Never mind the food, Conran finds fault with diners

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The Independent Online

There is nothing new about a dispute between celebrity chefs; they have traditionally fought over each others' recipes, cooking styles, menus and are not above making snide personal comments. But the clientele have always remained off limits. Until now.

There is nothing new about a dispute between celebrity chefs; they have traditionally fought over each others' recipes, cooking styles, menus and are not above making snide personal comments. But the clientele have always remained off limits. Until now.

Sir Terence Conran, in a review of Gordon Ramsay's eponymous restaurant, not only complained that the menu was bewildering but decided to take a swipe at the customers too.

He might have been wise to avoid such a comment - it was later pointed out that his own establishment, Quaglino's, is frequented by the archetypal Essex girl. Sir Terence waded in none the less. The customers on the night he visited, were "a mix of south London builders having a good time, quiet Surrey golf clubsters with matching wedding rings and, best of all, six youngish women having quite a raucous night - hardly a hushed lady-chapel of gastronomy". He didn't stop there. Dismissing Mr Ramsay as a man who "believes he is an artist", Sir Terence proceeded to lay into the decor. "It looked like a provincial hotel with an appalling central column of speckled mirror and quite a few embellishments, like the ones French chefs' wives add to show they are creative too."

And just in case anyone felt he had left anything out, he rounded off with a couple of comments about the food, noting that the starter of foie gras "ought to be banned" and the butter for the bread "tasted of the fridge".

Mr Ramsay, himself no stranger to controversy, was uncharacteristically silent yesterday but London's arbiters of style were quick to leap to his defence. Ann Barr, co-author of the style bible of the Eighties The Sloane Rangers' Handbook, said Sir Terence's comments were extremely mean.

"It's true that dining out is theatre these days and you don't just go for the food, you go to have a look at the people who are there. But while you might go to an Alan Ayckbourn play about builders or Essex girls, you wouldn't necessarily want to see them when you go out for dinner," she said. "He has attacked the restaurant in a very damaging way."

Camilla Cecil, the social editor of Harpers & Queen, said Sir Terence had overstepped the mark. "Frankly, if south London builders can afford those prices then I'm in the wrong job," she said. "It's a cheap shot to insult the clientele like that but I shouldn't think Gordon Ramsay is that concerned. His restaurant is full and they are paying their bills and if people from Surrey have heard that it's very good food and worth a trip then why shouldn't they go there."

Whether Sir Terence will be welcome back is not yet clear.

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