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Egon Ronay (above) and his inspectors—masked to preserve anonymity—taste tea

There was a time when Christmas was the only occasion the British thought seriously about food. Some put this down to the awfulness of our wartime diet, others to our Anglo-Saxon culture, freezing and wet at Europe’s northern fringe, which regarded food more as fuel than cuisine. I came across a third explanation while researching my new book about Egon Ronay, the Hungarian food critic and campaigner. In his first London restaurant guide in 1959 Ronay attacked the “scandalously inferior and stupidly spartan feeding a large section of the better-off…

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