22 MARCH 1957, Page 14

Consuming Interest

-By LESLIE ADRIAN 7SHALL look at Mr. Raymond Postgate, when I next meet him, with a new respect. I have occasionally made use of his Good Food Guides in the past; but this latest edition for 1957-58 (Cassell, 7s. 6d.) is the first I have read with any appreciation of the difficulties involved in com- piling a work of this kind.

I have met people from time to time who sniff at The Good Food Guide; only the other day, in fact, a distinguished authoress of my acquain- tance complained that she had visited one of the restaurants recommended, only to be given plaice instead of the sole she had ordered. If this was the only complaint, Mr. Postgate would have little to worry about! It is not so long since I was offered whiting instead of, trout at one establish- ment—not, I am glad to say, listed by Mr. Post- gate, but of some repute. Whiting! One of the very few unforgivable fish ! Is there any way of cooking it, short of inundating it with sauce, that makes it palatable?

The Good Food Guide labours under two dis- advantages which, I assume, Mr. Postgate would not dispute. In fact he mentions one himself : 'Nothing is more dangerous than carrying on a recommendation year after year unchecked. The management may have changed and the chef taken to drink.' The book may now be up to date; but the turnover of owners, managers, cooks, and waiters in this country is very rapid, and recom- mendations are sadly dependent on continuity.

Nor is it simply a matter of turnover. We who live in London may find, from time to time, new restaurants whose quality is excellent and prices moderate—until they are discovered. It is a melancholy fact that the wider the circulation of books like The Good Food Guide, the more likely they are to be discovered; and the quicker they are to get spoiled.

* * This is not, I must hasten to add, an oblique attack on. Mr. Postgate. He seems to me to be doing a very useful and necessary job in creating the interest in good food and drink without which good restaurants would remain as rare as they are today. It is possible for a • good restaurant in France to remain good, in .spite of getting itself boosted in, say, .the Michelin, because there are so many good restaurants. An equivalent puff for a restaurant in London would have people flock- ing there and making it uninhabitable, simply because good restaurants are relatively few.

All I am suggesting is that a guide of this kind, in the present conditions, has certain limitations —which is perhaps why the Michelin people, though they have spread to other European countries,- have shown themselves reluctant to start up here.

I offered recently to recommend restaurants and hotels in •London to Spectator readers, privately; and I have been pleased, though not a little embarrassed, by the response. Embarrassed, because it has made me realise my limitations as an advisory bureau. In fact over hotels, I must confess to be of small help : those of us who live in London tend only to see hotels from the lounge aspect, which is of little use to visitors.

Over restaurants, I have tried to adopt a system not dissimilar to the Michelin; having five grades roughly according to the price range—five stars for reliable restaurants in the top grade, one star for reliable festaurants in the inexpensive grade. The list is available for any reader who would care to send for it; but I had better confess its limitations.

My experience of the restaurants in the top grade is perforce limited to the rare occasions when somebody very rich invites me out; and I do not know any very rich people. But I do have one or two friends who, in their official capacities, get taken out on expense accounts. They all agree (so, I see, does Mr. Postgate) on which is the best restaurant in London (with a reservation in favour of one which is up-and-coming). But they also agree that the expense account has been a destruc- tive influence. Although it helps a lot of people to eat better than they could ever otherwise have afforded to do, it also takes away some of the air of eating out; and that is a pity.

For atmosphere, it seems to me, counts far more than we realise : in all classes of restaurant. And it is difficult to maintain it when a high proportion of the lunchers or diners are there not because they appreciate the cooking, but because it happens to be the fashionable place for expense- accounters to go. Even the Tour d'Argent has had some sticky moments, losing, for a time that fate- ful last star that keeps it among Michelin's elite of Paris restaurants..

In my own list, therefore, I have tried to allow for atmosphere, even where l am aware that the cooking is erratic. This has not been easy to do because, in a sense, each restaurant recommended ought to be discussed individually—as Mr. Post- gate rightly tries to do. A list without qualifica- tions is dangerous; and I hope at some later date to compile something rather more elaborate— classing restaurants by types (French, Italian, Chinese, etc.) and by districts.

But first things first. The list as it stands is a rough guide : and if anybody wants more par- ticular information I shall be glad to provide it, if I can. Incidentally, I am very grateful to those readers who have volunteered information about restaurants they know. Their information has not been incorporated on the first list, but if their findings are confirmed, it will be revised from month to month with fresh names on it.

* * I am glad to see that the Baker anti Confec- tioner, though sceptical about my reference to bread with a half-inch crust, agrees with me that there is a need for bakers of what it calls 'oven- bottom' bread to 'cry their wares louder by building window displays of their speciality bread and supporting them with local advertising.' If the small baker wants to survive he can only do so by building up a speciality. trade : • and to do that he must attract custom, not wait for people to walk in and look around.