Tour d'Argent owner dies after 60 years at the top

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Claude Terrail, the owner of the Tour d'Argent in Paris, one of the most celebrated restaurants in the world, has died at the age of 88.

In almost 60 years at the restaurant, famed for its view of Notre Dame cathedral and a century-old recipe for "bloody duck", M. Terrail welcomed customers including the Queen, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill and John Wayne.

In recent years, the reputation of the 400-year-old restaurant has suffered from the loss of two of its three stars in the Michelin guide. Nonetheless, La Tour d'Argent - overlooking the left bank of the Seine beside Notre Dame - remained one of the most sought-after in the world for lunch or dinner reservations.

The restaurant numbered every "bloody duck" ordered and passed the one million mark three years ago. The secret recipe calls, it is said, for the duck to be suffocated and its carcass squeezed dry.

M. Terrail nominally ceded control to his son, André in 2003, but remained the power behind the Tour d'Argent, eating lunch and dinner there every day. The restaurant's demotion in 1995 from the ranks of Michelin "three star" restaurants after 51 years, caused shock in the French culinary establishment. Critics blamed M. Terrail's rigidity and failure to move with the times. M. Terrail retorted that the restaurant had not "lost a single booking" by losing its status. A second star was removed in this year's guide.

Among the many legends and stories associated with the Tour d'Argent is the suggestion that the fork was "discovered" there in the 1580s. King Henry III of France is said to have seen two Italian diners using pronged instruments at the Tour d'Argent and ordered them for the royal court.

M. Terrail is said to have saved part of the restaurant's wine cellar from the German occupiers of Paris in 1940 by bricking the best bottles behind a false wall.

The restaurant's reputation as a favourite with Hollywood stars was created partly by M. Terrail's first marriage to Barbara Warner of the Warner Brothers film-making family.