THE Gastropod was unable to attend the grand launch of Tesco's Flavourtop tomato, held recently at Quaglino's and, having heard all about it, is rather relieved. Such was the response to Tesco's invitation from free-loading food writers, all thrilled at the prospect of being entertained at what is currently the most fashionable restaurant in the universe, that Tesco had to hold the tomato tasting in two sessions.

More than 100 hungry hacks trooped along, but many were dismayed to find that the event was held not in the main restaurant, but in Quag's remote salon prive. Furthermore, although canapes were served, there was nothing else to eat but Flavourtops, unaccompanied by salt and with no other tomatoes for comparison.

The Flavourtop is the result of several years' research and development by boffins at Britain's largest tomato grower, VHB, which applied advanced biological control techniques to refine the flavour of a variety previously known as Eloise. Having successfully test-marketed its tomato last year, Tesco is hoping that the Flavourtop's healthy colour and superior flavour will set a new standard for domestic salad tomatoes.

In June, Safeway will respond with the formal launch of its Flavour Grown range. The first variety is a large, succulent tomato called Momatara, available now.

Later in the season, Safeway will introduce a foreign beef tomato and a new British-grown type that is slightly larger than a cherry tomato but which has not yet been given a name. With Marks & Spencer already prominent in the field, it seems certain that Tomato Wars will run all summer.

RICHARD CAWLEY, the famously unflappable Supermarket Supersleuth who appears on GMTV's Top of the Morning programme on Fridays, was one of those who did attend the Tesco tasting. Asked for his opinion, he said

diplomatically: 'It's frightfully admirable, the trouble they take growing these tomatoes, but what's astonishing is that the supermarkets are finally using flavour as a sales gimmick.'

WHEN SCOFFING angulas (elvers) cooked with guindillas (tiny chillis) in the tapas bars of southern Spain, the only thing to be seen drinking is a copita of manzanilla, a pale and delicate sherry that has become de rigueur among Andalusian bar flies. In the hope that this trend will extend to the ersatz tapas bars of not-so-sunny Britain, Gonzalez Byass has launched its Manzanilla El Rocio into Thresher and Oddbins at pounds 6 a bottle.

El Rocio is named in honour of the cult of the Virgen del Rocio, of which the Gonzalez family are fervent enthusiasts. Each Whitsun they sponsor a pilgrimage to the deserted village of El Rocio, where a mass is said in the main square and vast quantities of manzanilla are consumed in an event that epitomises the unique Andalusian spirit of sanctified revelry.

Although the weather over here may never get hot enough to appreciate El Rocio properly, the Gastropod is keeping a bottle on ice just in case.

SHOULD YOU eat out in Covent Garden in the next fortnight, prepare to be aurally assaulted. Opera singers will be giving impromptu performances in restaurants as part of the BOC Festival, which promotes young vocal talent in unusual venues at reasonable prices.

Laurence Isaacson and Neville Abraham, the restaurateurs who operate Bertorelli's in Floral Street, among others, are joint chairmen of the festival committee and have enlisted the support of several dozen local restaurants, where any customer flourishing a copy of the festival leaflet and paying by American Express will be offered a free bottle of wine.

Tuttons Brasserie, on the corner of Covent Garden piazza, is sponsoring a twice- nightly show in the Paintings Gallery of the adjacent Theatre Museum, entitled Don't Sing With Your Mouth Full, which runs for the duration of the festival. The Swell Party Company will perform what its director refers to as 'the food repertoire', including such gems of the musical theatre as Irving Berlin's 'Meat and Potatoes', Harry Champion's 'Boiled Beef and Carrots' and Nellie Wallace's unforgettable lament, 'I Don't Like My Mother's Piecrust'. Tickets cost pounds 6 and are bookable through First Call on 071-497 9977.

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<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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