Motorway food 'has reached new inedible depths'

If you're stopping at a Granada motorway service station, for example at Stafford on the M6, you might pause before eating to use one of the new cybercafés there. You might even visit Egon Ronay's new website, which will tell you he thinks you are about to be ripped off.

Mr Ronay, the renowned food critic, relaunched himself into cyberspace yesterday with a vituperative attack on the three chains that now dominate the motorway service station business, alleging that they often produce "cheaply mass-produced, unspeakable rubbish".

Among the first to read his angry words before they eat would be people stopping at Granada-owned stations, which make up 27 of the UK's 74 motorway service areas. The company launched a scheme scheduled to start this year with Littlewoods to bring internet access points to its motorway restaurants and shopping areas.

However, anyone logging on there to www.egonronay.net will find the Hungarian-born critic, whose guides have since 1957 made him a worldwide name, proclaim that "the standard of food has reached an all-time low in motorway services areas".

Reviewing Granada's Leigh Delamere station, between junctions 17 and 18 of the M4, he said it had cappuccino that was a "mockery of its name ... very thin foam", cafetiÿre coffee that "smelt of washing-up water" and croissants that were "very heavy, solid consistency, spongy - an unacceptable product". Mr Ronay also says on the website that lack of competition between service stations, caused by the "absurdly small" number of operators - with 67 of the 74 owned by just three companies - means "there is nothing to raise, let alone monitor, standards".

He now aims to change that with the website, which will replace his famous printed guide and be updated every Wednesday. The problem of what he sees as overpriced yet low-quality food could have been prevented 40 years ago, Mr Ronay claims. "I warned the Ministry of Transport, the original midwife of motorway catering, that no more than one service area should be owned by each operator, as was the case at that time on the efficient German motorways."

Mr Ronay, whose independent appraisals of pubs, restaurants, airlines and airports have won him an army of loyal followers, decided to relaunch on the internet after receiving thousands of inquiries asking when he would republish his guides.

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