WHO WILL be the new head chef at the Ritz? This is the question that has preoccupied senior chefs since the abrupt departure of Keith Stanley more than a month ago, and it was practically the sole topic of conversation at Anton Mosimann's recent barbecue, attended by many of the graduates of his kitchens, where most of the guests studiously denied that they had applied for the job or even cared who got it.

The Ritz is a comparatively small hotel, with what Michelin describes as an 'elegant restaurant in Louis XV style'. But it is universally agreed that the food served in this dining room has seldom matched the splendour of the setting. Consequently, the new chef will have a unique opportunity to shine in the culinary firmament.

More than 50 candidates have been interviewed and there is a shortlist of five; 'four and a half,' according to the hotel's managing director, Terry Holmes. He declined to reveal names, but the Gastropod speculates that they must include Eric Deblonde, of the Inn On The Park, and John Williams, of Claridge's.

John King, formerly of Les Ambassadeurs Club, is clearly among the frontrunners, but the favourite for the job is David Nicholls, of the Royal Garden Hotel, who absolutely refused to comment, reinforcing our suspicion that he's got the job in the bag.

THE LAUNCH of Bill O'Hagan's speciality sausage shop in Pont Street, Belgravia (071-235 0888) was celebrated last week in Drones restaurant around the corner with a novel gastronomic exercise. A selection of the shop's range of 34 varieties of sausages was matched with appropriate wines: an ingenuous sauvignon blanc from New Zealand with the pork and prawn, for instance, or a heady red with the lamb and rosemary.

A saucisson gourmand of long standing, O'Hagan opened his first shop in Greenwich (081-858 2833) four years ago. 'We do not make bangers,' he insists, 'we make proper sausages.' The new shop will also sell hot dogs. 'Not hot dogs,' he says, 'but bulldogs, a quarter pound of cooked sausage in a baguette, for pounds 2.'

FOR THOSE sporty folk who are unsure of the relative merits of isotonic (Lucozade) and hypotonic (Dexter's) sports drinks, the Gastropod can't offer much enlightenment, but would draw your attention to an American import called Ultra Fuel that claims to be 'the ultimate carbohydrate energy and recovery drink, with carbo metabolisers', whatever they might be. The back label explains, with reference to learned papers, that the drink provides energy primarily in the form of glucose polymers and a small amount of pure crystalline fructose, which promotes glycogen synthesis, extending endurance and enhancing performance in training and competition. However good it might be, the taste is uninspiring.

For more passive sports enthusiasts who are unconcerned with electrolytes but are none the less eager to find the most beneficial refreshment for those punishing sessions watching the Olympics on TV, here is a round-up of expensive, lifestyle-enhancing, herbal fruit drinks:

Aqua Libra, the market leader, 'helps restore alkaline balance' and contains Siberian ginseng, although the recipe is Swiss. The ginseng in Sao Rico is South American, and the Brazilian recipe also contains guarana, 'the legendary life- enhancing fruit of the Amazon Indians'. Both taste predominantly of apples.

Giardini, made by Bulmer, the cider people, is based on pear juice, and tastes a little like perry. It makes no extravagant claims for itself and contains no foreign extracts, but is enriched with peculiar herbs such as heartsease and feverfew.

Purdey's Elixir Vitae has the most distinctive packaging and is the dearest of the lot. It contains Korean ginseng and is marketed under the slogan, 'essential consumption for more rhythm, less blues'. The product was withdrawn a month ago when one batch started fermenting in the bottle, but it is now back on the shelves.

THOSE ON special diets to control an allergy or yeast infection can now buy their gluten-free flour, textured soya protein and organic alfalfa seeds from the mail order catalogue of Green Farm Foodwatch, Burwash Common, East Sussex, TN19 7LX (0435 882 482).

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