The Good Food Guide: A History

08 Sep 2013
3 min read
In light of The Good Food Guide’s Top 50 restaurants list being announced last week, FOUR magazine looks back at the history of the prestigious culinary institute and how it’s changed (very little, it turns out) over the years…

Take yourself back to 1951 for just a moment. It’s post-war Britain and you want to celebrate with a fine-dining foray. But where do you go in a country thats culinary scene seems broken beyond repair?

At the end of the eighteenth century, British food was considered on par or in some cases, better, than that of the French. Yet by 1950, at a time when Britain was still clawing its way out of the trenches of the Second World war, its culinary repute had sunk so low, it was considered among the worst in the world. For those of you who describe yourselves as ‘gourmands to the core’, you may want to look away now: foods considered as luxury consisted of mock cream, synthetic custard and margarine masquerading. Something, clearly, needed to be done.

Cue Raymond William Postgate, classical scholar, economist, social historian, journalist, crime writer and the founder of The Good Food Guide who took it upon himself (thankfully) to start a campaign against what he described as a ‘cruelty to food’ which culminated in the first Good Food Guide in 1951 – a compilation of recommendations from people all over the country of decent places to eat in Britain. Finally, Britain’s fine-dining scene was emerging out of the rubble and redefining itself as the culinary treasure trove its known, world-wide, as today.

If it’s not broken, why fix it?

Clearly strong advocates of this age-old mantra, the team at The Good Food Guide have changed very little of the work that Raymond started all those years ago, way back when. A snippet from The Good Food Guide 1951 shows Postgate’s method as Editor of the Guide which is very similar to the system used to compile the book today –

‘My own business, as President and Editor, is merely to receive and co-ordinate […] reports, edit them, and prepare them for publication. When I receive a recommendation, I must write to the inn concerned – not disclosing the member’s name or what he has said – asking some standard questions about prices, specialities in the kitchen, and so on; thereafter, I must try and arrange for another active member living nearby to drop in unannounced and find out if the first member’s experience was only a happy accident or if the cooking and courtesy is still at a high standard. If possible, it is best to try and get two members to visit as “inspectors”, but that is not always feasible.’

Today, The Guide has a team of annonyomous insprectors across the UK. They inspect establishments by eating at the restaurant like any other consumer, never announced, alone or in groups, at lunch or at dinner and on any day of the week. Some retsurants appear in the Guide regularly but they have to earn their place in each new edition; written from scratch every year The Guide promises new entries, changes of scores and deletions, entirely unadulterated by any prior rankings.

The Good Food Guide 2014

This year’s guide was announced earlier this month on 4 September 2013 with some surprising results. Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, which has scored a perfect ten for six years in a row— longer than any other restaurant since the Guide adopted its current scoring system in 1998 – was superseded from top place by Simon Rogan’s Cumbrian restaurant, L’Enclume. The current top ten of the Guide’s UK Top 50 restaurants list is as follows:

1. Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume – Cumbria

2. Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck – Berkshire

3. Nathan Outlaw’s Nathan Outlaw- Cornwall

4. Sat Bains’ Sat Bains- Nottingham

5. Gordon Ramsay’sRestaurant Gordon Ramsay – London

6. Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social – London

7. Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus – London

8. Phil Howard’s The Square – London

9. Brett Graham’s The Ledbury – London

10. Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons – Oxford

The latest edition sees all the same names as in the top 10 as in 2013, with Cornwall’s Nathan Outlaw rising to number three from number 5 and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford falling down the list from No. 7 to No. 10.

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