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Indy Lifestyle Online
CHICKEN tikka has become our national dish, as the Pod has remarked before. The market for ready- made Indian meals was worth pounds 98m last year and supermarkets report that chicken tikka is by far the most popular sort of ethnic microwave meal.

The Gastropod can reveal the source of much of this tikka. The old bus garage in Southall has been transformed into a state-of-the-art cook-chill facility and is the HQ of Noon Products. Gulam Noon started making frozen meals for Bird's Eye in 1989. Now the bus garage produces 300,000 meals a week, 70 per cent of which fill the chill cabinets at Sainsbury's, for which it makes 30 different dishes.

Noon Products processes more than 20 tons of boneless chicken a week. It gets through 20 tons of tomatoes, 30 tons of onions and half a ton of both ginger and garlic. The food is prepared in conditions of clinical hygiene, with workers obtaining a clean white coat from a card- operated dispenser at the start of every shift.

Visitors are required to wear white waterproof boots, hairnet and, if appropriate, beard snoods. So attired, the Gastropod ogled vast vats of pungent curry and mounds of colourful rice. I marvelled at the blast chilling, blast freezing, packing, cartoning and sleeving machines. I even feigned interest in quality assurance procedures and nodded knowledgeably as microbiological testing was discussed.

Noon's own-label range, which inevitably includes chicken tikka, is selling well in small supermarket chains and independent grocers. Earlier this month, The Asian Who's Who, an annual publication, awarded the firm's founder and chairman, G K Noon, the title 'Asian of the Year' for his contribution to the Asian community.

Readers can glimpse his amazing food factory for themselves if they tune into the second episode of Firm Friends, which began its four-week run on ITV last Thursday night.

FOR a nation of tea drinkers, we Brits are surprisingly timid when it comes to demanding our favourite beverage in restaurants. Illytd Lewis, executive director of the Tea Council says: 'Only 53 per cent of restaurants feature tea on their menu.' But, the Tea Council insists, tea complements food better than coffee and is better for one's digestion.

To prove the point, it enlisted the professional assistance of the Academy of Food and Wine Service. Barrie Larvin, manager of the Conservatory at The Lanesborough hotel, chaired a tasting panel which conducted an exhaustive exercise to find out which combinations of food and wines work best with speciality teas.

It discovered that not only does the smoky flavour of lapsang souchong provide the perfect accompaniment to a chicken sandwich, it also goes well with port and stilton. Strong, dark tea from Kenya is good with beef and horseradish, but is also not bad with chocolate and a glass of Drambuie.

The Gastropod remains sceptical, but the powers that be at the Dorchester are obviously convinced. Well- heeled customers taking tea in the hotel's promenade are now being offered a glass of sauternes to wash down their Ceylon tea and strawberry cheesecake.