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    Wish Fulfilment: Caviar Tasting at Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons - 250 a Head 27th November 2003
    The Times - T2 Lust Vanora Bennet
    You never acturally need caviar. It's pure, glamourous, kick-up-your-heels, live-to-eat luxury - even in its homeland, Russia, where it costs only a fraction of the fortune you might pay here.

    It's that extravagant price tag, almost as much as the cholesterol-packed taste, that gives you a power kick. But the price is also what makes caviar dangerous. Russia now has a show-off rich class that wants caviar, the mark of success, on the table all the time. And the easy profit that any fisherman, smuggler or fat-cat middleman can make from flogging it to them means that the sturgeon has been overfished to the brink of extinction. These days, 95% of Russian caviar is poached. It's not just the colour of the eggs that is dark.

    After too long hanging out with the bad-guy poachers while writing a book about the illegal trade, I developed a) a serious caviar habit and b) a squeamishness bordering on self-loathing about being the kind of person who's been willing to eat the dodgier kind.

    So it was a joy to be asked to a grand, and entirely above-board, tasting at Raymond Blanc's Oxfordshire restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons.

    The caviar - fat, glittery dollops, served with a few well-mannered blini - was the virtuous Iranian kind: fished in accordance with the strict government regulations that have long since vanished from the former Soviet trade. We could revel in its rich, subtle taste without any anvironmental angst.

    We ate caviar decorously, too - from bone sppons, or the back of our hands - and downed three kinds of champagne before tucking into a four-course dinner. That the evening cost a king's ransom - well, 250 a head - would do nothing to put off caviar lovers who want their luxury legal.

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