Renowned food critic and restaurateur Egon Ronay has died at the age of 94, following an illness according to a family friend. His second wife, Barbara, and his daughters, Edina and Esther were by his side when he passed. Author of the famous Egon Ronay Guides to British Eateries, his name is synonymous with good food and restaurant owners clamoured to get his seal of approval on their establishments.
Born in Hungary on 24 July 1915, he had the best of starts in life, with a wealthy father who owned a string of restaurants in Budapest. Ronay studied law, but eventually followed his father into the family business. By World War II, however, the business was failing, and the political situation was untenable. Penniless, Ronay left his country of birth and arrived in London in 1946. With his background he was able to find a job as a manager in Piccadilly.
His dream, however, was to run his own restaurant, and he eventually saved up enough money to take over tea rooms by Harrods, known as the Marquee. One of the only food critics of the time, Fanny Craddock, was so impressed by the food that she ate there that her editor eventually persuaded Ronay to start writing a food column for the Daily Telegraph. Although initially unwilling, the column was so successful that Ronay was hooked, and published his first food guide in 1957, thanks to a team of anonymous food inspectors.
Almost three decades later, after a series of updated versions of the guide, Ronay sold the right to the guides to the AA (The Automobile Association), because he was finding it difficult to cope with all the success. The AA, in turn, sold it to another organisation, who ran the business into the ground. Still carrying the Egon Ronay name, Ronay went to court and won back the right to his books, which are still published to this day. In recent years, he has continued to work as a consultant the pub chain Wetherspoons, as well as other clients. He has also been a champion of numerous TV chefs, including Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc.
The UK is often vilified for its unoriginal food. Egon Ronay proved otherwise, once causing French outrage for suggesting that British gastropubs were possibly better than French bistros. He may have been Hungarian by birth, but according to an interview published in The Observer in 2003, he considered Britain to be his home, and in fact only visited Hungary once after he left. We owe him a great deal.