Gastropod

SUTHERLANDS in Soho, one of the most critically acclaimed London restaurants of the past few years, has closed. Despite its rating in the gastronomic guides, scoring four out of a possible five in the Good Food Guide and one Michelin star, the restaurant's trade never recovered from the traditional post-Christmas malaise. The chef, Garry Hollihead, left in mid-February suffering from exhaustion induced by the stress of struggling for four years to put Sutherlands on the culinary map.

The disconsolate proprietor, Sian Sutherland-Dodd, said that she and her partner, Christian Arden, had cut the restaurant's overhead costs as far as possible, but its clientele had not come back. Although Sutherlands' last customers declared their meal to be one of the best they had ever eaten, there simply were not enough punters to make the place profitable.

Always dependent on the advertising fraternity for its lunchtime trade, and on high-spending tourists, the recession has deprived the restaurant of its constituency. Ultimately, the bank foreclosed.

COMING on top of the news that Nico Ladenis is to move from the two-star Chez Nico to take over the restaurant of Forte's flagship hotel, the Grosvenor House, Sutherlands' demise leaves London with only four independent French restaurants that can boast one or more Michelin stars.

In the current economic climate it seems that only the most expensive hotels can afford to subsidise the luxury of serving haute cuisine.

Nico's old premises on Great Portland Street will be renamed Nico Central, adopting the successful formula of Simply Nico in Pimlico (ie, a set price menu of dependable bourgeois cooking). Following the refurbishment of the Grosvenor House Hotel, its restaurant , 90 Park Lane, will reopen as Nico At Ninety on 3 August. Reservations can be made on 071-409 1290.

IF French restaurants here are having difficulty getting customers, in France they are having problems with ingredients. One of the most noticeable effects of the lorry drivers' action directe was to block the path of fruit and vegetables from the south to the north of the country.

Farmers are watching their harvests rot in the fields or on the roads, while shoppers are faced with empty supermarket shelves. For those who grow soft fruit such as the white peaches described on these pages by Joanna Blythman a couple of weeks ago, the season is only about six weeks long. Any traveller passing through should regard it as their gastronomic duty to eat as much as they can while stocks last.

HAVING quickly conquered the hearts and stomachs of sybaritic ice-cream lovers, Haagen Dazs is now intent upon broadening their minds by becoming involved in art sponsorship. The largest Haagen Dazs parlour in Europe is already open for business on Princes Street in Edinburgh, and will be officially launched on 6 August at a star-studded party. Artworks will be exhibited and artists will be working in the shop.

The luxury ice-cream company is sponsoring three exhibitions during the Edinburgh Festival, the first of which is Miro's Sculpture, opening at the Royal Scottish Academy on 30 July. Obviously, it makes sense for Haagen Dazs to dedicate itself not only to pleasure but to the visual arts as well. It is customary to devour ice-cream at the cinema, so why not at an art gallery?

THE young lovers in the Haagen Dazs ads may epitomise health, but there is no denying that the pleasure of eating real ice-cream is paid for in calories. Kemps Frozen Yoghurt promises all of the flavour with only half the fat of dairy ice-cream. The yoghurt is available in five flavours from supermarkets at pounds 1.89 for a 474ml tub.

The packaging declares that Kemps contains 'just 90 calories per serving', but as a serving is reckoned to be a paltry 75ml, this quickly computes to some 570 calories per tub. The Gastropod had no difficulty in singlehandedly polishing off a whole tub of Caramel Nutty Fudge-flavoured frozen yoghurt with Snickers Bar Stir-ins. It was good, but not nearly so moreish as proper pralines and cream and not quite good enough to make one feel guilty.

BROGDALE'S friends will be gathering this weekend at Faversham, in Kent, and they would be happy if you could join them - not at a consciousness-raising event with literary goblins but at their Summer Fruit Festival, which is being held today and tomorrow from 11am to 5pm at the Brogdale Horticultural Trust, Faversham, Kent (0795 535286).

Brogdale is the home of the National Fruit Collection and the festival will give visitors the opportunity not only to gorge themselves on strawberries and raspberries, but also to taste half a dozen varieties of gooseberries and four types of currants.

THE Gastropod feels a natural affinity with the Soho restaurant L'Escargot, not to say a certain nostalgie de la boue for times passed in its kitchens as a plongeur. Last week the restaurant played host to a new dining initiative, Les Routiers Club Bon Viveur. The club offers its members substantial discounts at more than a thousand restaurants across the country, as listed in the Routiers guidebook.

Quality and value for money have always been the watchwords of Les Routiers, which started as a guide for French lorry drivers nearly 60 years ago, when they were less concerned with protest than with finding modest accommodation and decent meals at affordable prices. Now in its 21st British edition, Les Routiers is the least pretentious of the French guidebooks, aimed squarely at travellers on a budget.

The stated aim of Club Bon Viveur is to assist potential restaurant customers to rediscover the joie de vivre of dining out in convivial surroundings. According to Duncan Bradbury, managing director, the club will not only offer standardised discounts on food and accommodation, but will also arrange special gourmet evenings and wine tastings at local recommended restaurants.

Membership costs pounds 60, but the 25 Independent readers who write the most entertaining eulogies, revolting recipes, or wittiest dissertations on gastropods, can become Bon Viveurs for free. (See Emily Green's recipe column today for one example.)

Entries should be addressed to The Gastropod, Weekend, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB, to arrive by the end of the month.

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