It was surely a philosopher who counselled: Before you embark on a 1,400-word, block-caps, centre-aligned, meandering and profoundly unhinged rant against a well-known critic beloved by much of the London food scene, which is then taken down in the face of universal condemnation, first dig two graves.
But sober reflection is not for Drunken Butler owner S Yuma Hashemi, who today — following a relatively lukewarm but not entirely damning first review in The Evening Standard — took to his restaurant’s own website homepage to detail his response in extraordinary fashion.
For a few short hours, alongside commonplace top-bar navigation headings like “Food”, “Wine”, “Reservations”, and “Contact” on www.thedrunkenbutler.com, there was a tab simply titled “Fay Maschler.” Underneath it, and a low-res black and white photo of the critic in question, the full horror unfolded.
Hashemi is not the first chef to engage in an activity that one Twitter user compared to having a row with the IT department (“you don’t win, especially if you think you’ve won”). But where onetime keyboard warrior Tom Sellers pulled the occasional punch in his now infamous Faymous screed — at times even occupying something that looks in hindsight like the moral high ground — Hashemi went unpleasantly personal early and often.
Intermittently nonsensical, too — which might explain why the piece went mildly viral among London food tweeps this afternoon. Read it more than a couple of times and certain phrases take on the air of Dadaist shock art: there’s probably a decent buck to be made in ironic t-shirts bearing slogans like “IT’S WILD AND IT’S SEA BASS (150G),” “PLASTERING WALLS IS QUIET SENSUAL,” and “THE BEEF YOU CLAIM TO HAVE PAID £28 WAS ACTUALLY £26 POUNDS.”
This is not the place to dignify some of the more lurid allegations (not least because they have the whiff of the legally actionable about them.) But it is worth pausing to ponder, again, what it is that chefs feel they have to gain from stunts like this.
Of course it is frustrating to have a pet project received in terms that are not ecstatic; of course that frustration is doubled when a critical verdict contains perceived inaccuracies or straight-up factual errors. But shouting for attention in the manner of Sellers and Hashemi risks obscuring what might — if argued differently — have come across as salient points. Buried among the deeply unsavoury attempts to get #THEDRUNKENFAY trending and sundry personal objections to how Maschler has chosen to write the review (another one for the t-shirt guy: “DINNER FOR ONE HAS NOT MUCH TO DO WITH THE ORIGINS OF OUR RESTAURANT”), Hashemi may even have some legitimate grievances. People — even experienced critics — make mistakes; if a mistake is so egregious it fundamentally misrepresents a restaurant, chefs and owners have a right to respond.
Quite how not this was the way to deliver that response can be gauged by the manner in which the piece circulated online. Quiet hilarity at its sheer bonkersness aside, a consensus quickly formed that this was a simply terrible, self-immolating piece of restaurant PR — an active deterrent to at least one prospective customer. Which may explain why it disappeared mere hours later.
The internet, though, has a long memory. Much as he might wish otherwise, Hashemi may find London struggles to forget this one, too.