HOW WE MET

FAY MASCHLER AND ANTONY WORRALL THOMPSON
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Fay Maschler, 50, was born in India and came to Britain in 1947. Since 1972 she has been restaurant critic for the London Evening Standard. She lives with her husband, the writer Reg Gadney, in north London. She has three children from her first marriage. The restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson, 43, was born in Stratford-upon- Avon. He has opened 12 restaurants in London, including dell'Ugo and Drones. Divorced twice, he lives in Henley with his girlfriend and their baby son

FAY MASCHLER: I first met Antony in 1980, when he was the chef at Dan's Restaurant in Chelsea. I had gone along to review it for the Evening Standard and he came out to introduce himself. I'm sure I was just trying to get out of the place as quickly as possible - I hate meeting chefs in restaurants because I try to work anonymously.

I don't remember much about the meeting, except that I thought he was very easy going and affable - most chefs are rather edgy and difficult. A lot of them don't like restaurant critics - they think we don't know what we're talking about. I liked his willingness to see that there are two sides to the story - that critics can be just as useful as they can be damaging.

After that time, we continued to stay in touch, mainly running into each other at parties. He'd actually made contact about two years before Dan's, writing to me about all his hopes and fears. He was very clear in what he aimed to do. He wanted to get three Michelin stars, which he never ob-tained, probably because the eclectic, "anything goes" cooking style he dev-eloped - exemplified at 190 Queens-gate and dell'Ugo - is not the sort the guide favours. His style can't be classified, and it suffers from inconsistency - it has a certain hit and miss quality.

He wrote about four or five letters altogether - I thought they were great and I liked his naked ambition. I think he thought that I could give him some guidance, maybe help him shape his career. In his original letter, he suggested that maybe one day we could open a restaurant together, which never really crossed my mind.

At first, I remember thinking how distinctive looking he was. His face is rather like a boxer's, with a kind of flattened nose. After we met, he told me a story which impressed itself hugely on me: in his teens when he was playing in a rugby match, he was kicked in the face by someone in the opposing team. His bone structure was wrecked, but he couldn't have reconstructive surgery until years later. So he spent most of those meaningful years looking, I imagine, pretty frightful. He seems to have coped, though, with incredible cheerfulness. A lot of his ambition and love of women probably stems from overcoming that.

Antony's not someone I ring up all the time or see that regularly. It's an odd friendship - it's very difficult in my situation to appear to be very friendly with any particular chef because it just irritates all the other chefs. When we do meet, though, I'm always pleased to see him. We chat endlessly about the restaurant business - we've got lots of friends in common.

About three years ago, he came out to stay with me and my husband Reg in a villa we rented on the Greek island of Cephalonia. He was gregarious and became friendly with the people in a local restaurant. I remember him cooking a meal there one evening - he astounded everyone with these wonderful dishes of lobster risotto and stuffed rabbit. I remember him boning and rolling up the rabbit. I love watching people who are very technically proficient at what they do. He also likes Reg very much - whether or not someone gets on with your partner is an important element in any friendship. On my 49th birthday, he cooked a big meal at my house with the help of a girl who is now the mother of his newborn son. Although he knew her before, their relationship really took off from that evening, which I feel rather pleased about. She seems extremely nice and rather good for him - very strong. I think he probably needs mothering; Antony had a stormy relationship with his mother, who sent him away to a Dickensian-sounding school. I think he needs a maternal figure in his life - maybe he sees me slightly in that role.

I've always seen him within the context of other females. In the old days, he was always chatting up women. I think he must have got rebuffed a great many times, but it didn't deter him. Any pretty girl was fair game. I've always admired his resilience. Where a lot of people would have gone under, he hasn't. He's been through tremendous lows financially, but he always bounces back.

Sometimes Antony is a difficult person to get through to. He's so much an embodiment of his ambition that it can be hard to separate the real person from his extraordinarily energetic pursuits. What I like about him is his very un-English way of behaving - there's nothing self-effacing or apologetic about him.

ANTONY WORRALL THOMPSON: The week before I moved to Dan's Restaurant, I heard that Fay had written an appalling review about it. I sent her a letter, saying I thought I could do really well at Dan's and it was a pity if she spoilt it with just one poor write-up, and inviting her back. In the letter, I told her how I'd just toured the restaurants of France and how, for once in their lives, the French were being imaginative with their food: it was the era of nouvelle cuisine. This was the style of food, I explained, that I was going to bring to Dan's. It was quite early on in my career and I was pretty braggy. She wrote back saying, "Yes, Dan's was appalling but I'll give it a second chance - tell me when you're ready and I'll review it again."

When Fay turned up on the first night at Dan's, she was different from what I expected. She's got a reputation for being aloof and I thought she'd be quite a hard-nosed journalist type. I don't think she tolerates people who are nervous or in awe of her. Most chefs make that mistake with journalists - they treat them like ogres rather than normal people.

I found her warm and willing to listen - as long as you're willing to talk. There was always a rapport between us and I think it comes down to the fact that I wasn't scared of her. I was never struck by her aloofness. If anything, I was quite cheeky to her, and I think that got to her a bit.

After that meeting, we kept seeing each other, mainly at restaurant openings. Mutual friends also drew us together: we both know the architect Steve Thomas and Alan Crompton-Batt, who is in PR. Then she invited me to Greece for a week with her husband, Reg. I got on with him immediately. He's been around for about four years, and since they met Fay has become far more relaxed and happy - before that, she would take a far too serious view of life.

When we're together, we try not to talk all the time about restaurants and food. We both like gardening, interior decor and nice art. There is a certain appreciation of style that bonds us.

Fay is the first person to tick me off if I haven't done a restaurant well. I've always been known as a trend- setter in restaurants, but now my food is much simpler, more grown-up, I suppose. That's a lesson I've learnt from Fay - she always asks me, "Would you eat that dish?", and I'll say, "No, you're probably right, I wouldn't." She'll reply, "Well, why are you trying to give it to the customer?"

Fay did an awful review on me when I was working at a restaurant called The Atrium. She said I hadn't re-searched my dishes well enough and that my style was to over-gild the lily. But I learnt a lot from her write- up: everything she said was true, and I acted on it. Recently, she didn't give me a particularly good write-up for my new restaurant, Drones, although her comments were correct. She said that she felt very uncomfortable. The heating wasn't working property and it was cold - all teething problems in a new restaurant. I think it's a little bit out of order, because we didn't open to the public until three days later. But I take it on the chin, and I don't moan.

Despite that, I love reading her column: she's always fair and consistent. I find her writing really smacks you in the face. It's powerful and alive and there's always a message behind the piece. She never knocks me down for the sake of it.

We enjoy disagreeing about issues. Fay recently took offence when I described her in an article as "the queen of food writers". I think she thought that aged her bit. We enjoy making fun of each other, and sometimes she teases me about my pushiness and ambitiousness.

I suppose that it's a sadomasochistic friendship from my point of view. If she wasn't around, I would really miss not having someone there to slap me on the wrist and tell me when I'm going wrong. 8

Comments