Obituary: Barnaby Hawkes, foodie

Born: 15 May, 1946, in Oxton. Died: 29 March, 2014, in Edinburgh, aged 67

Barnaby Hawkes: Elegant and mischievous former food manager of the George Hotels fine food restaurant in Edinburgh
Barnaby Hawkes: Elegant and mischievous former food manager of the George Hotels fine food restaurant in Edinburgh

The inimitable Barnaby Hawkes was for many years the highly respected manager of the fine foods division of Edinburgh’s exclusive George Hotel.

Tall and elegant and very much the gentleman, he was once described as having the demeanour of a defrocked bishop who regretted nothing, and he was a popular restaurant host who achieved legendary status during his 26 years at the hotel.

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Barnaby was famed for his dapper dress sense and naughty glint in his eye. Perhaps to the surprise of some who knew him, he was the son of the Archdeacon of Lindisfarne and was proud of having once been described as having an English accent that was so cut glass it made the Prince of Wales sound like a plumber.

The plummy English accent wasn’t always popular among the Edinburgh literati with whom he often mixed.

It is said that on hearing Barnaby recite a poem the poet Hugh MacDiarmid became so incensed that he almost had to be restrained – much to Barnaby’s amusement.

And yet the accent wasn’t contrived. It was part of an intended display of lavish delight in pomp and excellence that meant no offence. His intention was always benign, even when the teasing seemed barbed and the manner haughty.

He just loved excellence in food, drink, clothing and etiquette and yet he was in no way snobbish and was as popular in his hotel kitchens as he was on the floor of his restaurant where he counted many senior Edinburgh establishment figures as friends.

Barnaby had been born in Oxton and spent his childhood travelling with his family to a number of rectories throughout England.

He was fascinated by superb food from an early age and would recount how he was once as a child taken to London for a treat. Although latterly he had no memory of what the treat was, he could remember everything that he had eaten during the experience.

At the age of eight he was sent as only one of two boys to an Anglo-Catholic prep school of St Michaels, where he said he learnt to love both high church liturgy and the attention of women. His matron was later to recall that he had been very naughty.

His time at the East Midlands public school, Oakham, was less successful and he was expelled with three others: one for drinking, one for smoking and the third for girls. Barnaby would later boast that he himself was expelled for committing all three offences at the same time.

Soon afterwards he was working in the kitchens of P&O passenger steamers taking British émigrés to Australia and from there to a number of jobs selling everything from insurance to cars, acting as an election agent and even working for a while laying tar.

However, at the age of 24 he found himself working as a volunteer floor scrubber at Edinburgh’s newly established Traverse Theatre, before studying catering at Stevenson College for two years.

His attitude to service and catering was rare at that time in Scotland. He regarded Scottish ingredients as being among the finest in the world and would often tease that the reason he had stayed in Scotland so long was to try and educate the wretched Scots about the peerless excellence of their own food.

He also loved to serve that food and would exemplify the French tradition where the perfect serving of perfect food was seen as being a noble calling.

His time as manager of the George’s fine food restaurant, Le Chambertin, was possibly the peak of his career and he was widely seen in Edinburgh as being the “go-to” source for all advice on the best in food and drink, and as such was known to be a confidant of a number of senior politicians, judges and captains of industry.

For a brief period he ran his own restaurant in Edinburgh’s Advocate’s Close. It was a small establishment that sold very fine French food and wine, often to the accompaniment of his friend Robin Harper’s guitar playing.

In the 1980s he was commissioned by a Scottish broadsheet to make an incognito evaluation of the catering division of Caledonian MacBrayne shipping.

A deeply frustrated Barnaby wasn’t up to the job of being incognito and half way through the sample meal on one of the ships he leapt to his feet to instruct the waitress on how to carry plates, blowing his cover as he did so.

His personal life was a busy one.

A keen socialite, he was happily engaged at one stage to Lady Malitza Maitland, with whom he maintained a close friendship until her death in 2010, but he married Irene in 1974, with whom he had a son Jamie, who now lives in Australia.

A later relationship with Judith Barritt produced his beloved daughter Roz, who bore him two granddaughters, of whom he was very proud.

Barnaby’s other great passion was the liturgy and traditions of the Church and in his declining days he became the sacristan of Old St Paul’s in Edinburgh, typically delighting in delivering the right vestments and other equipment in perfect order and at the right time.

But food was always his obsession, and when he was recently asked to define his perfect meal, he chose Tournedos Rossini, truffles, foie gras with a 1961 Chateau Latour and a pear tarte tatin.

He is already much missed.