Obituary: Sue Miles

Sue Miles, who worked at Time Out during the early '70s, died Friday October 8 aged 66. Brought up initially in Hollywood (her father was showbiz correspondent for the Mirror), she went to art school in Cheltenham and together with husband Barry Miles became a pivotal figure in '60s London counter-culture

  • Obituary: Sue Miles

    Sue at L'Escargot, photographed by Pearce Marchbank, 1973

  • Sue worked briefly at Time Out, initially as a contributor to the first and second 'Book of London' and later as its first proper restaurant columnist. She was well equipped for both jobs. Sue knew everyone from Paul McCartney to the best plumber in the West End and had a canny knack for cutting the crap and getting things done. If you wanted an emergency locksmith or needed to know where to buy decent olives – not easy at the time – Sue had the answers.

    She was one of the first people to own a Filofax, the '60s ring-binder equivalent of the iPhone, rivalling Jim Haynes, who ran the Arts Laboratory – an underground version of the ICA – in Drury Lane. I first met Sue when we both worked at the Arts Lab in the late '60s.
    Sue ran the café. She was an imposing figure who looked like a female Mick Jagger, dressed stylishly, sort of boho chic, and spoke in a loud transatlantic drawl. She had a contagious dirty laugh and a scurrilous, cynical take on life – and she didn’t suffer fools.

    We shared a room upstairs at TO’s cramped, shambolic King's Cross offices for a bit. Sue hated it and didn't know what she should be doing in an office, it was totally alien to her. One day, I remember, she’d just taken delivery of some fabulous custom-made navy blue boots (from Gohils, the Camden Town cobbler) with large Mr Freedom-style silver stars, which she proceeded to pick off. Another time she’d had her long, wild hair tamed into a neat bob and spent the afternoon messing it up with her impatient artistic hands.

    Although Sue remained a frequent visitor to Time Out – she married Pearce Marchbank, its seminal art director – she soon traded restaurant reviewing for cooking in restaurant kitchens, leaving me to take over as TO’s restaurant critic. Sue was an accomplished self-taught cook with an enviable batterie de cuisine of professional pots and pan, knives, Le Creuset casserole and terrine dishes and enough white china to open a restaurant. Her cooking was grounded in Elizabeth David, relying on good ingredients cooked simply but with verve.

    Her first foray was blagging a job at Food For Thought, an exciting vegetarian café in Covent Garden. From there, far more ambitiously, she ran Didier, with her friend Pagan Gregory, in Little Venice, and started to get good reviews. She was at the vanguard of the '80s restaurant revival, first at L’Escargot and later at Soho Brasserie, on the way nurturing or working with many now familiar chefs: Alastair Little, Rowley Leigh, Adam Robinson, Juliet Peston and Angela Dwyer. 

    She turned down the opportunity to join Rose Gray, once Time Out’s Kids editor, at the River Café. Sue decamped to Rome (but not before winking at me from the kitchen at Sonny’s in Barnes as I scribbled notes) to run McDonalds, then an altogether more upmarket operation than in Britain, where she introduced salad to the menu.

    Later she ran the Jazz Café in Camden Town for the Mean Fiddler group before eventually moving to Suffolk, where she ran the kitchen of the Crown Hotel at Southwold for Adnams, and finally the nearby Thorpeness Brasserie.

    Late in 2009 Sue was diagnosed with lung cancer and a brain tumour. As Jonathon Green wrote in his touching Guardian obituary, ‘She would have scorned the idea of "struggle"; she simply had the necessary treatments but they wouldn’t take.’ Sue died peacefully and leaves her two children with Pearce Marchbank, Otis and Celine.
    Susan Miles, activist and restaurateur, March 20 1944 - October 8 2010

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