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Food: welcome to the world of special offers, home of the brave, land of the free - fine dining

A week's-worth of post - the sort that rains down on food writers from national newspapers - has just arrived in one huge package. A temp at the Independent and no end of publicists clearly think I am still the paper's restaurant critic (a job now ably handled by Ben Rogers). Bless them, though. All that bumph serves as a delightful reminder that the florid flourishes of fine dining are not dead. They have simply evolved into the special offer.

Make that offers. I am cordially invited to the Festival of Burgundy . . . in a Thistle hotel in London. Over on Piccadilly, Le Meridien hotel is at my "disposal at specially discounted Easter rates".

On the subject of saving money, Sainsbury's The Magazine is launching a Gourmet Club, with its own hotline. For a mere [pounds]35 it will "provide a wealth of discounts, recipes and wine advice". Subscribers will also receive an "elegant members' folder", an "exclusive Gourmet Club chef's apron" and yet more stuff, including access to a book club. Here the "creme de la creme of cookery books are reviewed and supplied by Clarissa Dickson Wright, star of BBC TV's Two Fat Ladies". The brochure's illustrations include photographs of a blender and one of two plump hands removing canapes from a blue plate.

A colour brochure for Leith's restaurant isn't offering anything, other than a reminder that its food is "robust in flavour yet delicate in execution". Someone called Louisa says "Ciao! Hello again from Casa Buitoni!" and the pages of its pasta club newsletter. This is produced, we are to believe, in something of a palace. "Superb photographs of Tuscan views taken from the Casa Buitoni and shots of its elaborate interior provide the background for an array of exciting recipe ideas." Such as vegetable soup.

Christoph's, a restaurant in Chelsea, writes to announce its first birthday, adding that it is now "one of London's most desirable destinations. Resoundly [sic] praised for its quiet elegance and the excellence of the modern European cuisine, Christoph's has clearly benefited from the enthusiasm, charm and experience of its proprietor, Christopher Brooke." Christoph indeed.

Cafe Med has been voted by Carlton TV viewers "Best Mediterranean Restaurant". It's in Notting Hill, west London, on the site of the old Gate Diner, which served decent hamburgers and, charmingly, displayed a bogus Good Food Guide certificate over the bar.

South of the river, the Coin Street Community Builders are proud to announce they have leased 9,000 sq ft of the Oxo Tower to the catering company Simpsons of Cornhill. Last I heard of that mob, it involved a fast-talking PR and a cravat-sporting restaurateur who had a talent for taking things over, only for them then to close.

In contrast to the Coin Street crew, Scots seem to prefer to wait until the builders have left before writing their press releases; another PR announces: "The sumptuous refurbishment of the Albany Hotel, Edinburgh, is now complete."

Finally, a firm called Letheby & Christopher, whose slogan is "catering made special", invite me and a guest to Ascot for "a special lunch menu by guest chef Albert Roux and accompanying wines introduced by Oz Clarke".

Something tells me that if I, as a mere punter, tried to hire Letheby & Christopher for a spot of catering made special, it would not be free. Albert Roux would not be making the cheese whiz, and a celebrity would not be sloshing out the swalley.

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