Gastropod

The seasonal gimmick of the supermarket chains, or the so-called 'store wars', left the Gastropod quite unmoved, since this column's chief resolution for the new year is to support the small speciality food shops and to scorn the soulless superstores.

Consequently, the Gastropod was heartened to hear that Henrietta Green is compiling a detailed directory of up to 500 of the best specialist producers and retailers of top-quality food products, to be called The Food Lovers' Guide To Britain.

Ms Green is working in conjunction with Radio 4's The Food Programme, and the book's publication in the autumn will coincide with a series of profiles of such peculiar personalities as the champion challah bread plaiter, the magisterial meat pie merchant, and the little old ladies who clot their own cream and make butter with the leftovers.

Ms Green is particularly keen to hear about pubs and restaurants across the country whose policy is to serve local specialities, and she is especially anxious to receive more information on and from the Midlands.

She is looking for 'crafty foodmakers; that is to say, people who are producing foodstuffs in the proper way, as we all think and hope and want our food to be made, using the right ingredients and the correct methods with no short cuts'.

Should you know of an obscure butcher, baker or greengrocer who fits the bill, or if you happen to be one, write to Henrietta Green at 15a Pembridge Crescent, London W11 3DX.

LAST week's article by Lindsey Bareham about soup put the Gastropod in mind of Brigid Allen, profiled on these pages in October 1991 by Emily Green (no relation to Henrietta, above). Readers may remember Emily Green's description of a 'meticulous, intelligent and enthusiastic' archivist living on an Oxford housing estate with her husband and teenage son. The family subsisted largely on home-baked bread and soup, for which Mrs Allen had accumulated dozens of recipes.

At that time, Brigid Allen's name was too obscure and her approach considered too idiosyncratic to attract a publisher. At last, however, The Soup Book is to be published on 12 February by Macmillan at pounds 9.99. It contains more than 80 recipes, including chapters on vegetable soups made without using stock, suggestions for using avocados and roast garlic in a variety of permutations, and a number of recipes for bread.

ON THE subject of soup, the Covent Garden Soup Company has succeeded in a coals-to- Newcastle venture, selling five of its varieties, including soupe a l'oignon and soupe de poisson to the Monoprix supermarket chain in France under the Soupe de Jardiniere label. This is perhaps an even greater accolade than the Quality Food Award which its fish soup recently won.

Since it started with a range of three soups in 1988, the company has become a marketing phenomenon. One of its smartest ideas was a special 'soup of the month' which has become its biggest seller.

Currently, the soup of the month is Brussels Sprout with Chestnut, using this season's abundant crop from Bedfordshire; from Monday, it will be a version of Jane Grigson's classic Curried Parsnip Soup with Cumin and Coriander.

Perhaps the most significant accolade, however, is that the supermarkets are falling over themselves to bring out their own-label versions. Sainsbury's Fresh Soups, for instance, are available in four varieties: Winter Vegetable, Vichyssoise and Tomato cost pounds 1.35 per pint- sized carton, while mushroom costs pounds 1.45, the same price as the Covent Garden soups of the month.

THE FORMERLY indigestible newsletter put out by the Academie Culinaire is fast becoming required reading, thanks in no small measure to the contributions of Shaun Hill of Gidleigh Park.

In the current issue, Mr Hill relives the embarrassment of having his kitchen at home inspected by Loyd Grossman for a programme that is to be broadcast towards the end of the ITV series, Loyd Does Lunch, which goes out on Wednesday mornings at 11.45.

'Grossman peers into my fridge, frantically trying to find something interesting for the camera to zoom in on,' writes Mr Hill, who is also Egon Ronay's Chef of the Year, 'but there is no escaping the inevitable: 'Well, Shaun, there's only pet food and booze in here'.'

Elsewhere, the newsletter contains the stop-press information that the long-anticipated This Is Your Life programme about Albert and Michel Roux, recorded in October, will at last be broadcast on Wednesday evening. Ordinarily, of course, the subject of This Is Your Life is the closest-guarded secret of the TV schedules, but it seems that security is slipping since Thames TV lost its licence.

LAST YEAR, the Gastropod enjoyed a wicked chuckle at the expense of the confused tourists who rang the London-based Restaurant Services (081-888 8080) asking for advice about restaurants. The tourists managed to create some wonderful new names like 'the Gay Hustler' from the Gay Hussar and 'Arsehole' from Orso.

Restaurant Services has kindly logged some more examples for our amusement, many of them new variations on old favourites. The Gastropod reported how Tiddy Dols, the 'olde Englishe' establishment in Shepherd Market, had been rather appropriately renamed 'Tribal Balls'. It has also been known as 'Tiddely Bols'. The name of the Anglo-Indian restaurant Chutney Mary is inevitably altered to 'Mango Chutney', and the Covent Garden institution Mon Plaisir has been called 'Mount Pleasure'.

More confusing, however, was the lad asking for a place he thought was called 'Beers 'n' Lagers' but turned out to be an Italian joint called La Bersagliera; and finally the girl from Essex who flummoxed the staff with her request for the number of a wine bar called 'Oxbonzamis'. It transpired that she meant Aux Bons Amis.

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