Gastropod

THOSE crucial new Michelin ratings in brief: Albert Roux loses one star and his former protege, Pierre Koffmann, gains one as Le Gavroche is reduced to two-star status and La Tante Claire is elevated to the highest echelon. At the two-star level there are no surprises as Nico Ladenis, relocated at Ninety Park Lane, retains this rating and Raymond Blanc fails to gain a third star for Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons.

Shaun Hill regains the star controversially withdrawn from Gidleigh Park, Devon a few years ago, and Philip Vickers regains the one lost by The Castle in Taunton, Somerset, with the departure of Gary Rhodes. Richard Neat of Pied a Terre, London, and Jean Christophe Novelli of Provence in Lymington, Hampshire, fulfilled widespread predictions by gaining a star apiece. Less predictable one-star newcomers include: Old Beams at Waterhouses, Staffordshire (0538 308 254); Read's in Faversham, Kent (0795 535 344); Buckland Manor, near Broadway, Hereford and Worcestershire (0386 852 626).

ALBERT ROUX took the demotion of Le Gavroche terribly graciously, pointing out that he has now passed the chef's baton to his son, Michel, who deserves the opportunity to regain the third star for himself.

Albert has a new role as a columnist for the London Evening Standard where, on the day the new ratings were announced, he tried to persuade us that Heinz beans on toast, with a poached egg on top, is his favourite meal. The Godfather of Haute Cuisine will be appearing in episode five of Lenny Henry's new sitcom, Chef], which starts on BBC 1 on Thursday at 9.30pm.

In the series, Lenny Henry plays a bad boy chef called Gareth Blackstock, obviously modelled on the likes of Marco Pierre White, but less obviously influenced by John Burton-Race of L'Ortolan at Shinfield, Berkshire. This is Henry's local ritzy restaurant where he spent some time in the kitchen absorbing the atmosphere. Burton-Race, of course, retains his two stars.

TODAY is the Chinese new year, and in this Year of the Rooster I guess we ought to be celebrating with chicken chow mein. If you cannot get out for an authentic one, you may be able to pick up one of Marks & Spencer's microwave-able Chinese meals, especially discounted to mark the occasion. The Gastropod has sampled the M & S set menu for two, which includes chicken chow mein as well as sweet and sour pork, spare ribs, egg-fried rice and sesame prawn toasts. It is at least as good as my local takeaway product and, at pounds 5.99, considerably cheaper.

THE LATEST sensation among design-conscious west Londoners is the labyrinthine interconnecting dining-rooms at Beach Blanket Babylon, Notting Hill (071-229 2907), which serves a modish, Mediterranean-influenced menu at about pounds 20 a head. Early reports are weak on the food, strong on the decor by Tony Weller, variously likened to the Vatican catacombs or the secret meeting place of some strange sect.

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