Food: Gastropod

August is the month when the London- based restaurant advisory and reservation service, Restaurant Switchboard (081-888 8080), has to deal with an annual rash of requests from foreign tourists for the telephone numbers of places recommended to them by their (also foreign) friends. Inevitably, there is some confusion to be cleared up.

It is easy enough to deal with inquiries about 'The Vine' (it's The Ivy) or 'Faithful Partridge' (Constant Grouse). Other mispronunciations, however, have been more inspired. Tiddy Dols, an 'olde English' eating house in Mayfair, was described by one caller as 'Tribal Balls'. The Gay Hussar, Hungarian haunt of pinko politicos, has been described as 'The Gay Hustler'. Orso, the Italian annexe to Joe Allen's Covent Garden basement, is frequently called 'Also' but was referred to by one mixed-up young man as 'Arsehole'.

MAYBE you have just returned from a foreign country, where you drank strange and wonderful wines. If you want to find out more about them, the courses being offered at various regional centres by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust might be the answer. They are designed to teach the novice not only the bare facts about vinification and the differences between the various regions, but also how to taste wines systematically and assess them using an easily comprehensible vocabulary.

The weekly two-hour sessions run over two months, leading to a certificate that is recognised by professionals in the wine trade. The courses, which start early next month, cost pounds 100. To find your nearest centre, contact the registrar, Gareth Lawrence (071-236 3551).

YOGURT spelt without an 'h' and sold in square cartons with fruit compote in a separate compartment in the corner is all the rage. The market leader is Muller, a German company with a UK subsidiary based at Market Drayton, Shropshire. In the five years since it launched its Fruit Corner range, it has grabbed a remarkable 18 per cent of the British market, which is expected to be worth pounds 500m this year.

A few years ago, the only competition to Ski (owned by Unigate) came from the fruit- packed St Ivel Prize Guys (also owned by Unigate). They were usurped by the supermarkets' own-label brands, which now account for more than 40 per cent of the market. According to Ken Wood, managing director of Muller, the companies in the fruit yoghurt sector competed on price to the detriment of quality - until his company came along.

Although he accepts that the novelty of the packaging (originally developed to keep the muesli mix from getting soggy in Muller's Crunch Corner) has been a factor in this success, he insists that it is the extra-creamy consistency of his yoghurt which has won the loyalty of the consumer.

Of course, he is bound to say that, but he does have some proof in the form of an enormous pile of letters from satisfied customers, demanding that the yoghurt be marketed in bigger cartons and without the fruit. Consequently, Muller Thick and Creamy yoghurt is now available in conventional (ie, not square) 500g tubs for 69p.

IT IS David Wolfe's grave duty to evaluate competitors for Decanter magazine's Restaurant of the Year Award, and last week he took his clipboard to Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. The Gastropod went along to carry the pen, and to join Mr Wolfe in a meal that he declared to be the best he had ever eaten. Since Mr Wolfe could have been the model for the huge Mr Creosote in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, The Gastropod's only fear was that he might yield to the sort of offer - of a 'leetle, waifer-teen' mint at the end of the meal - that did for Mr Creosote.

At breakfast next morning, The Gastropod was touched to be given a souvenir menu listing the food and drink we had consumed the night before: the courgette flower stuffed with truffle sabayon, the stunning salad of langoustines and strips of courgette, aubergine and peppers (a deconstructed ratatouille, laid out like a Mondrian painting) and so on.

The only false note in an otherwise stupefying treat was the water we drank. The Decanter award is sponsored by Ferrarelle, the lightly carbonated Italian mineral water that is seeking to replace Badoit as the gourmet's choice. Generously, the importers of Ferrarelle do not insist that restaurants must serve their water to be eligible for the competition. At Le Manoir, we drank Abbey Well.

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