AA Gill, the most-read restaurant critic of the current generation, died at the age of 62, his paper The Sunday Times announced last weekend, less than three weeks after he used a restaurant review to break the news of his cancer.
Gill was almost certainly the only writer on food Britain has produced who could have been described as our greatest journalist, as did his colleague Lynn Barber.
Not only that, you have to admire anyone who drove around in an ageing aquamarine Rolls Royce, numberplate “AA GLL”.
In 2008, Harden’s took a full Gill broadside in an article scorning a number of guides. At some level, we were rather flattered to be singled out for a particular drubbing, after all the only thing worse than bad PR is being ignored. His beef with us, as with many journalists to this day, was a lack of sympathy with an approach based on surveys and ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’. He was shrewd enough to spot earlier than many of his peers the size of the existential threat that the growing importance of such a methodology posed the journalistic trade. Whether the rubbishing he doled out was based on keenly felt intellectual objections, or a business-minded desire to protect his trade we will never now know.
From 2010, when we entered our partnership on The Food List with The Sunday Times, there was an amusing annual skirmish whereby the writers on the supplement would try and enlist Gill to write something supportive of it. In the end, they gave up.
In person, he was as formidably dapper as his public persona suggested, and – when occasionally spotted out and about near his SW10 home – every bit the jaunty Chelsea man about town. In conversation, he was extremely sharp on the business side of the newspaper trade; and – aside from something of a gimlet-gaze – everything that has been written about his personal charm and fellow-well-met style being in sharp contrast to his harshness in print was born out by the Harden’s experience of meeting him.
A reformed alcoholic who always struggled with severe dyslexia, Gill learned to cook when he abandoned a career as a struggling artist. Food was apparently in his family: his brother Nick, who disappeared almost 20 years ago, was a gifted chef who had worked at Hambleton Hall in Rutland.
A controversialist and essayist rather than true critic, Gill’s reviews famously focussed on conveniently-located London hotpsots, and only finally meandered around to the restaurant itself in the closing 1/3 of the article. Although his star ratings – not awarded by him, but by his editors – were not terribly reliable, his pieces were always worth reading, and typically carried many grains of truth, even if the overall conclusion was more variable. His dazzling flights of erudition, opinion or vilification as the mood took him, will be remembered long after his untimely departure. Photo: Francesco Guidicini/Sunday Times