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The Times Drops Paywall in Solidarity with Critic Accused of Racist Review

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Giles Coren’s restaurant review of Kaki has had its paywall lifted so everyone can read it


The Times has removed the paywall on its restaurant critic Giles Coren’s latest review — of Kaki, a new Sichuan Chinese restaurant in King’s Cross — following widespread criticism from readers who have labelled its content racist. It is thought that because only the opening lines of the review were visible above the paywall, The Times wanted to give non-subscribers the opportunity to read the review in its entirety.

In it, Coren opens with a representation of the exchange between himself and the staff member at Kaki who allegedly answered the phone in Mandarin. Coren chronicles it from his own perspective:

When I phoned Kaki to see if one needed to book, the guy answered the phone in Chinese.


“Um, hi. Is that Kaki?” I asked.


“Okay, thanks. I’ll see you later.”

He subsequently writes what he perceives will have been the staff member’s hearing of his speech, prefaced, “for balance,” with “in case you think there was something racist or xenophobic or in any way grotty about my transcription of the conversation”:

Him: “Good afternoon. This is Kaki restaurant. How may I help you?”


Coren’s — and evidently the Times’ own — reason for making the article public is to present the opening lines in the context of the whole review, which the writer says demonstrate his observation that there is “humour in two men not sharing a language.” The assumption seems to be that the vast majority of the article’s critics have not read the review in its entirety, since only the opening lines are visible above the paywall. Coren’s editor did not respond to request for comment.

Nonetheless, the issue many complainants have with the entire article is that not only is it demeaning to a historically marginalised culture and race in the U.K., to read it in isolation is to ignore the very context of Coren’s work — over many years — more generally. A Twitter thread posted on Sunday by Eater London contributor Jonathan Nunn included past instances of Coren using not just racial slurs, but also joking about rape, misogyny, ableism, and issuing threats to those who challenged or insulted him.

His review of Kaki, from readers with or without that context, has elicited a particularly charged response.

Among those who were first to criticise the piece were Spitalfields-based Dumpling Shack, whose owner John Li said on Instagram that it made for “depressing reading” and represented an “archaic mentality.”

View this post on Instagram

Read this paragraph. It’s from a review by Giles Coren on a Chinese restaurant called Kaki. How does it make you feel? I want to hear people’s thoughts on this, if you think it’s funny say so, if you’re offended by it then speak up ————————————————— I read this last night and it’s been on my mind for the past 24 hours. I wasn’t fully focussed on service because this paragraph was running through my mind. I’ve been thinking constantly whether or not to write this post. I don’t want it to negatively impact my business in anyway but I can’t hold it in. Part of me wants to not give a shit about this and focus on my work, my business and family etc but the majority of me is craving to speak out————————————————— To me it makes for depressing reading. I keep being told we’re making progress in society with this but are we? He’s a pretty powerful respected figure in the world of journalism and food so if he’s given a platform to speak like this how can people say we’ve made progress? ————————————————— We’ve got this opportunity to tell great stories and learn about different cultures through food and on social media, we don’t need to be held back by this archaic mentality. I’ve attached a link to a thread started by @jonathandnunn on twitter that first raised this issue. Click on it and have a read. It’s eye opening.

A post shared by Dumpling shack (@dumplingshack) on

Later, and after having initially mocked them on Twitter, Coren entered the comments section of Dumpling Shack’s post: “I respect your right to publish this paragraph out of context,” he wrote. “But have you read the rest of the review? The very next part is a jokey representation of English. I can’t see [how] you would think it is racist. If you have then fine. But if not, you should.”

Dumpling Shack replied, “I wouldn’t do you the disservice of not reading the whole review especially if I’m going to post it on this business account. My views remained the same reading the review as a whole. If you want to discuss this face to face that would be great but if you want to carry on with this on Instagram or Twitter then that’s fine too.”

Coren then said he was glad that Dumpling Shack had read the full review. Before adding, “I’ve been writing about and championing Chinese food for 25 years, trying to find interesting ways to write about it, to write pieces that are fun and lively and not the usual dreary restaurant reviewing dross.

“I truly felt I was representing the fun that the waiter and I had trying to make each other understood — two equals with no shared language laughing at our own relative inarticulacy. I am genuinely surprised that you were offended by it. Because there was no hint of the implied superiority or inferiority of either race involved. Although I can see how the opening paragraphs could have looked like awful old fashioned ‘ching chong’ shit if one didn’t read on and I’d probably do it differently next time. But I’d love to meet to talk about it. Because if you think the whole of the rest of the piece was as deeply and venomously racist as you must do, to have whipped up such a storm, then I probably need to have that explained to me to avoid it happening again.”

There were many who did seek to explain why it was racist, irrespective of Coren’s declared intentions, owing to the unequal power dynamics at play in the use of linguistic tropes.

Around the time of the removal of the paywall on the review, reporter Clarissa Wei asked why the Times published it in the first place.

Coren’s pointing to the second paragraph did little to appease one user who said he appeared “delusional.” Coren responded saying that Alex Carr was wasting her energy, “when it could be so much more usefully targeted at racists and bigots.”

Coren, seemingly, appeared dumbfounded by the plain accusations of racism.

Later, after some apparently genuine inquisition to his apparent crime and following his defence tweet (which at the time of writing has been liked 254 times; retweeted 22 times) Coren moved to Twitter with a little more self-assurance. There, he mocked the journalistic credentials of Phil Wain, the editor of Caffeine Magazine, who called him an “entitled posh boy who doesn’t care about how others feel” and labelled the content “racist.” Wain had previously sought to add context around why Coren’s writing had been the cause for such upset, saying: “Every day since Brexit and Trump Asian people in the U.K. have had to listen to racists empowered to mock them and their language...”

When it was put to him that the whole episode was bad for him, he replied that it had “actually panned out rather nicely.”

A Twitter user apparently sympathetic to Coren’s defence then suggested he should “glass” (attack with a glass) a complainant. Coren responded with “Gonna [beer glass emoji].”

Coren then turned to one user who pointed out that “Saying something racist and then writing a paragraph about why you personally don’t consider it to be racist does not make it any less objectively racist...” questioning whether she was yet qualified to question him.

He also, via direct message, mocked the food writer Lizzie Mabbott who had announced publicly that she’d complained to IPSO about the review. He questioned whether the fact she had mistakenly suggested it was published by the Sunday Times, not the Times, was down to her being “so angry [she] couldn’t read the title through her tears,” before again alleging that her ‘misreading’ was as a result of her not reading the full article.

Coren is currently videoing himself on Instagram Stories, attempting to explain himself, diffuse the situation, and, apparently, seeking to better understand his alleged wrongdoing. He has made his account private, but watch this space for more news soon.


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