Gastropod

HELL HATH no fury like a restaurateur given a bad write-up, and Pierre Levicky is still smarting from Emily Green's review on these pages last week of his newest restaurant, the Pierre Lapin in Edinburgh. The Gastropod has not eaten at what Mr Levicky describes as his 'vegetable restaurant' but nevertheless salutes its proprietor for keeping his sense of humour - and his nerve - in the face of adversity.

Mr Levicky, who runs six restaurants, says that while he makes no claims to infallibility and would not argue with a critic's right to scrutinise subjectively a single meal in any of his establishments, he is offended by Ms Green's allusions to the others. 'She says that the food at Pierre Victoire (his original bistro in Victoria Street) was occasionally good, but more often it was not,' he complains. 'How does she know that?' (To which Ms Green replies: 'Because I have eaten there more than once.') Mr Levicky continues: 'She says that a three-course lunch for pounds 4.90 is 'absurdly' cheap, but there is nothing incongruous, unreasonable, ridiculous or silly about it.' Decent food at the cheapest possible price is the ethos behind all his restaurants, the latest of which, also called Pierre Victoire, is scheduled to open in Leith on 14 September.

But back at Pierre Lapin, the proprietor is having last week's article laminated into 92 place mats. His chef, Duncan MacInnes, has also retaliated by creating the Emily Green Special, a vine leaf stuffed with wild rice, cooked like a risotto with fresh tomatoes, served with a puree of celery and fresh mint. Pierre Levicky will pay his customers pounds 1 to eat the special, providing, that is, that they clear their plates.

THE OFFICIAL British launch party for Hoegaarden Blanche, the zesty, cloudy white brew from Belgium that Michael Jackson nominated Beer of the Month back in June when the first unofficial supplies reached these shores, was the highlight of The Gastropod's week. The party was memorable not only for the copious supply of excellent beer, but also for an extraordinary buffet of Belgian delicacies laid on by Bruno Loubet of the Four Seasons restaurant at London's Inn on the Park.

There were speeches from the Belgian ambassador and from Mr Jackson, and then a chap from the brewery demonstrated how to pour the beer properly (with Hoegaarden, unlike White Shield, you always swill the yeast from the bottle). By that time, however, The Gastropod had sidled off to be first in the queue for Mr Loubet's fromage de tete de cochon a la biere.

AMANDA PRITCHETT, whose new pub, The Lansdowne, is reviewed on this page, is not the only graduate of The Eagle to fly the nest and set up on her own this week. Margot Clayton, an antipodean who did stints at trendy eateries such as First Floor and 192 as well as the not-so-high-flying Eagle, has teamed up with Fergus Henderson and veteran restaurant frontman Jon Spiteri to relaunch the dining rooms above the French House pub at 29 Dean Street, Soho (071-437 2477). Since the retirement of Gaston Berlemont from the French a couple of years ago, the upstairs room has functioned as a small 30-seater restaurant but has not made a name for itself. The new team aim to change this state of affairs by offering (from Tuesday) what Ms Clayton describes as 'a small menu of straightforward, reasonably priced food that changes every day, with a strong list of French wines'.

BILL SAMUELS Jnr, whom Nicholas Faith described on this page last week as the king of bourbon county, telephoned long-distance from Kentucky to correct a small genealogical error in my distinguished colleague's discussion of bourbon whiskey. 'The gentleman mistook my numeral, although I don't generally go by it,' declared Bill Jnr, who is a fifth-generation distiller. It was his daddy (not his grandfather), Bill Samuels IV, who bought himself a Victorian distillery back in 1953 and set about making his own whiskey.

Today, visitors to Loretto who manage to locate the old distillery, which is a couple of country miles out of town at Star Hill Farm, also have the opportunity to pause at the Maker's Mark souvenir shop. There, no self-respecting aficionado of bourbon or barbecue could possibly resist the purchase of a bottle of Maker's Mark Gourmet Sauce.

This sauce is not sold in Britain, but The Gastropod has procured half a dozen bottles which he is prepared to give away to the first six readers who can explain what makes Maker's Mark different from other bourbons. Answers on a postcard, please, to: The Gastropod, Independent Weekend Features, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB, to arrive by 7 September.

DINERS at exclusive restaurants across the capital, from Tante Claire to San Martino, might assume that the wild mushrooms described on the menus in French or Italian have been imported from abroad. In fact, they are more likely to come from Scotland where the mushroom season is in full swing - with quantities of ceps (Boletus edulis) cropping up in the glens for those who know where to look. Duncan Riley of the wholesalers, Strathspey Mushrooms, does not think last year's bumper crop can be repeated this year; nevertheless he is handling half a ton of mushrooms a week, most of which go to Geneva.

Foraging for mushrooms is a relatively new activity in Scotland, but in the five years or so since the canny Scots first became involved, they have found a niche in the market for superb quality fungus, particularly the yellow- fluted Cantharellus cibarius, which the Scots sell as chanterelles but the French know as girolles. These wild mushrooms are so perfect that one London restaurateur, Sally Clarke, refused to believe they had not been cultivated, despite the reassurance of her supplier.

IT MAY still be late summer for you, but Christmas comes early for the cookery editors of women's magazines. The Gastropod recently shared some mince pies and a bottle of seasonal Pol Roger with Liz Burn, cookery editor of Woman's Weekly, in the Tartan Suite at Claridges. We were seeing what the Savoy Group (which owns Claridges) has to offer well-heeled revellers this festive season.

Ms Burn has had a busy Christmas. This year Tesco opted to compile a product directory rather than hold the traditional Christmas show, but the other supermarkets have been enthusiastically throwing press parties during the past six weeks. Ms Burn's favourite was staged at Searcy's in Knightsbridge, whose halls were suitably bedecked with holly so that Safeway could display its range of Christmas goodies. Not only was she embraced under the mistletoe by Santa Claus, she also came away clutching a red felt stocking containing an orange, some chocolate money, a bottle of wine and some other things that she cannot remember.

We did consider meeting again for the traditional Christmas luncheon in the River Restaurant at The Savoy. But since it costs pounds 125 per person, The Gastropod is more likely to find himself tucking into a prime, boneless venison joint (one of the more appetising items in Tesco's Christmas directory) when Christmas comes round again.

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