Chorles Higson meets the UK’s most depraved food critic
When I first see d’Urquhart, he is squatting outside the Tesco on Goodge Street, devouring a bag of various pastries from Gregg’s. He appears to have mushed the mix of Steak Bakes, Cornish Pasties, and Sausage & Egg Melts into one sloppy mess, and is shoveling it into and around his face. Disturbingly, he seems to be missing his mouth a fair bit on purpose, and much of the mix (“a mere base for the meals to come later”, as he describes it) is falling onto his ample torso, where he rubs it into his clothing.
I wait in silence for him to finish, and after three of the most horrifying minutes of my life, he does, greeting me warmly. Small bits of his snack erupt from his mouth and fly into my face. A wet chunk from a Chicken Bake hits my eye, causing me to be too distracted to pay full attention to what he’s saying. Next thing I know, he has dragged me into a nearby Italian restaurant, and is shouting incomprehensibly at the maître d’. We are brought four bottles of red wine, and one of white, which he tells me is in case I’m a homosexual.
d’Urquhart, who writes for the Times, the Telegraph and the Observer, is known to make or break a restaurant with a single pithy phrase. The waiting staff around us hover nervously until he spits red wine at one girl who gets too close, after which they keep a more respectful distance. I ask Urquhart if he’s ever found the perfect restaurant, and he laughs uproariously at me for several minutes, interrupted by the arrival of his calamari starter. He consumes it in seconds, and then resumes his cackling for another full 60 seconds. When he calms down, he tells me that he has, “but I’m not letting that cat out of the bag. Everyone will want to go there. They might get rid of the seat they had made for me.” I use this as an opportunity to gracefully segue into a sensitive question about his large body of work, which is obviously massive. However, two more starters arrive, so he doesn’t hear my question over the sound of his jaws mechanically obliterating the contents of the plates in front of him.
The way he behaved, that long, tortuous evening, has convinced me that he truly does enjoy life more than everyone else in the world. He never tires of food nor drink. Mortal pleasures are unlimited for him. He is the utility monster. Personally, I had an exquisite meal of refined and knowingly modern Italian food, which I found utterly delightful. d’Urquhart, however, dismissed the restaurant as “half-arsed”, complaining that the bread basket “wasn’t life-fulfilling, as it ought to be”. He stomped out of the restaurant, knocking over a young child in his path with his immense girth. I was left with the bill of close to a thousand pounds, and with a lesson ingrained in my heart: man’s depravity is bottomless, but disgust just sort of levels off after the first few times you throw up.
This article appeared in CG 42.