William Sitwell’s history of eating out reminds us painfully of what we’re missing

In the concluding chapter of this book the Daily Telegraph’s restaurant critic and recovering vegan-baiter William Sitwell muses on the collapse of Jamie Oliver’s empire last year: ‘His endeavour, passion and hard work wasn’t enough… it was part of a bursting bubble.’ Since then more mid-range chains have announced their imminent demise. Teetering before lockdown, it’s not just the prospect of months of closure and general uncertainty that’s pushing them over the brink but decades of oversupply and a reliance on a cynical model of successful restaurants selling on and out. This book feels timely: a reminder of what we currently can’t have, and how the sector came to be.

How did the ancients cope in a crisis?

When a major crisis strikes in the modern world, the state and international bodies such as the IMF and World Health Organisation come to the rescue. The ancients in such situations had recourse only to a culture of personal or public benefaction, self-help and (where relevant) legal action: when in ad 27 a ramshackle stadium built for a gladiatorial show at Fidenae collapsed with 50,000 maimed or killed, the impresario was exiled and new building regulations passed. It was the first emperor Augustus (d. ad 14) who created a template for imperial intervention, establishing a rudimentary fire service, putting in extreme measures to deal with famine in Rome and initiating