I was so sad to hear that Egon Ronay passed away this morning at the age of 94.
I was privileged to lunch several times with Egon at his favourite table at London’s Goring Hotel. On each occasion, he was fascinating company and a true gentleman. It was a pleasure to watch him scrutinise the menu and wine list, and then taste his choices and pass judgement when they arrived.
Egon would often call me to tell me what he thought of the restaurant business’s issue of the day, whether it was tipping, bottled water or service levels. And he was a great letter-writer, both to the Caterer and the nationals.
This afternoon, Marco Pierre White offered me the following tribute to Egon.
“This is a sad day. Egon was a great man, a heavyweight who’ll be greatly missed. I had lunch with him very recently. He was still very agile, and his mind was very alert.
Egon did more for British gastronomy than anyone else. He was here long before Michelin. He gave us all something to work for. He was a genius – his knowledge of food, wine and restaurants was enormous.
As a boy of sixteen working in the kitchens at the Hotel St George in Harrogate, I sometimes assisted the porter with polishing guests’ shoes. One day, I found a book on the chair where I sat to polish. It was called the Egon Ronay Guide to Hotels and Restaurants in Great Britain. This was the first time I realised restaurants were awarded stars in Britain as well as hotels.
My fascination with gastronomy was born. That’s when I started dreaming of working in a starred restaurant. I decided I wanted to work at the Box Tree, which was then the very best restaurant in Britain.
Then when I opened Harvey’s in 1987, Egon was the very first restaurant critic through the door. I was Marco White, but he was fascinated by my middle name. He wrote a review in the Sunday Times in which he called me Marco Pierre White.
I’m indebted to the great man. If I had a flagpole I’d lower my flag to half mast.”