Delia’s got it wrong about our restaurants

Were restaurants better in the 1970s? Delia Smith thinks they were. But she's wrong.

Was restaurant food better in the 1970s than it is now? Delia Smith thinks it was. The "gifted amateurs" who opened restaurants in those days were more in touch with what people wanted than today's leading cooks. "If I am in a Michelin-starred restaurant and they have done this beautiful little smoked haddock souffl in a thimble, I would like to order a whole big plateful. No, I'm not for four-course tasting menus," she says. In the 1970s, you got simple, classic meals and knew what you were getting. She's especially fond of the Wiveton Hall Caf in Cley next the Sea, in Norfolk: plenty of fresh food (it's on a farm); plenty of fresh fish, too. Nor does it cost much, as I discovered when I rang it: about £14.50 for lunch, much less if you just have a bowl of mushroom soup or lobster bisque. Other dishes include crab salad, poached salmon and broad bean and Parmesan tart.

Michael Winner agrees. "In the 1970s, food was indeed simpler," he wrote in the Daily Mail. "There were wonderful dishes that are considered antiquated today. Shrimp cocktail was a favourite. Juicy shrimps on a bed of lettuce with a pink sauce. Main courses were simply described as roast lamb with vegetables' and that's what appeared." The best food Winner ever ate was at Wiltons in London's Jermyn Street, then run by a "wonderful" cockney called Jimmy Marks. "Everything at Wilton's in those days was so fresh that Jimmy wouldn't keep it in the fridge overnight. Another nearby restaurant, Prunier's, would send for [his] unsold fish at close of business and serve it the next day." There were no celebrity chefs then, as Winner says. No one knew, or cared, who the chef was. "Now every twit who thinks he can fry an egg is giving interviews all over the place, and appearing endlessly on TV, and food has suffered because of it."

He may have a point, but I'm old enough to remember the 1970s and I'd say most restaurant food is better now. There are places where, as Winner puts it, the food "often resembles dots on a plate, amid coloured squiggles", but there are also lots of good restaurants, many more than there used to be, and plenty of them don't have celebrity chefs the Wolseley in London's Piccadilly, for example. Is the food as fresh as it was in the 1970s? I've no idea. But the sole I had in Wilton's last week was delicious, and tasted perfectly fresh to me.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

We only have one account of the famous pre-Christmas meal hosted by Rebekah Brooks. It comes from Jeremy Clarkson in The Sunday Times. One topic of conversation, it seems, was sausage rolls. "We [the Camerons, the Clarksons, Rebekah and her husband, James Murdoch and a few others] were planning a big walk with all our kids over Christmas and thought it might be a good idea to build a fire in my woods and stop off for a picnic. Rebekah was worried about what we'd eat. Cameron thought sausage rolls would be nice. My wife said she'd get some." Apart from that, Clarkson and James Murdoch argued about the environment ("He likes it and I don't"). BSkyB was not mentioned. Nor was phone hacking."

Tabloid money Labour was so deeply in Murdoch's bosom it couldn't breathe

"I've always been an admirer of Machiavellian talent," says Brian Reade in the Daily Mirror, but Alastair Campbell is "excelling himself". "For someone who so shamelessly delivered Labour's soul to Murdoch to decry the cosying up to him is breathtaking hypocrisy. Campbell it was who sent Tony Blair half-way round the world to suck up to Murdoch, orchestrated a cynical media feeding frenzy for a decade and was accused of sexing up a dossier to take us to war. Yet he is now all over the airwaves glorying in fellow journalists' bleak times, telling us all to get back to being honest and open'. Mainly because he is trying to sell his memoirs about a time when he pushed Labour so deeply into Murdoch's bosom it couldn't breathe. Here's a snippet, in which he notes: A terrific leader in The Sun which said I was brilliant'."

If Alan Sugar had been looking for an apprentice, Helen "would have walked it", says Shelley Vision in the Daily Mirror. "She won 11 of the 12 challenges often single-handedly." But she was "in the wrong series". This time Lord Sugar was looking for someone in whom he could invest £250,000. This ruled out Helen who, in Margaret Mountford's withering judgement, lacked any entrepreneurial flair.

The only plausible candidate was Inventor Tom'. "Never mind that he consistently demonstrated that he was a complete buffoon. Last week he created a brand of British pies in honour of explorer Christopher Columbus, who he thought discovered the potato in America. Throughout he proved himself to be spineless and indecisive." His business plan for selling ergonomic chairs to offices was dismissed by Sugar's business lieutenants as "confusing and obtuse" and "full of financial errors". Sugar labelled him The Master of Hindsight' and didn't "sound like a man who was going to give him £250,000". But in the end, given the other candidates, he had little choice.