Restaurant critic Egon Ronay dies

Egon Ronay Ronay booked into hotels and restaurants using an assumed name

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Restaurant critic Egon Ronay has died at the age of 94 after a short illness.

Ronay, who was born in Hungary in 1915, wrote his first guidebook in 1956 after managing several restaurants and contributing to the Daily Telegraph.

He continued to publish the books for three decades, helping to usher in the era of restaurant reviews.

Paying tribute, Michelin-starred celebrity chef Raymond Blanc said Ronay was a visionary who had pushed up "the standard of British cuisine".

Ronay died on Saturday morning at his Berkshire home with his wife and two daughters by his side, said close friend and broadcaster Nick Ross.

"He was, in the most literal sense, incredible, right up until the last few weeks of his life - he was sharp as a button," said Ross, who had known the writer for 15 to 20 years.

"We went for a tasting with him four months ago and he had this remarkable ability to taste flavours in anything.

"Right up until his death, even young chefs regarded him as the monarch."

Blanc said winning Ronay's Restaurant of the Year award in 1978, for Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire, "changed his life".

He said: "[Ronay] was meticulous, he was a visionary and he knew what gastronomy should be.

"There's no doubt that he had a huge, huge influence and he helped British chefs to believe in themselves."

Ronay was the son of a prominent restaurateur in Budapest whose businesses were destroyed during and after World War II.

Penniless

Ronay escaped from communist Hungary in 1946 and arrived in London as a penniless refugee.

He went on to manage several restaurants before opening his own establishment in 1952, the Marquee in Knightsbridge, serving classic French dishes that were almost unheard of in post-war Britain.

Television chef Fanny Craddock raved about the place and persuaded Ronay to write a food column for the Daily Telegraph.

Egon Ronay and his wife in 1980 His often scathing criticism is credited with helping improve UK catering

He sold his restaurant in 1955 to concentrate on his writing, and Egon Ronay's Guide to Hotels and Restaurants arrived the following year.

The guidebook was inspired by France's Michelin restaurant guides.

"Everybody looked at his guides," celebrity chef Phil Vickery told BBC News.

"He really did make everyone stand up and say, 'Oh my goodness, are we selling good food or not?'"

Vickery added: "He was a very successful restaurateur in his own right.

"He knew his stuff. I think very few people these days understand cooking fully, or understand the process.

"Coming from that background, he knew exactly what to say and what to do."

Threat of exposure

Ronay produced the books, with the help of a team of inspectors, for 30 years - never accepting a free meal.

"I think the guides certainly have had the effect, particularly in mass catering, of telling people that they could no longer get away with murder - because I would expose them," Ronay once said.

"My aim was to improve catering standards and having seen the way the Michelin guides worked I felt a guide was the best way.

"I never considered it a business and only made money out of the guides when I sold them."

He sold the guidebooks to the AA in 1985, but regained the rights to the books in court in the late 90s after arguing that the company's actions were in danger of tarnishing his name.

Restaurant critic Michael Winner said Ronay was "humble" but the "greatest food critic ever".

"He surpassed all the supercilious, arrogant, position-seeking food critics we have at the moment. He had a great heart, great dignity and great warmth.

"He was a true expert and I admired him beyond belief. He was superior to us all.

"I was very sad to hear of his death."

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