When a chef takes umbrage against a restaurant critic, barring them from their establishment is the traditional response. But one London restaurateur has raised the stakes by eavesdropping on his tormentors' meals and tweeting their every mouthful.
When the restaurant critics of The Independent and The Daily Telegraph dined at Ducksoup in Soho, they were unaware that the figure tapping away at a nearby table was Michelin-starred chef Alexis Gauthier. The proprietor of Gauthier Soho had clearly not forgiven the Independent’s Tracey MacLeod for a review last year in which she described the "small downstairs dining-room as pale and featureless as a Rachel Whiteread artwork".
By coincidence, MacLeod, who was not there to review Ducksoup, was at a nearby table to The Telegraph's Matthew Norman, who was. What the critics didn't know was that their menu choices, demeanour and table-talk were about to become the subject of a series of unflattering tweets by the French chef.
"Norman is a bit loud in such a small restaurant. That's kind of annoying," the chef tweeted to his 2,000 followers. "And he got this slight affected accent. Reminds me of my belgravia days – not nice memory #etonaccentaffected."
He continued, "Norman is having chicken and asking if aioli is plain mayonnaise! Is he taking the p.... Or is he serious". He renamed the critic "telegraph toss" and noted that he "didn't like his pudding". Of MacLeod he wrote: "Her bag is wide open with a copy of the Independent mag, just in case she doesn't get serve as well as the other one! [Norman]". He added: "Disaster ! Same dish brought twice at independent table. How many lines will she make of that? One reason to read her column!"
Gauthier told The Independent yesterday: "I was a witness and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. As a person from the industry, I don't think it is absurd to share what I was seeing with my followers. It's what Twitter is all about." He said there was "nothing personal", since Norman had given his Roussillon restaurant the best review he had ever had. Norman welcomed the chef's comments. "I am extremely loud in restaurants because I am a little hard of hearing," he said. "My wife is thrilled that this has finally been independently confirmed."
But the eavesdropper was mistaken on one point. "After 20 years I do know what aioli is. I was comparing the plum mayonnaise which came with the smoked trout starter with plain mayonnaise."
Norman said he didn't have any ethical difficulties with overheard conversations being reported. "I'm very flattered to be of interest and thank God I didn't say anything too brutal," he said.
Michael Winner, the food critic and a regular tweeter, said: "I don't see anything wrong with tweeting from a restaurant. Chefs are entitled to hit back. I'm still banned from Le Gavroche."
Heated words: The twitter exchange
@ducksoup telegraph reviewing your restaurant as we eat. Very discreetly taking notes as you enter the restaurant on your left
@GauthierSoho There is also another critic from the independent - can't remember her name because nobody reads her column.
@GauthierSoho Her bag is wide open with a copy of the independent mag, just in case she doesn't get serve as well as the other one!
@GauthierSoho Horror Matthew Norman said "delicious" to the waitress; maybe our food is going to appear now!!
@GauthierSoho It is like Masterchef except there is no cam. Chicken aioli for the independent. Something with a big bone for the telegraph
@GauthierSoho Independent is having same dish as me: purple broccoli with anchovies dressing which was gorgeous. If she write otherwise she is nasty
@GauthierSoho Disaster! Same dish brought twice at independent table. How many lines will she make of that? One reason to read her column!
@GauthierSoho Norman is a bit loud in such a small restaurant. That's kind of annoying;
@GauthierSoho Wonder if the independent is getting annoyed not to have been spotted while Norman is getting full attention from manager - wonder
@TraceyMcLeod @GauthierSoho Lovely to get your thoughts on Duck Soup – thanks. I wasn't reviewing it, by the way, and we paid the bill.