Letter from Simon Kelner


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The Independent Online

One of the more diverting stories of a week in which the world seems to have gone mad - prison sentences if you're found guilty of using Facebook, being forced to wear an orange boiler suit if you're discovered on Twitter, that sort of thing - was the court case in which a restaurateur in Wales was so incensed by the critic AA Gill (pictured) describing his meal as "disgusting" that he attacked one of his own kitchen staff.

It seems that Gill's comment was a joke - he ended up giving the restaurant a glowing review - the attacker and victim are friends again, and a healthy serving of publicity for a hitherto unknown venue in Hay-on-Wye has, I'm sure, gone down a treat. There was no doubt, however, that the restaurateur was genuinely stung by Gill's offhand remark and, having Sky Plussed a whole series of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, let fly a stream of a expletives of which the great swearmeister himself would have been proud. Don't be fooled: these guys are playing for high steaks, er, stakes. A word from Gill, or any of a number of restaurant critics (you don't need me to name them: they're quite good at doing their own publicity) can have an extremely adverse effect on business. And it stings. I have a little experience of this. I know Gill socially, and enjoy his company, so a few years ago, when he was appearing at the Woodstock Literary Festival in Oxfordshire (of which more in due course) I arranged to have lunch with him in a local restaurant. Unfortunately, it was after 2pm and, one by one, each establishment - no doubt recognising trouble - took great pleasure in telling us they had finished serving. We bought a pork pie from the local butcher and sat round my kitchen table gossiping. I thought nothing more of it until I opened The Sunday Times the next week and found an utterly withering review of his day in Woodstock, a picture-book town that he called "a middle-class slum in the middle of the Cotswolds". It didn't exactly spark a four-letter blitz followed by a hurling of kitchen implements, but I can't deny it hurt. I've forgiven Gill, of course. But I can't say he'll get a terrific welcome from the people of Woodstock and as far as the incident in Hay-on-Wye is concerned: what was he doing in Wales anyway? I thought he was banned from there, too!