Sunday, June 26, 2011
Hawksmoor's Slating & Jailing Food Critics
For the second weekend in a row now AA Gill has managed to stir up a hornet’s nest among food bloggers by doing what he’s paid to do – putting the boot in, upsetting people, and getting as many column inches as he can in the process. Last weekend, he came under a storm of derision when he slammed the lack of critical commentary in food blogs, suggesting they were giving suppliers and restaurants an easy ride to maximise their PR freebies.
Today, he sparked more spleen-venting by having a swipe at what Hardens called that “Twitter sacred cow” Hawksmoor, the fashionable steak restaurant in Covent Garden. After panning the starters, he turned his attention to what he called the main event - the steak. He said their bone-in prime rib for two was undercooked, had the “texture of fat-slag thigh”, and eating it “felt like something you should do in a gym”.
Despite commenting that the béarnaise sauce was cold, and “everything seemed to be covered, or exuding tacky pools of beefy lard”, he said he had sympathy for the chefs because they are at the mercy of the butcher (The Ginger Pig) and there’s “not much you can do to rescue a badly bred and underhung sirloin”.
The bloggers and fans were incensed. How dare he? Not Hawksmoor. The owners were clearly upset, but very dignified about it, saying they hoped his “absolute slating” was outweighed by the thousands of people who love their chain.
“About 200 messages of support on Twitter today. Thanks so much. Tomorrow we sit down and try to get better, same as every Monday,” they twatted.
But some fans clearly took the attack even more to heart, reminding people what a talentless, horrible little man Gill is. Some pointed out that it was best just to ignore him, and then ignored their own advice by tweeting endlessly about him for the next few hours.
Such was the outrage and shock, it left me wondering whether they’d like to see him extradited to Taiwan, where the authorities take a very dim view of troublesome food critics like Mr Gill.
On Friday, a 28-year-old woman became the second food blogger in a week to be hauled before the courts for having the nerve to write something bad about a restaurant. The blogger, referred to only in the court papers by her surname Hsia, became embroiled in a lawsuit after she accused a yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurant in Gongguan, Taipei, of using a rusty grill to cook beef.
She posted a photo of the grill on her blog, and was then sued for defamation by the eatery which claimed the “rust” was actually barbecue sauce that hadn’t been cleaned off properly. Well that’s alright then. Perfectly understandable. Twenty lashes and it’ll all be sorted.
But she then raked up the embers further by blogging about how she was being sued by the business, which she compared to a “fat, arrogant cockroach”. She claimed that some Taiwanese firms, like the restaurant, were using the courts to silence negative comments, and by doing so “managed to continue to hassle the human world because everyone turns a blind eye to them, allowing the cockroaches to grow fat and become arrogant.”
Not surprisingly, this threw even more beefy fat on the fire, and the restaurant launched a second legal action against her - this time for the more serious charge of “public humiliation”.
Banciao District prosecutors ruled that her original review – which included photographic evidence of the grill and some positive comments about the food – was not defamatory. But they said her cockroach comments were definitely below the belt, and crossed the well-greased line from fair comment to libel. They decided her little-read blog had damaged the restaurant’s reputation, and charged her with public humiliation.
On Tuesday, another food blogger was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay £4,400 after she wrote a negative review of a beef noodle restaurant in Taichung, saying the food was “too salty”, the owner was a "bully" who did not enforce parking rules, and there were cockroaches in the restaurant.
The owner sued her for defamation, saying the review sparked many calls to the restaurant to verify the blogger's claims. The Taiwan High Court ruled that her post should not have referred to all the dishes as "too salty," since she only had one dish, and the conditions were not as unsanitary as she claimed when they later went to inspect (presumably after the place had been given a good deep-clean). The blogger was originally sentenced to 30 days in prison, but this was downgraded to a two-year suspended sentence after she agreed to compensate the restaurant.
It remains to be seen how the “rusty grill” woman will be treated. But the threat of a crowded prison cell in a country not known for its human rights – if you haven’t got £4,400 to avoid it - is a hell of a price to pay when you’re not getting paid to write the stuff in the first place.
Judging by the reaction on Twitter, I reckon there must be many who think Gill deserves a similar fate, but whatever you say about the “vile twat”, thank God there are still countries in the world where he can say it.