Some of the celebs who ‘approved’ restaurants and inns in The Good Food Guide of 1961 – 62 were poets, journalists, novelists and literary translators. Two of them—Keidrych Rhys (1915 – 87), the Welsh poet and veteran editor of the literary magazine Wales, and Michael Meyer, the prize-winning translator and biographer of Ibsen and Strindberg, and a friend of Raymond Postgate—feature prominently in the London section of the Guide.
Along with drama and good conversation , the greatest passion of Meyer (1921 – 2000), according to a friend, was food. He writes about his passion for it in his autobiography, Not Prince Hamlet (1985), and doubtless he was instrumental in recommending good eating places to his friend Raymond Postgate. Certainly, he is one of the more frequent ‘approvers‘ to appear in the Guide and at one point was expected to succeed as its editor. Eclectic in his tastes and apparently prepared to trawl London for good places to eat, one of his favourite restaurants was Fiddlers Three in Beauchamp Place, Kensington, very close to the trendy Parkes ( see earlier Jot). Appropriately for such a fan of European culture, the food seems to have had a pronounced East European flavour; dishes included ‘ goulash, boiled silverside and dumplings, whole small pigeon, stuffed baby marrows, prune and orange jelly, home-made soups, kedgeree with cheese sauce, and home-made cream cheese’. Translation work often pays well, which explains why Meyer was also able to afford Chelsea’s La Carafe, a branch of the famous fish restaurant Wheeler’s, where lobster Cardinal ( 15/-) and 32 varieties of sole were on the menu.
Rhys doesn’t appear to have been as much a foodie as Meyer, but he too enjoyed traditional Polish food. At his favourite haunt, the Cresta Restaurant in Heath Street, Hampstead, he would have been offered such delicacies as forszmak dragomirowski (chicken and ham prepared in cider in a spiced cream sauce with cheese, mushrooms and red peppers), while elsewhere some of the impoverished contributors to his magazine doubtless survived on saveloy and chips.
Incidentally, Nigel Lawson, a financial journalist before becoming Mrs Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, was a bit of a gourmet, and doubtless handed down his gastronomical genes to his daughter Nigella. Writing for The Financial Times and The Sunday Telegraph must have paid well, for in 1961 one of Nigel’s favourite restaurants was the swanky La Reserve, described by Postgate as ‘ very expensive ‘. Indeed, poussin Mimi Trottin came in at 15/6d ( more than La Carafe’s lobster Cardinal), with chicken with almonds at the same price. Most Chancellors leave office much fatter than when they began and both Lawson and my late uncle, Denis Healey, who was not a foodie, were no exceptions. Luckily for their health, both had the good sense to slim down drastically later on.