My thanks this week go to agriculture minister Nick Brown for hosting a splendid media party at MAFF's Smith Square offices. The minister ­ clutching a glass of organic gin, in breach of his New Year's resolution ­ was in jocular mood. "Welcome, ladies and gentlemen ­ and journalists," he said, before giving us members of the press a lighthearted savaging à la Geoffrey Howe. He then urged us to eat the beef and drink the Champagne. Except it was English sparkling wine. This slip of the tongue was ironic given that the room was decorated with posters celebrating the EU's scheme to protect the true origin of products. As the Newcastle Brown and wine flowed, so did the gossip, including one little gem about Jack Cunningham. It seems junket Jack fell in love with the ornate ceiling in the function room at Noble House and demanded it become his office. The minister's civil servants were only able to make him change his mind when they pointed out that he would have to vacate the room every time MAFF wanted to hold a bash. While on the subject of bashes, I was also at the first City Food Lecture hosted by Sainsbury and was not alone in noticing that Sir Peter Davis was still smarting from Asda's pre-Christmas claim that it had overtaken JS to become the country's number two supermarket chain. "One claim that even our friends in Leeds cannot dispute is that we are the biggest supermarket chain in London," said Sir Peter. That should make them sit up in Bentonville. {{COUNTERPOINT }}