Pioneering food critic Egon Ronay dies aged 94

From the 1950s on, the Hungarian restaurateur who settled here transformed Britain's eating habits

Egon Ronay, the Hungarian food critic who transformed British eating habits, died yesterday at the age of 94. Launched in 1957, the Egon Ronay Guide to British Eateries rapidly became the food-lovers' bible, helping to improve the range and quality of British restaurant food, which, by international consensus at the time, was pretty ordinary.

The son of a prominent restaurateur from Budapest, Ronay emigrated to England in 1946 after first the Nazis and then the Russians left the family business in tatters.

He started off managing three restaurants in London owned by a friend of his father's, before borrowing £4,000 to set up his own, the Marquee, near Harrods in 1952. Described as "London's most food-perfect small restaurant" by Fanny Craddock in her Daily Telegraph column, on the menu were classic French dishes unheard of in Fifties Britain. He went on to write his own column for the paper for six years.

But it was the launch of the Egon Ronay Guides that made him the most famous and respected food critic in the UK. Inspired by the French Michelin Guide, the first edition sold 30,000 copies and over the next three decades it became synonymous with good food. Lauded for his integrity, Ronay and his team of anonymous inspectors never accepted a free meal or drink, and restaurants proudly displayed blue plaques in their window for each year they were listed.

With taste buds for talent, Ronay was an early champion of Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc, though in recent years he saved his highest praise for Gordon Ramsay. But he was just as passionate about food for the masses after a horrifying early experience at the Victoria Station buffet when he was forced to use a shared teaspoon – hung on a piece of string – to stir his tea.

This led him to cross swords on several occasions with Charles Forte about the quality of food served at the peer's Welcome Break and Little Chef outlets. The quality of airline catering became another bugbear and for four years in the 1990s he worked with the air authority BAA on improving standards.

As a food consultant for the pub chain J D Wetherspoon, he would famously turn up unannounced in a chauffeur-driven limousine to check the crispiness of the onion rings and fluffiness of the baked potatoes.

Last night tributes from the food world poured in about the man whose name will for ever be associated with British cuisine.

The Evening Standard's respected food critic, Fay Maschler, said: "Egon and Raymond Postgate, from the Good Food Guide, were the two scourges of English cuisine."

She added: "But Egon had a particular point of view which came from being a restaurateur himself, and from being Hungarian. He was incredibly involved, active and energetic, and always very important to chefs. He was emblematic of someone who minded about food. I admired him hugely."

Raymond Blanc credits the critic with instilling a sense of self-belief in British chefs. He said: "He managed to really push up the standard of British cuisine. He was meticulous, a visionary, and he knew what gastronomy should be. There's no doubt that he had a huge, huge influence."

The Irish Michelin star chef Richard Corrigan described Egon as the "master of his time": "He was the champion of cooks, he had style. He was the maker and breaker, the critic who put London on the map. There was no shock or horror factor to him, or a need for the spotlight. He just rolled up his sleeves and got on with it."

Ruth Rogers, co-founder of The River Café in London, said Ronay moved this country forward in its attitudes towards food, particularly food from abroad: "He encouraged a real respect and interest in food and restaurants before London became very fashionable. In the very early days, when we started The River Café, he was always extremely supportive."

The TV chef Nigella Lawson said: "We did this show called Taste Testers together about 20 years ago, where we tasted hundreds of packet foods and would judge them. During the filming he tasted baked beans for the first time; he was mystified by them. He kept saying, 'These are really rather good!' He used to say that women had more taste buds than men. But he could bring the seriousness out in anything – even a readymade bread and butter pudding."

Ronay died yesterday morning at his Berkshire home after a short illness with his wife, Barbara, and two daughters by his bedside. He is also survived by a son and a granddaughter.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee