The greatest writer on restaurants has died after a short battle with cancer at 62. Gill has said that overcoming his alcoholism and ennui at 30 gave him a second life that he was eternally grateful for. His final (incredible) column in The Sunday Times revealed he had no anger with his condition and saying goodbye.
Many will know of Gill’s idiosyncrasies; massively dyslexic, he had to dictate his columns over the phone. He was a political leftie, whilst best friends with Jeremy Clarkson and no stranger to high society. He was an immaculate baroque dresser, who had lived homeless with drink and drug addiction. Unflinchingly harsh in his reviews yet praised for his compassion by nearly everyone he met (his brother has also been missing since 1998). He was famously thrown out of Gordon Ramsay’s heyday restaurant, Aubergine, with Joan Collins. Most pleasingly of all, Piers Morgan hated him.
First and foremost he was a creative genius in his writing. Gill had such a samurai sharp turn of phrase that by the time you had worked out what he meant, he was on to the next one:
‘’This was chalet girl cooking’’ is one of the most astute rebukes of a restaurant dinner you’ll ever hear. So on point. Nothing more needed. Perfectly offensive. It couldn’t have come out of anyone else’s mouth.
His reviews carried weight that only Fay Maschler could rival – but it was his writing that set him apart from everyone else. His style was gonzo, his cojones were gigantic, he gave no fuck for political correctness. Other writers embarrass themselves when doing so. Gill comes up smelling of roses (irony not lost on this writer). He was revered and feared in the industry. Even the most gnarly chefs would respect his unpredictable, acerbic critique, as if he were some sort of dominatrix.
Here are some more of his best words:
‘Rolf Harris is a hard man to hate, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.’
‘..his whole demeanour was ironic, long before irony became fashionable. Mark appeard to be wearing himself as a costume’
‘When I joined the Sunday Times the people I was competing with were all 10 or 15 years younger, they all had double firsts from Oxford or Cambridge, they were all bright as new pins. But I’d spent that 15 years wetting myself and getting into fights and living a sort of subterranean life but it meant I had had 15 years more experience – which was incredibly useful, and meant that I just wrote better than they did.
‘Pasta is eaten by happy, smiley people having fun with people they love or fancy and are about to shag. Noodles are eaten by people who have no friends.’
‘PizzaExpress is a sort of gastronomic post-modern version of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. We’ve all been here and done that… Only Hannibal Lecter would conceivably have a favourite Café Rouge or All Bar One, but everyone has a favourite PizzaExpress.’
‘Addicts and alcoholics, we tend to be a lot more observant of people. There is a lot about being an addict that makes you very duplicitous. I can tell very quickly when people are lying.’
‘Facts are what pedantic, dull people have instead of opinions’
I realise I don’t have a bucket list; I don’t feel I’ve been cheated of anything. I’d like to have gone to Timbuktu, and there are places I will be sorry not to see again. But actually, because of the nature of my life and the nature of what happened to me in my early life – my addiction – I know I have been very lucky.
If Gill’s writing was more electric than anyone else, his devotion to consistently tell the coldest truths, was a bolt of lightning in a world of drizzly, sycophantic falseness. We need more people like this.
AA Gill has inspired so many to write, to cook, to raise standards, to complain and to laugh. He will be greatly missed. I will miss his writing tremendously and read and re-read his back catalogue till it’s my time to go.
AA Gill’s rare double 5 star London reviews went to: