Gastropod

THE Gastropod was aroused by reports predicting the price of truffles from Perigord was set to plummet, following a bumper crop. Sadly, the law of supply and demand does not necessarily apply to the earth's most rare and pungent fungus, tuber melanosporum. The market is controlled by a cabal of negociants, who liaise with the truffle gatherers and put their heads together each Monday to fix a price.

As Pierre-Jean Pebeyre, a truffle dealer, explained, the conditions that produce an abundant harvest also improve the desired qualities of colour, texture and fragrance. Since quality increases with quantity, when truffles are plentiful they tend to be snapped up to be preserved in oil. Consequently, demand tends to rise with supply and there is no such thing as a truffle glut.

This year, the price for 'rough' truffles has fluctuated between Fr1,400-Fr1,800 (about pounds 175- pounds 225) per kilo, but Mr Pebeyre emphasised that up to a quarter of that would consist of mud and broken bits; whole brushed truffles are considerably dearer. His current price is Fr2,050 ( pounds 255), only fractionally down on last season.

According to David Tamlyn, of Wild Foods (081-960 9499), who supplies London restaurants, one renegade truffle dealer did break ranks 10 days ago and slashed his price to Fr1,500 ( pounds 187) per kilo, but the market has now stabilised. Taking freight costs, agent's fees and the rate of currency exchange into account, by the time the truffles reach the kitchens of the grander London restaurants that Mr Tamlyn supplies, the price per kilo will be about pounds 300.

Truffle connoisseurs will not need to be told that a large part of the attraction is sexual, since truffles contain pheromones, making them an accredited aphrodisiac. Truffle lovers in London will flock to the Savoy (071-836 4343) this month, where Anton Edelmann is celebrating the fragrant black diamonds with a set-price menu featuring truffes in all sorts of permutations. A changing selection of more than 30 dishes includes courgette flowers stuffed with a scallop mousse with truffles; poached egg on lentils with morels and truffles; even creme brulee aux truffes. A trip to the Savoy's River Room Restaurant could be just the job for Valentine's Day.

THE Gastropod would not be seen dead drinking Carling Black Label, but has, none the less, been amused by the television advertisements in which Australians who drink a rival brand are portrayed as arachnophobics. Now the maker of Castlemaine XXXX has replied with a poster depicting a spider being crushed by a can of its lager. The best thing about both these insipid brews is their ingenious advertising, but the latest Aussie import, Big Red, is in a different league.

It is being promoted with the slogan, 'It's just the beer talking', and Big Red actually appears to have something interesting to say. Named for a variety of kangaroo and brewed in Brisbane at 5 per cent ABV, it has a distinctive and slightly bitter taste that has quickly found favour with the discerning drinkers of Queensland, where it was launched only two years ago. Available here only in bars in central London, Big Red does not insult the palate and is quite safe to be seen quaffing.

ALBERT CLARK, the 23-year-old chef of the Halcyon Hotel in west London, seems to be flavour of the month, being featured in the February issues of two glossy magazines. In For Him Magazine, he is quoted as saying: 'It's a French myth that you have to train for years to be a chef. I don't believe in that.' In The Face, he says: 'Food shouldn't be a poncey issue - it's meant to be simple.'

His catering background, including stints washing up at L'Escargot and peeling potatoes at Groucho's, is unconventional and has evidently given the iconoclastic young man rather a cocky manner. The Face quotes his boss describing him as 'obnoxious, big-headed, bad-mouthed and bolshie.' In the For Him article, Mr Clark is non-too-flattering about his boss and declares: 'I'm sure they hate me upstairs.'

THE great Service Charge debate rumbles on as a reader from Chelsea, Mr FE Horrack III, writes enclosing a bill from Bistrot Bruno: 'The cost was quite reasonable for the quality of the cooking, but note that the printed bill advises Service Not Included; the cash register printout advises Service Not Inc; and the bill has been hand-stamped to advise Service Not Included. Either Bruno attracts the meanest tippers in London, or the slowest learners] Is this a record?'

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