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85 Grub Street

Gerald Long would have licked his lips.

The Evening Standard disclosed yesterday that the world's "most famous cookery school", Le Cordon Bleu, will open a huge new French gastro-hub at 85 Fleet Street, the storied home of Reuters for many years.

The 124-year-old Parisian institution, the Standard reported, is taking a long lease on two storeys of the Baronial building where it will launch a new restaurant, café and cooking school. It will take over the space occupied by Sir Terence Conran's Lutyens Restaurant which went bust last year.

Long, general manager between 1963 and 1981, was noted for presiding over Reuters astounding growth from an impecunious agency to a financial giant - and also for his passion for good food.

He was easily aroused to anger and nothing incensed him more than indifferent grub.

Woe betide any foreign bureau chief who did not ensure a lavish supply of top grade food and wine when he made one of his Baronial visits. Many a career was undermined by a glass of plonk.

One festive season Long's official Xmas card for the Reuters troops comprised nothing more than a recipe for his perfect Ratatouille.

Staff lunch in his boardroom could be a fraught affair, especially for the hungry hacks honoured to be to be seated below the salt.

"That's MY salad," he once growled at a journo who had dared to dig into an enticing bowl of greenery beside him - and grabbed it back to himself.

For most of us the culinary heights of 85 Fleet Street rested in the staff canteen - full English breakfasts with beans and chips and eggs swimming in frying pan fat.

But of course there also was the "trolleeee", trundled into the newsroom twice a day by doughty ladies in pinnies who dished out strong tea and more solid fare to the deskbound, lined up with their mugs in scenes reminiscent of Oliver Twist. (I particularly liked the cold bread-and-butter-pudding, a slab or two of which probably would have plugged the hole on the Titanic).

On one occasion, food occasioned a tight-lipped disciplinary lecture by a newsroom editor on the need to show more consideration to our Fleet Street neighbours.

The Vicar of next-door St Bride's had complained, we were sternly told, of "tea or bread" being flung from our windows onto the churchyard below.

I don't suppose the vicar's successor would mind quite so much if some leavings from Le Cordon Bleu - perhaps a Ratatouille or two - were to descend today from the heavens above. ■