No longer reliant on a range of often contradictory sources, Sitwell can draw freely on interviews and his own experiences. Le Gavroche and Bibendum get their own chapters, while The Fat Duck, Yo Sushi and Quo Vadis receive walk-on roles. I found the discussion of Alan Crompton-Batt and the rise of the superstar chef fascinating; and, while the lists of the great and the good are occasionally tedious, the narrative generally works and in the end is supremely readable. As its subtitle promises, this book is indeed a history of eating out — a very personal one.
Sitwell is particularly entertaining on the past few decades of British cooking (with an amusing digression on the restaurant PR supremo Alan Crompton-Batt: “It was not a good time to ring someone and say, ‘We’re doing terribly interesting things with a duck down in Harrow…’ ”), which leaves one wondering whether the book might have been better with a narrower remit and more time spent on home turf. Some will be horrified to discover that, say, the River Café does not feature, or that St John gets only a passing mention, but Sitwell is frank about this being a personal, not a comprehensive, history.