24 MARCH 1967, Page 27

Grub stakes


It is sometimes said that the English are the only nation who will discuss food while eating it. Perhaps that is because food, like the weather, has become an English preoccupation, both being generally bad, sometimes good, but nearly always unpredictable. So we have weather forecasts that have become so long, elaborate and vague that one is tempted to call them blether forecasts. And we have the Ronay library of food guides (which now includes a 5s 'Good Living Map of Britain' sponsored by Castrol) and the older and still more in- fluential Good Food Guide (21s) founded by Raymond Postgate and published by the Con- sumers' Association, not to mention about seventy local consumer group journals, some of which, like Hampstead's, have published local guides to good eating, and, like Oxford's this month, have analysed the local supplies of fish and chips.

It used to be 'I know a nice little place where . . Now you find it in the GFG or Ronay. Or, if you find it yourself, you keep it to yourself, which is selfish, if sensible, and would not earn you any stars in Raymond Post- gate's eyes. In his new edition he has not gone as far as Michelin or Ronay-style codes of approval, but has given a Good Food Award to eighteen restaurants for consistently high standards. One of them goes to the Royal

Hotel, Comrie, Perthshire; one to a French-run restaurant in Lancashire, the Normandie,

Birtle; another to a Chinese restaurant in Lime- house, the Good Friends; another to Tiberio, a Roman-style eatery in Mayfair (recently slated in the Sunday Times for its indifference to lone and hungry ladies). Parkes, the Knights- bridge place where the waiters recite the menu to you dish by dish while your mouth waters so that you can't answer back, is another award-winner.

I was surprised to find Prunier's excluded from the select list, if consistency of high stan- dards is the criterion. But there can be little doubt that the good things to eat in life at that level are far from free. The outstanding facts about eating out in Britain are that you will have to pay a lot for good food, and it will almost certainly not be British.

The Gaskell Arms Hotel, Much Wenlock, makes a big fuss about its 'Full French Ser- vice and Lamp Service' (this last seems to mean that they cook everything under your nose). The King's Head, Ivinghoe, serves French onion soup and shashlik. The Sun Inn, Kelvedon, offers coq au vin, quenelles and tournedos Rossini. The Carlton Grill, Kendal, lists boeuf Stroganoll. And so on. It is a relief to turn to the entry for the Baker and Oven, appropriately near Baker Street, and read of the pleasant English food it serves. The French 'flu, as the guide rightly terms the disease, has ruined many a promising hostelry that has confused better cooking with haute cuisine and now serves neither.

This is one of the big differences between the Michelin approach (the new guide is just out and still 25s), based on the safe assumption that a French restaurant will serve French food, and any attempt to classify the cosmopolitan, imitative and constantly changing catering that passes for a national cuisine in this country. What I like about the GFG is the fact that all the entries bear the names of the recom- menders. Not that one knows whether one would entirely share the taste of Canon Back- house or Lord Shuttleworth. But if, say, Mar- garet Costa likes a place, it's a safe bet that anyone else would, too. And there are names like Cyril Ray, Katharine Whitehorn and Pamela Vandyke Pryce, all of whom have firm opinions about food, drink, service and money. Follow them and you can't go far wrong.

Talking of money, the Michelin, which is always impossible to review without doing a tour of France book in hand, includes this year

a red blob against towns where there are hotels charging thirty francs or less for full pension and a red circle if there are restaurants there charging ten francs or less for a meal. Need- less to say, the Paris section, over thirty pages of knives and forks, has no red circles.

Carpet manufacturers and retailers have been asked to stop using the term Al. The Retail Trading-Standards Association has had a lot of complaints from people whose so-called Al carpet has worn out in two years or so instead of lasting the expected four or five. The term is apparently an ancient Board of Trade designation under a wartime regulation and means Imperial Axminster with a minimum finished weight of 1.333 lb per square yard. In practice, it now means little or nothing, except that the carpet in question is Axminster, which is a kind of weave. The RT-SA suggests that carpets deserving Al under the old definition should now be called `light duty'l