Life and Times
Egon Ronay (1916 to 2010) was one of the world’s most famous restaurant reviewers, and publisher of a series of restaurants guides that spanned 40 years.
Many of the guides had sponsors, though the sponsors were all unrelated to the hotel and food industry, and Ronay would not accept advertisements from hotels or restaurants. He and his people never accepted free meals or rooms. His inspectors did unannounced visits.
Ronay held that the food revolution in the UK actually got its start in the 1960s, when ordinary people started to have money. Before then, wealthy people thought it was not done to talk about food. Ronay accepted the new word “gastropub”, though he was not particularly keen on it as a word, but he did like what the gastropubs were turning out.
Ronay disappeared from the scene around 1996, and didn’t return until 2004. When he returned, he faced a crowded market, and many of the celebrity chefs politely dismissed him as an old man and a spent force. Others thought that his tongue was still one to reckon with.
In the 2000s, he lived in Yattendon in the Berkshires (where he died) with his second wife, Barbara, and worked out of an office in Knightsbridge, behind Harrods. By many reports, he was still an elegantly dressed man, with high standards in personal appearance. His daughter, Edina, a former girlfriend of the actor Michael Caine, became a fashion designer. He had two other children, Esther, and Gerard.
Despite all the fine dining he had done, Ronay professed to prefer above all his wife’s Irish stew, and partridge, pheasant and venison.
Egon Ronay was born circa 1916 (he was 89 in 2005.) His grandfather Nicholas owned a 120 room hotel in Pöstyén, Hungary. His father, Miklos, was a successful restaurateur in Budapest, Hungary, having five restaurants. He brought Egon into meetings about the restaurants when Egon was 17.
Egon studied law at University, but the family lost everything during the Second World War. After the Russian siege of Budapest in December 1944, he sold coffee to try to make some money. He was arrested by the Russians and was about to be sent to Siberia, when a Russian soldier remembered buying coffee from him, and freed him.
Egon escaped Hungary and arrived in England on his own as a refugee on 10 October 1946, around 30 years of age. He did not return to Hungary again for a visit until around 1983. He got a job at the Princes restaurant in Piccadilly owned by a friend of his father, then worked for a while at the Carousel Club in St James’s.
In 1952, on the strength of a borrowed £4,000, he opened a small tea room called the “Marquee” in the Knightsbridge area of London. Fanny Cradock was writing a column at the time for the Daily Telegraph. She came to review the restaurant with her husband Johnny, they loved it, and she gushed about it. Egon was then persuaded by Cradock’s editor at the Daily Telegraph to start his own column, which he wrote weekly for six years.
In 1957, he published his first restaurant guide, selling 30,000 copies. He sold four pages of ads in it to the Ford Motor Company. He started the guide because he was infuriated at the low standards of public food in Britain.
In 1967, he married Barbara Greenslade.
In 1979, in his “Lucas” guide, he also rated — and trashed — the food and the service on 14 airlines travelling between the UK and North America.
In 1983, he founded “The British Academy of Gastronomes.” He also in the same year ran a cosponsored promotion with J. Lyons & Company. A competition was held offering five all-expense paid, plus spending money, weekends for two in Europe. Entrants had to be able to say in four languages “Thank you for a wonderful meal” and say what for them was a good meal. They also got a meal at a restaurant in the same city they chose from the “Egon Ronay TWA Guide to Good Restaurants in Europe.” The contest was linked to J. Lyons & Co. “Continental Desserts” product; the packaging also gave consumers a coupon for 50p off “Just a bite : Egon Ronay’s Lucas guide for gourmets on a family budget” (published 1979.)
In 1985, he was tired of his eating guides empire, and sold all rights to the Automobile Association, including using his name attached to a food guide. Three years later, the Automobile Association had sold the rights on to the Richbell Group. The deal continued to prohibit Ronay from publishing under his own name — the enforced silence frustrated him. In 1992, after the Richbell Group had gone bankrupt, he began legal action to regain the right to his name in print, which was finally awarded back to him by the courts in 1997.
During the 1990s, he worked for the British Airports Authority (BAA) and for J.D. Wetherspoon, a big pub chain in the UK.
In 2005, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Carlton London Restaurant Awards. He also raised a minor stir in the same year by praising the quality of restaurants in Scotland that now existed.
- 1959. Egon Ronay recommends 175 Eating Places in and around London, etc.
- 1960. Egon Ronay recommends 190 Eating Places in and around London, etc.
- 1966. Egon Ronay’s guide to hotels & restaurants in Ireland, incorporating Dublin pubs.
- 1966. Egon Ronay – BMC 1966  Guide to hotels, restaurants, pubs and inns in Great Britain and Ireland, with motoring maps.
- 1966. Egon Ronay’s AA Ski Europe, etc.
- 1966. Egon Ronay’s banqueting directory: receptions, conferences, exhibitions, private functions, ban
- 1966. Egon Ronay’s Guide to Scandinavia’s best hotels & restaurants. With motoring maps.
- 1967. Budget holidays in France, Italy, Spain. An AA guide produced for the AA by the Egon Ronay Organisation
- 1967. Egon Ronay’s Coffee guide. Where to get a good cup of coffee in Central London.
- 1969. Egon Ronay’s 1969 pub guide to England, Scotland and Wales. In association with the Gas Council
- 1971. Egon Ronay’s Dunlop Guide to hotels, restaurants, inns in Great Britain and Ireland
- 1972. Egon Ronay’s Pubs & tourist sights in Britain, 1972.
- 1973. Egon Ronay’s pubs and tourist sights in Britain. 1973 [etc.].
- 1974. Cunard/Egon Ronay Guide to QE2 1974 Cruises: Ports of Call: Details of Shore Adventures Included
- 1975. Egon Ronay’s Guide to the Best in Freezing : Egon Ronay
- 1975. Crane Fruehauf’s Egon Ronay guide to intercontinental transport cafés
- 1976. Egon Ronay’s Pub guide: a selection of 600 pubs including some on the continent.
- 1977. Egon Ronay’s Lucas guide to transport cafes and accommodation. 1977.
- 1979. Just a bite : Egon Ronay’s Lucas guide for gourmets on a family budget. London: Penguin.
- 1980. Egon Ronay’s Raleigh pub guide: 1980.
- 1981. Egon Ronay’s Raleigh pub guide 1981
- 1982. Egon Ronay’s TWA guide … to good restaurants in Europe’s business cities.
- 1983. Egon Ronay’s Bulmer pub guide.
- 1985. 1985 Guinness Pub Guide Food and Accommodation [Egon Ronay Organisation]
- 1987. Egon Ronay’s Bird’s Eye guide to healthy eating out.
- 1988. Master chefs of Europe.
- 1988. A Taste of Europe.
- 1991. The unforgettable dishes of my life.
- 1994. Egon Ronay’s Britvic Guide 1994: Just a Bite : Eating Out on a Budget in the UK and Ireland
- 1994. Egon Ronay’s Ford Guide 1994: And Baby Comes Too : 900 Family-Friendly Hotels and Eating
- 1994. Egon Ronay’s Champagne Mumm guide to Paris :
- 1995. Egon Ronay’s Jameson Guide 1995 Ireland : Egon Ronay’s Guide (Egon Ronay Guides);
- 1996. Egon Ronay’s Tabasco guide 1996 : bars, bistros & cafes
- 1996. Egon Ronay’s Guide to Paris. New York: Saint Martin’s, 1995.
- 1996. Egon Ronay’s Kingfisher Lager guide to oriental restaurants.
- 2005. Egon Ronay’s Royal Automobile Club Guide: To the Top 200 Restaurants in the UK, The Good Food Guide 2005
- 2006. Egon Ronay’s Guide to Restaurants & Gastropubs
Literature & Lore
“It is of no greater use than someone venturing an opinion as you wait in the queue at the supermarket.” — Egon Ronay on ordinary people posting restaurant reviews on the web
“It sometimes looks more like hubris when the result arrives on your plate and you rush back to the menu in order to discover precisely what it was that you ordered.” — Egon Ronay on “testosterone-driven cooking” by celebrity chefs.
“Sir, I have been accused of lese-majesté in charging the Michelin Guide with chauvinism in its approach to British catering. But my attitude is all the more sustained in reading the interview given by the Michelin chief inspector to Miss Ann Morrow in The Times of March 23. As an example, he maligns French chefs in Britain by saying they would not leave France if they were any good. This is a slight on chefs Dumas of the Connaught, Virot of the Savoy Grill, Lefevre of the Midland, Manchester, Cottet of Gleneagles, among others — let alone Soyer of the Reform Club, Escoffier of the Carlton, Latry and Virlogeux of the Savoy, Boulestin and many more who must be turning in their graves. Yours faithfully, Egon Ronay, Egon Ronay Organisation, Queen’s House, Leicester Square.” — Letter to the Editor. The Times, London. 27 March 1974. Page 17.
“It won’t be many years before food in this country [the UK] is better than it is in France. But there is an annoying new trend for over-complicated menus that are anything but customer friendly. They read like recipes, with the result that you choose halibut and then fail to find it on your plate. It’s even hard to get a decent dessert: instead, you get a sculpture. It’s ridiculous.” — Egon Ronay as quoted by Rachel Cooke in “He’s had more hot dinners”. Manchester: The Observer. 7 December 2003.
“I’m not particularly bothered about being in his guide. I mean, who is Egon Ronay? Doesn’t he normally write about pubs, inns and service stations?” — Gordon Ramsay in Rachel Cooke. “He’s had more hot dinners”. Manchester: The Observer. 7 December 2003.
“A man full of bile is not fit to pronounce on food.” — Egon Ronay on French President Jacques Chirac, July 2005 (after French President Jacques Chirac said only Finnish food was worse than British.)
“Gastronomically speaking, food has no nationality; it is either good or it isn’t.” — Egon Ronay. Real Food Pioneer: Egon Ronay. London: The Times. 14 August 2007.
Buchanan, Rhoda. Egon Ronay, restaurant reviewer, dies aged 94. London: The Times. 12 June 2010.
Carter, Elizabeth. Egon Ronay guides ‘blazed a trail’. Manchester: The Guardian. 12 June 2010.
Cooke, Rachel. He’s had more hot dinners… The Observer. 7 December 2003.
Egon Ronay. Obituary. London: Daily Telegraph. 12 June 2010.
Fallon, Amy. Food critic Egon Ronay dies. Manchester: The Guardian. 12 June 2010.
Kirby, Terry. Ronay, the restaurant critic who pays his way, is back after a seven-year break between courses. London: The Independent. 4 October 2004.
Prince, Dominic. Bring me the head of Egon Ronay. London: The Independent. 26 February 2005.
Singh, Anita. Celebrity chefs ‘only concerned with money’, says Egon Ronay. London: The Daily Telegraph. 11 September 2008.