FOLLOWING its corporate policy of sponsoring radical artists, Absolut vodka flowed at the private view of the first major retrospective of the work of Philippe Starck, the man responsible for the world's most beautiful but least practical citrus- juice squeezer. The exhibition, at the Design Museum in London, was curated by the man himself, and is undeniably intriguing. However, the question on the lips of the preview posse was not 'Is Starck a de

signer?' but 'Is Absolut a vodka?'

Being colourless, almost odourless and more-or-less devoid of flavour, vodka is often defined by its lack of characteristics. Absolut is redistilled in a process that strips out the components that give other spirits their character but also cause hangovers. Indeed, were it not for the fact that a proportion of it is aged in oak barrels, Absolut would taste of nothing at all. Gas chromatographic analysis shows it to be practically pure ethanol, and empirical evidence suggests that one can drink quite a lot without necessarily feeling like death next day. Consequently it is safe to say that Absolut is vodka, but not as we know it.

ALSO on show at the Design Museum is the latest piece of Absolut art, commissioned from one Douglas Gordon, which departs from the absolute norm in that it does not feature an image of a bell-shaped Absolut bottle. It is a blank canvas that has been repeatedly impregnated with vodka. 'What I did,' explains the artist 'was to 'paint on' a coating of Absolut vodka, let it soak in, then evaporate, and do it again and again. So it looks blank, but isn't. The canvas is clean and pure and this emphasises the purity of the vodka.' Pure vodka or pure bull?

THAT reminds the Gastropod of the beef in Tesco's fresh meat cabinet this week. It may look the same as last week and it costs no more, but it should be more tender and taste better. The store has adopted the specifications, painstakingly worked out by the Meat and Livestock Commission, that govern every stage of beef production, from rearing to slaughtering and maturing the meat. For example, carcasses are hung from the hip rather than the hoof, so that the body weight is more evenly distributed, causing less unnatural stress to the fibres of the meat.

This kind of tender loving care costs money, of course, and, until now, so-called 'blueprint beef' has been available only from independent butchers and as a part of Sainsbury's premium-quality 'traditional' range. The Tesco initiative, however, costs consumers nothing.

ON WEDNESDAY evening, the mother-and-baby research charity Birthright is organising a Gala Charity Preview of the House & Garden Eating-In Show at the Business Design Centre in Islington, north London. Guests will be offered Canard- Ducheme champagne and canapes by Anton Mosimann, and the chance to be among the first to visit the show's four themed pavilions tasting wines and dishes from all over the world and seeing state-of-the-art kitchens.

Tickets are pounds 35, pounds 15 of which will go direct to the charity; the remaining pounds 20 is redeemable via a card that entitles the bearer to free goods, including a tea caddy from Harrods, a maple walnut cake from the California cake and cookie company, and a booklet of celebrities' bread recipes from Copperstone Kitchens. Credit card bookings can be made by calling Birthright on 071-262 5337.