Chateau de Sours, 1992, at pounds 64 a case, including VAT, a substantial discount that will no longer be available when the wine is shipped in February.

IN A REVIEW of the key London restaurants of her 20 years as restaurant critic, Fay Maschler nominated Wagamama, the Japanese-style noodle bar, near the British Museum, as the most exciting development this year in eating out. The Gastropod's only grumble is that the place is now so phenomenally successful that its concept as a fast-food operation has become somewhat compromised: customers have to queue for an average of half an hour for a seat in the basement canteen.

Mindful of its corporate philosophy of 'kaizen' (continual improvement), Wagamama is working on this, but in the meantime it is rewarding the faithful for their wait with a souvenir poster; this features a dramatic shot of a gun-toting soldier bearing the caption: 'Thankyou for your patience.'

As a further thankyou, tonight's Wagamama staff party, billed as 'a ying yang yule thang', has been thrown open to the paying public. The Gastropod will be changing into his special shell suit for the occasion, and others with a yen to visit a 'unique West End location' can obtain last-minute tickets from Wagamama (071-323 9223).

IN THE SAME trendy-fleshpot vein, boring old punks will spot that the concept of Nice (071-243 1448), the latest watering hole to open in All Saints Road, Notting Hill, west London, has been inspired by the sleeve of the Sex Pistols' 'Holidays in the Sun' (b/w 'Satellite'), which features a nice Seventies family sitting around some nice furniture consuming some nice food. The food at the opening bash for the spanking new Nice - designed by the bald bloke in the obscene T-shirt who is also responsible for the underground monastery look of the Belgo restaurant in Chalk Farm, north London - consisted exclusively of nuts and fruit.

THE Gastropod's quest for a Stolichnaya-based cocktail fit to set before Oliver Reed and Alex Higgins, provoked an unprecedented response that necessitated a tiring and emotional judging session at Fred's, the stylish Soho drinking club, where Dick Bradsell, master mixologist, officiated. It has to be said that several of the suggested combinations were too revolting to comtemplate, a few were merely rather weak jokes, and several were altogether too sensible variations of accredited classics to be properly called 'The Wild Thing'.

Steve Tarry passed on the formula for a classic punch that he picked up from the consular corps in Warsaw, who apparently use it to kick-start their karaoke sessions; and Shirish Chauhan came up with what is basically a Pink Panther with added Sambuca. Both were eminently drinkable but too polite to be truly Wild.

Charlotte and Elier Bird had the right idea. Their separate entries suggested frozen combinations of Mamoushi and Rumplemintz, respectively, served in shot glasses. Sadly, Dick had run out of Mamoushi, a traditional Japanese concoction made from blood of snake, but the panel thought the notion of diluting peppermint schnapps with vodka sufficiently Wild to win the pair a joint prize.

Wilder still was Roy Dite's long and nasty combination of sweet Martini and grenadine with vodka, topped up with tonic, and Mrs I J Bell's concoction containing green Chartreuse and creme de cassis.

The eventual winner, however, was the last potion to be tasted: a vodka float with a few drops of Worcester Sauce atop a glass of Guinness. Combining the smooth Irish charm of Hurricane with the fiery fury of Olly in full flow, this mixture is not nearly as emetic as it sounds.

Congratulations, John Boswell of Stirlingshire. Alex and Olly, with a bottle of Stolly, will be coming round to your house on Christmas Eve to sink a few Wild Things.