Ronay, the restaurant critic who pays his way, is back after a seven-year break between courses

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Egon Ronay began work on improving the nation's eating habits when the culinary highlight for most was fish and chips ­ or perhaps a prawn cocktail and a nice steak if one was pushing the boat out on Saturday night.

Egon Ronay began work on improving the nation's eating habits when the culinary highlight for most was fish and chips ­ or perhaps a prawn cocktail and a nice steak if one was pushing the boat out on Saturday night.

Now, in the era of argan oil, black cod and wild rocket, the man who helped Britain drag its restaurants out of the post-war culinary wasteland is returning to the fray.

After an absence of more than seven years, a new edition of Egon Ronay's Guide is to be published next February, sponsored by the Royal Automobile Club. The new guide will continuing the process of unannounced visits by inspectors. It will also not accept advertising from hotels or restaurants, in the Ronay tradition.

Ronay published his first guide in 1957; it was an instant success. He said the new book would differ from other guides around now, which make a virtue of basing entries on the views of ordinary members of the public. He said: "Its prime concern will be the quality of the cooking. It reverses the trend of giving emphasis to matters other than food in restaurants."

He sold the rights to the original guides to the Automobile Association in 1987. Later, all of the publishing and other rights were returned to him.

His other work commitments meant, however, that the titles remained on hold. Ronay has since been a food consultant, working for the British Airports Authority, the service station operator Welcome Break ­ during which time he criticised McDonald's and Burger King burgers as "inedible" ­ and then the pub chain JD Wetherspoon.

Visits to restaurants for the new guide have started and will continue until the end of the year. Ronay said that the establishments for inspection were chosen because they had a reputation for good cooking.

Ronay was the son of a wealthy Budapest restaurant owner who was the fifth-highest taxpayer in the city before losing his fortune during the Second World War. Six years after leaving Hungary penniless to move to England in 1946, Egon Ronay borrowed £4,000 and took over a 39-seater tea room in Knightsbridge, the Marquee.

He served food unheard of in 1950s London: pâté de campagne, matelote d'anguille and bouillabaisse. The critic Fanny Cradock secured its success by describing it as London's "most food-perfect" small restaurant

Ronay branched out by writing a regular critical column, then the first Egon Ronay guide was published in 1957. It sold 30,000 copies.

He met the cost of the first guide by selling four pages of advertising to the Ford car company, and hired one of his former waiters to visit bookshops asking them to stock the guide.

One of his personal horror stories from his early days of inspecting is the moment he was asked to use a communal spoon dangling from the ceiling on a piece of string after ordering a cup of tea at Victoria Station buffet.

Describing his early days of restaurant inspection with a fellow critic, he said: "It was planned like a military operation. We would go to the first restaurant at 12.15pm.

"One of us would order a four-course meal and the other one would say he had a bad stomach and take only one course. Then we would lunch at another place at two o'clock and reverse the roles. And then we did exactly the same for dinner."

Explaining the reasons why he started the guide, he said: "Having been brought up with high standards, I found incredibly low standards here and I was angry about it.

"In my guide I castigated those who were responsible and I think this campaigning mode was the secret of success because the public was on my side."

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