THE course of true love, alas, seldom runs smoothly and much human ingenuity over the centuries has gone into attempts to make the path a little less rough. One of the most popular devices and one which, like most of the others, almost certainly does not work, is the aphrodisiac. The poets of the ancient Mediterranean civilisations and the bards of medieval and renaissance Europe all allude to love potions, a sort of amorous mickey finn to be surreptitiously added to the object of desire's drink. These seem to have been successful in fiction, but we can only guess at whether they ever were in fact. By the 18th century, notably in France, attention had turned to less mystical means of achieving the same objective. The idea had evolved that certain foods could be sexually stimulating. Foods traditionally credited with aphrodisiac properties in various quarters include game dishes, sweetbreads, kidneys, caviar, lobster, crayfish, truffles, shark's fins and morel mushrooms. Certain condiments are also sometimes considered to arouse an amorous propensity. These include pimento, cinnamon, pepper, saffron, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Oysters are often considered to have an aphrodisiac effect and pheasants and pigeons are sometimes associated with the arousal of passion because of their elaborate courtship rituals. Swans, because of their lifelong monogamous fidelity, are also thought to have aphrodisiac powers but the rabbit, of whom the reverse is true, is unaffected by this belief, probably because the meat is cheap. The success of champagne, the wine of romance, in producing the desired mood has a sadly prosaic explanation. Because of the bubbles it goes to the head quickly and alcohol has a way of overcoming inhibitions. On the other hand, drink also tends to intensify an existing mood and, if neither the man nor the woman feels like it in the first place, no amount of bubbly is likely to help much. If you wish to try that approach, go for something expensive. Other forms of alcohol have also been credited with amorous powers and, in southern China, cognac is traditionally believed to enhance sexual performance. There is little supportive evidence for this highly irrational view. The truth is almost certainly that if a successful seduction takes place over a candlelight dinner it will have been the atmosphere rather than the food and wine that does the trick. Choose your restaurant with this priority in mind but at least order some champagne . . . just in case.