Food & Drink: Gastropod

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WHETHER it is a sign that the economic gloom is lifting or a portent of millennial hedonism the Gastropod would not care to speculate, but the opening of the Caviar House emporium, adjacent to the Ritz on Piccadilly, gives Londoners an opportunity to sample accredited aphrodisiacs in splendid surroundings at relatively cheap prices. The shop sells five styles of Iranian caviar by the gram and, in a brasserie situated to the rear of the premises, serves up 50 grams of sevruga with blinis and all the trimmings for pounds 23.

A word of warning, however, is sounded by the proprietor, Natalie Rebeiz-Neilsen. 'Caviar is like sex,' she says. 'The first time you try it you wonder what all the fuss is about, but after a few more tries you just can't get enough.'

WHILE not quite going that far, extravagant claims are also being made for a quite different animal: the all-too-common grey squirrel. That renowned pal of the planet, Jonathon Porrit, was recently quoted as saying that 'supermarkets should start stocking the pest that has grown hugely in numbers recently'.

Now Prue Coats has come up with a couple of recipes in her beautifully produced The Poacher's Cookbook (White Lion, pounds 15.95). 'The flavour of squirrel is rich and succulent,' she writes, before giving instructions for cooking the little critters in a fricassee.

SERIOUS cigar smokers, the Gastropod among them, will be looking forward to tasting the five new cigars in La Linea 1492 range, created by Cohiba to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus discovering Cuba. Cohiba is the post-revolutionary brand created by Che Guevara as the ultimate socialist artefact: the finest cigar in the world.

The five cigars are designed to fill the gap in the market left by Davidoff, which fell out with Cubatabaco and switched production of its cigars to the Dominican Republic in 1991. Logically, La Linea 1492 should have been launched last year, but one unfortunate effect of 30 years of Communism is that the Cubans are not particularly adept at marketing.

On the other hand, collectivised tobacco production and centralised selection of the cured leaves ensure that they do make better cigars than any private company can hope to. Naturally, Cohibas are also the most eExpensive cigars in the world.

La Linea will be introducedTHER write error at a formal smoking dinner hosted by the Cuban ambassador, Maria de Los Angeles Florez, to be held at Claridge's on 11 November, with the proceeds going to the Medical Aid for Cuba Appeal. Tickets cost pounds 150 and are like gold dust, but the Gastropod has got one and is prepared to sell it to the person that offers the biggest donation to the charity.

Bids in excess of pounds 150 will be accepted until noon on Monday, 1 November. Send no money, but remember to include a daytime telephone number. Address your offer to: The Gastropod, Weekend Features, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

THE Gastropod's distinguished colleague Michael Jackson faxed across a clipping from the New York Times that explores the latest fad among that city's power-lunching fraternity. They have taken to eating plain food in fancy restaurants: grilled cheese sandwiches at the '21' Club; scrambled eggs at Le Cirque. Apparently, the phenomenon of ordering dishes that do not appear on the menu is known as 'haute brat'.

One chap insists on ordering a deconstructed salade nicoise, each ingredient on a separate plate, every day for lunch at the Royalton. Our man Jackson asks: can any Brits be this pretentious?

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