Caprice Holdings’s Ivy Asia was roundly criticised this weekend after it released a promotional video replete with racist stereotypes and reductive caricatures. The Ivy Asia Chelsea, which is the third restaurant from a group known for its use of Orientalist décor and culturally flattening menu descriptors, deleted the video from all social media channels on Sunday 8 August, before issuing first a brief, and then a second longer “apology for any offence caused.”
The promotional video featured women dressed as geishas struggling to get into a rickshaw, chauffeured by an elderly Asian man portrayed as being unable to hold up their weight. When the rickshaw crashed, the two women are rescued by a so-called “hero” in stereotypical warrior dress. In fantastical scenes, the “hero” propels the two women toward the restaurant, into which they crash with a number of shopping bags, at which point they are stared at by a dining room full of white patrons. The women do not speak but make indecipherable noises, reminiscent of the racist sketches in the sitcom Little Britain.
Ivy Asia Chelsea’s account initially disabled comments on Instagram before removing the video altogether after multiple observers online pointed out the stereotyping and racism. Thereafter came the “sincere” apology, but not an explanation. The apology was for the “offence caused.” “It was wrong,” the Ivy Asia Chelsea account wrote. “It was done naively and it was totally inappropriate and culturally insensitive. We had a complete ignorance of understanding...We are conducting an immediate internal review into our marketing processes...We need to educate ourselves...We must learn lessons and move forward in a totally new and appropriate way.”
The video no longer exists on The Ivy Asia’s marketing channels. But the Chelsea restaurant, along with another in St. Paul’s, the first in Manchester, and a huge upcoming opening in Mayfair this year, won’t be going anywhere; the group is only getting bigger. A restaurant whose brand uses stereotypes, which fetishises peoples, cultures, and foods and reduces them to one catch-all descriptor will continue to exist, cook, and welcome customers under the belief that those things are acceptable. Unless the internal review of the company’s marketing processes results in a root-and-branch overhaul of the restaurants themselves.
Such stereotyping and flattening is typified by the “Zen Stack” advertised in the video, a selection of largely Japanese dishes given a Buddhist title to which they bear no relation and lumped together. Just as Gordon Ramsay’s widely criticised “authentic Asian eating house” indiscriminately cherry-picked from Japan, China, and the whole of East Asia, the Ivy Asia appears more concerned with profiting from Asian cultures than it is with respecting the diversity and variousness of those cultures and peoples.
Writer MiMi Aye was among the first to highlight the anti-Asian racism contained within the video.
CW // Anti-Asian Racism— MiMi Aye (@meemalee) August 6, 2021
I just watched this and I don’t want to live any more.
What the actual f*ck?#StopAsianHate #TheIvyAsia
(cc @EndRacismVirus @besea_n) https://t.co/YQgcQAuWPz pic.twitter.com/obZ7v3cE5c
Later, Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner was unequivocal in drawing a connection between the video and the conditions that produced it. “The knuckle draggers behind the dismal ivy Asia Chelsea promo video,” he wrote on Twitter, “have decided they were merely naive and insensitive rather than, yknow, up to their arm pits in premeditated racist stereotyping from front to back of house.”
Eater contributor and Time Out journalist Angela Hui pointed out in (a now expired) Instagram story that no one “put a stop to it” which “just further proves how deep rooted and normalised racism is in our society.” She added: “I can point to a million things wrong with this video from the wonton font to the tired oriental tropes and two Asian ladies being a ‘joke’...The only thing that’s a joke is the restaurant’s owner, its investors, any influencer, writer or critic that’s promoted them...”
Elsewhere, Resy’s international editor David Jay Paw wrote on Instagram this weekend: “It’s 2021 — Asian diaspora communities across the world have experienced punishing spikes in violent racism against their communities...to erect this hate crime of a ‘restaurant’ and to share this abhorrent promotional video? Every detail, large and small, a decision that not a single person within their parent org pushed back on?”
In a year when anti-Asian racism and attacks have compounded disproportionate levels of discrimination towards East and South East Asian communities through the COVID-19 pandemic, the cultural vandalism and profiteering from Caprice Holdings — and the layers of corporate ignorance therein — is all the more alarming. And while future marketing campaigns may not trade in such overt caricatures and stereotypes, the three restaurants-and-counting, which exist on the very same foundations, have not been deleted.
The Ivy group’s press department only pointed to the statement posted to Instagram when pressed for comment on the video’s approval internally.