THIS TIME last year, Nicholas Lander of the Financial Times, a former restaurateur, came up with the wheeze of persuading restaurants to offer lunch for a fiver. The period from New Year's Day to Valentine's Day is the quietest in the catering calendar, and restaurants took little persuading. The scheme was a tremendous success.

So, a fortnight ago, on hearing that the FT was running a promotion entitling subscribers to a hefty discount on restaurant bills, the impecunious Gastropod perused the pink 'un's Food & Drink pages. Here Mr Lander explained that readers who signed up for a Transmedia credit card could not only expect a discount of 25 per cent on food and beverages in participating eateries, but would also be entered in a draw to win one of 1,000 free meals. Tempting? Yes, until one noticed that - apart from those of Stephen Bull and the Red Fort - the names of critically acclaimed restaurants were conspicuously absent, while the Cafe Rouge, Deals and Wheeler's chains were conspicuously present. It is claimed that 'more than 2,500 restaurants in the UK and the US are taking part in the 1994 Financial Times restaurant promotion'. That is right: there are 2,300 in the US - and a mere 200 over here.

ALL IN ALL, in the miserable depths of midwinter, the Gastropod would rather be in Barcelona, ambling along the Ramblas in search of robust Catalan cuisine. He will, however, have to make do with Craig Allen's evocative new guidebook, Eating Out In Barcelona & Catalunya (Rosendale Press, pounds 8.95). Mr Allen, a buyer for the Conran Shop, has made a selection of restaurants in and around this most design-conscious city. He has good taste and an eye for decorative detail. A glossary that translates Spanish into both Catalan and English will come in handy on the Gastropod's next visit, but until then this evocative guide will do nicely.

KILT-WEARERS and connoisseurs of kitsch will not need to be reminded that Tuesday is Burns Night, which calls for a meal of haggis, champit tatties, bashed neeps and clootie dumplings, washed down with a wee dram. Nowhere south of the border is this celebration taken more seriously than at the Brasserie On The Park at the Park Lane Hotel in London. Every night for the next week, the haggis will be piped in, and that 'Great Chieftain o' the Puddin-race' will be addressed in Burns's own words before being ceremoniously slain. Tickets cost pounds 23. Call the manager, Robert Bayne on 071-499 6321 to book.

WHEN IT comes to toasting the great poet, the Prince of Wales will doubtless be raising a glass of Laphroaig, the single malt from Islay, which is officially his favourite Scotch. The distinctive 'peaty reek' of Laphroaig makes it something of an acquired taste, and neophyte whisky drinkers are urged to seek out something smoother, such as The Singleton of Auchroisk, which has won universal acclaim and prestigious awards since its launch in 1987. The Gastropod has 50 miniatures to share with anyone who can tell him what a haggis is. Write to The Gastropod, Weekend Features, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

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