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.
Sitwell is upfront about his book. He describes himself as a storyteller, and apologises for omitting places or people the reader might feel are missing, though I’m not sure this makes up for his giant leap from 1837 to 1923 without any mention of César Ritz or Auguste Escoffier, both regarded with good reason as seminal figures in the history of restaurants.