Well Done Fillet

Well Done Fillet

Waiter Stuff

I'd have guessed you were a cunt


I had a whole other post planned for today but it'll wait until tomorrow. Instead I bring you the most savage restaurant review I have ever read. It made my blood boil in places. It all stems from Caroline Workman's initial review of the West Belfast Pizzeria Goodfellas for the Irish News newspaper. The owner of Goodfellas took major umbrage with the review and sued. Surprisingly he won his case. This of course had major implications for reviewers and critics everywhere. They need to be able to write freely without fear of being sued. But they must also be able to justify what they say and their reviews should be honest and fair. The Irish news took their case to appeal and the verdict was overturned. I believe this to be a just and correct decision.

I cant comment on what Caroline Workman wrote in her review as I have never seen it. But I have seen Giles-smug-Coren's review. He's a smug little man, and I don't like smug little men. Here is the review from last weekend's Times newspaper......

I’d have guessed it was strips of mole poached in Ovaltine

Can there be anything more counter-intuitive than choosing to pay a visit to a restaurant the day after it has lost a court case?

I don’t consider myself a fussy eater. But expecting a joint to keep itself off the wrong end of an historic verdict in Her Majesty’s Court of Appeal is surely not too much to ask – especially a verdict upholding a critic’s right to describe the atmosphere as “joyless”, the ingredients as “the cheapest . . . on the market” and the food as “inedible”.

When I read in Tuesday’s paper about the victory of The Irish News over a Belfast restaurant called Goodfellas, where “the chips were pale, greasy and undercooked” and “the cola was flat, warm and watery”, I tittered quietly to myself, thanked God for Jamie, Gordon and Hugh and peeled myself another organic carrot.

And then The Times rang and said there was an easyJet flight leaving Gatwick for Belfast at 7.45 that evening. Obviously, in the light of this historic judgment for freedom of speech, I would be wanting to review the place myself. Yeah, obviously.

On the plane I read through the court papers, the complex arguments of the plaintiff (The Irish News was seeking to overturn a previous libel decision against it in the High Court) and the summing up by three judges. The paperwork was, bizarrely, fascinating. And, for reviewers and critics, truly world-changing.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill, QC – may his name be whispered as a blessing – won the appeal for The Irish News on the following basis (I’ll have got this only more or less right, so don’t quote me. Or sue me): 1) That anything written in an article flagged as a review is to be accepted as “comment” (regardless of whether it is presented as opinion or fact); 2) That the bare substratum of fact required to sustain that comment is that the reviewer has had the experience he or she claims, in this case that he has ordered and been served the meal described; 3) That “fair comment” is defined as any comment an honest person could have drawn from the “facts” available; 4) That a comment may be called “fair”, “however exaggerated, or even prejudiced, the language may be”; 5) That malice has no power to mitigate a defence of fair comment, as long as the reviewer genuinely holds the views he expressed.

In short, loyal readers, as long as I ate the meal I tell you I ate, and as long as I truly believe what I write, I can say anything. If you thought the critics were scary before, you wait ’till you get a load of us now.

Goodfellas is in Kennedy Way, just off the Falls Road, a Catholic-owned joint on the edge of a loyalist enclave strong on militant murals, marching and, not so long ago, rifle-volley shows of strength. The windows are smoked dark and impenetrable. The patch of grass outside is littered with empty bottles of WKD Blue. Two sets of entry doors, of which the outer one was formerly remote-controlled, testifying to times when the threat of a loyalist “spraying” was very real. Times when the least of your worries was a dodgy restaurant review. Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s this most certainly ain’t.

It is about three-quarters full inside, which is impressive on a wet week-night in March, and almost everyone is fat. Obesity in West Belfast seems to be even worse than in the poorest areas of mainland Britain. There is what appears to be a hen party in the next room comprising 12 women seated around a large square table, each of whom, on her own, weighs as much as a whole hen night of women from Fulham. (I guess these are battery hens).

The men have big square heads and little pink faces, short spiky hair, stud earrings and big appetites. It’s like Westlife got old and fat overnight, which they sort of have if you saw them on Al Murray the other night.

To be fair, the welcome is not, as The Irish News had it, “daunting” or negligent. A very pretty and charming waitress seats me at a very small table next to some very large people. She brings me a glass of cola (Goodfellas has no licence) which is, indeed, pretty flat and not especially cold and (as The Irish News critic claimed) clearly not poured from a bottle but shot from a gun. So much for decommissioning.

The menu is terrifying. Hundreds of choices – 14 starters, 14 chicken dishes, 15 pizzas (including “The Whop”), 13 pasta dishes as well as a do-it-yourself option, where six styles of pasta can be paired with a cream or tomato sauce and any permutation of 25 further ingredients to create millions of possibilities (if you’ve ever fancied rigatoni with smoked salmon, sweet-corn and barbecue sauce, Goodfellas is the place to get it).

Then there are ten beef dishes with ten sauce options (100 more possible combos there) including the alluring-sounding “gravy”. Half a dozen pig dishes, some specials and 24 contorni (this is an Italian restaurant, don’t forget) of which eight are potato.

Portions are massive. Waitresses struggle by with Brobdingnagian tureens of pasta and pizzas like dustbin lids (but smellier). I order a small far-falle all’ arrabiata, and then the chicken marsala – the very dish that Caroline Workman, the Irish News critic, had described as being served in a sauce so revoltingly sweet as to render the dish inedible. I nip to the loo. Two of the cubicle doors are locked but the third opens, straight into the kitchen. Most unusual. This does not happen at Le Gavroche. Perhaps I am spoilt.

My little pasta dish arrives. A huge disappointment: it is fine. Not fine in the sense of tasting like something an Italian would dream of eating. But fine in the sense of being the sort of thing I used to cook as a student when I was too stoned to dial a pizza. The chips I ordered are fine, too. Precut and frozen, yes, but that’s normal even in a good gastropub, and these are nice and crispy. I am gutted. It looks like there will be no opportunity to test my rejuvenated confidence in a restaurant critic’s right to freedom of expression.

Then my pollo marsala arrives: an oval dish containing a chocolate coloured liquid and pale lumps of something. I eat a mouthful. The sweetness is, indeed, alarming. As is the consistency of the meat. Without the court papers to confirm what I had ordered, I’d have guessed I was eating thin strips of mole poached in Ovaltine.

It is revolting. It is ill-conceived, incompetent, indescribably awful. A dish so cruel I weep not only for the animal that died to make it, but also for the mushrooms. Ms Workman said it was inedible but, to be honest, as it sits before me, congealing quietly, I cannot leave it alone but return to it every few minutes with the grim fascination of a toddler mesmerised by a pile of its own faeces, nibbling at it, gurning with revulsion, then nibbling some more. If you’ve ever sniffed your finger after scratching your arse, and then done it again, then this dish may not be entirely wasted on you.

A note on the menu says: “All of our meals are freshly prepared.” When I ask for parmesan cheese, they bring a pot of that powdery pregrated grit that smells like dessicated dog vomit. I thought I’d better have a pudding, so I ordered the apple crumble. Alas, what they brought me resembled a mixture of budget muesli and aquarium gravel served in an old man’s slipper. The accompanying custard was pleasant only in that it reminded me of a scented pencil eraser I used to enjoy sucking in the hot summer of 1976.

But that’s enough. There is no point wasting my new superpowers on this poor, benighted Irish craphole. You may notice that I have no review in today’s Magazine. This is because I have taken a couple of weeks off to steel myself for the most savage onslaught yet known on some far harder targets much closer to home. And the harder they come, the harder they will fall.

You just watch.

Meat/fish: 0
Cooking: 1
Service: 5
Score: 2/10

I have no problem with a restaurant being savaged in a review as long as the review pertains to the areas of food, drink, service, and amenities etc. But this review strayed far from those areas. It's a crass, smug, offensive and factually inaccurate piece. I bet you he even tells people he "survived" a trip to Belfast the way people did in the 70's and 80's. Stick to reviewing the food a-hole and not the social commentary about which you know fuck all.