LAST year's BBC Good Food Cooking and Kitchen Show was so popular that the event has moved to larger premises at the NEC, Birmingham, this year (Thursday-Sunday). To be sure of getting in, you can book in advance on the credit card line: 021-767 4000. All the favourite culinary stars, including Michel Roux (Friday), Anton Mosimann (Saturday) and Alastair Little (Sunday), will be performing at the British Gas Celebrity Theatre, many then moving on to the Dillons stand to sign copies of their books.

It is unlikely that their signatures will significantly improve the second-hand value of the books. On the other hand, the Gastropod was amazed that at a dinner sponsored by the Cuban cigar brand Cohiba, a box of cigars with a retail value of around pounds 650, inscribed and dated by Fidel Castro, was auctioned - for pounds 12,500.

JOHN AYTO, the lexicographer responsible for last year's Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang, has turned his attention to food and drink. The Diner's Dictionary (CUP, pounds 13.95) is essential reading for those who want to know not only what they are eating, but also why it is called what it is. From the complex etymological history of the aubergine to the orthographic identity crisis of yoghurt, the book is stuffed with delightful morsels in a digestible form.

IN ITS elucidation of the derivation of pink gin, The Diner's Dictionary notes that the Royal Navy is said to prefer Plymouth to London gin, 'since it is fuller in flavour'. This is an assertion that Hugh Williams, the master distiller of Gordon's gin, would dispute vigorously. Since Gordon's reduced the strength of its product to 37.5 per cent alcohol by volume, it has been part of his job to persuade journalists that there has been no loss of flavour.

This he accomplishes by means of a tutored tasting in which one is taught to analyse the properties of various samples of watered-down gin. It was surprisingly conclusive: the Gastropod unerringly selected Beefeater as his favourite. Never mind, Gordon's was runner-up, and the two were way in front of the cheaper supermarket gins also tasted.

Mr Williams patiently explained that the 2.5 per cent differential in alcoholic strength between Gordon's and Beefeater (which remains 40 per cent) is the equivalent of only a couple of teaspoons of tonic in the average G&T. If you want a really strong gin, suitable for martinis or pink gins, the Plymouth Gin generally available will be a let-down, since it has also been reduced to 37.5 per cent.

However, should you be passing the Blackfriars Distillery in Plymouth, the gift shop has limited quantities of high-strength gin: to commemorate the bicentenary of Plymouth Gin, the distillery produced a batch at the strength at which it used to be supplied to the Royal Navy, 57 per cent by volume, or 100 degrees proof. That is the real reason the Navy prefers Plymouth: it takes less space in the hold.

FOUR of the finest French chefs, including Bruno Loubet and Raymond Blanc, are taking turns to cook their own interpretations of traditional English fare in a series of six- course dinners at Le Meridien, the French-owned luxury hotel in the heart of London.

Bruno's mighty feast consists of: potted shrimps on smoked salmon; poached oysters in parsley broth; individual toad-in-the-hole with onion gravy; roast duck with walnut chutney, sour beetroot and roast parsnips; cheese and a steamed pudding to finish.

The last seats for this unique supper ( pounds 49 per person exclusive of wine) can be had by talking nicely to the maitre d' of the Oak Room, Tony Gear, on 071-734 8000, ext 43.

NEAL GROSSMAN, brother of the Boston Vowel Strangler, Loyd, has issued a writ for libel against the Gastropod's second-favourite publication, the trade magazine Inside Hotels, over an article in its current issue. Mr Grossman ran Mezzaluna, the up- market Covent Garden pizzaria which recently closed and was quickly reopened as Sol e Luna.

Mr Grossman said he was unable to comment, beyond stating that he is 'saddened and aggrieved by the article, which is defamatory and incorrect'. The editor of Inside Hotels, Lisa Barnard, said: 'My story was meticulously researched and I'm standing by it.' The Gastropod would tell you what it was about, were he not being restrained by his legal minders.

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