Saturday 20 April 2019

Chefs' sick and tasteless stunt really is a new low

Lucinda O'Sullivan is still waiting for an apology after a picture of her decapitated head was posted on Twitter

SHOCKING: Chefs Oliver Dunne, left, and Rory Carville in mock decapitation picture
SHOCKING: Chefs Oliver Dunne, left, and Rory Carville in mock decapitation picture
TABLETALK: Lucinda O'Sullivan's original review of Cleaver East at the Clarence Hotel in 'LIFE' magazine

Lucinda O'Sullivan

Can you imagine how you would feel if you saw a picture of yourself, decapitated, blood dripping down, your hair being grasped by an angry looking man, whilst his companion, clutching the offending cleaver, stared angrily out of the photo? This is what I and the world of Twitter was presented with last Thursday evening by Oliver Dunne. My decapitated head was in the hands of Chef Rory Carville whilst Chef Oliver Dunne was grasping the cleaver. Even for the most hardened, not to mention my family and friends, this was a shocking image. Calls and emails rolled in immediately from good friends, colleagues and readers, as to who hated me so much they wanted to post a picture of me beheaded – and also wanted the world to know they hated me so much.

We are constantly reading about people being abused on Twitter and online generally. Vulnerable people have even taken their own lives as a result of such abuse. On advice, I took the picture (with a heavy heart) to the garda station. Dunne has since apologised if anyone was offended and offered to apologise to me. He has yet to do so.

This barbaric picture of me being posted was the result of a restaurant review where I recounted my experiences in the pair's new Cleaver East Restaurant in The Clarence Hotel.

The ironic thing is that it wasn't even a bad review, but Mr Dunne obviously didn't like reading it and launched a vicious and wholly inaccurate online blog and Twitter attack on me personally and on my dining companion who hadn't uttered a word.

I was looking forward to trying Cleaver East, as I always am with any new restaurant, for nobody, but nobody, goes out looking for the stress of a bad meal or experience. I am always optimistic of discovering new talent and wonderful gems. I also in my 'Irish Life' column in this newspaper spend my time discovering and encouraging new small businesses around the country. Over 20 years of writing restaurant reviews, I have been in thousands of restaurants, and have written a couple of thousand reviews at least.

In my review of Cleaver East I recalled how Dunne and Carville had posed a la Marco Pierre White's famous picture 30 years ago clutching cleavers – but plus a decapitated pig's head. This, according to Dunne on his blog, "was for shock value to create a dramatic image and that's probably why the photo landed in over 20 different publications. . ."

I said that both men were talented chefs, the décor was great, and related what we ate. I wondered with it being a tasting restaurant with a recommendation from the waiter that each person have three/four plates each as to how this would work when the 120-seater restaurant was full. Rory Carville had told my dining companion, Paul O'Connor, that their soft opening over the previous few days had highlighted the problem of serving so many dishes to parties of six or eight people. "There will be changes," he said.

Oliver Dunne later appeared and we chatted about his difficulties in getting staff and he told us that parties of eight or over wouldn't be able to have the tasting menu – they would have to have regular starters and mains. So that I would have my information correct for my readers, I asked then what if two or four people came in and wanted to just have a starter and a mains, rather than the tasting plates, and he said adamantly "they have to have the tasting menu. That's what we are, a tasting restaurant." It struck me that this could be quite confusing for people. He added: "You put all the dishes in the middle of the table and share them – and serve your own wine."

We were at a very small table, which already had a bucket holding the cutlery and napkins, a wine bucket, wine and water glasses plus side plates, and it was a squash when even just two dishes were put down in the middle of the table.

Paul had booked through their online reservation system and when he saw there was an allocation of 1.45 hours on our table, I had then checked a number of dates up to a month in advance to see if this was a general rule – it was. It proved, as I said, somewhat ironic because there were no more than 20 people there and no one at all beside or near us on our run of tables. We were also told by the young waiter that the running order of dishes was "dictated by the chef" so, obviously not wanting to start out with a beef curry and follow with a delicate light seafood dish, we ordered the lighter dishes first rather than all together.

On tendering my credit card, the young waiter told us immediately that they'd already had a problem with their terminal with other people that evening – indicating towards the other corner of the room. With that, the manager came, phone in hand, calling an authorisation centre. I always use the same card for my work, restaurants and travel, to keep everything together for my accountant. I said to the manager: "If you know you have a problem with your machine, you should be taking the details and sorting it out quietly later." He, however, persisted and in front of my guest said "they couldn't authorise it".

Rory Carville passed out of the kitchen wearing a fleece jacket so was obviously finished cheffing. We went up to the reception desk and asked to speak to him. I pointed out to him and the manager that, knowing they had a problem with their wireless credit card terminal, they had handled it very badly and totally embarrassed me in front of my guest. I said also to them that, with both Carville and Dunne having already spoken to us at the table, it wasn't as if they didn't know me, or where to find me, if they had a problem with their system transaction. They stood mute. However, according to Dunne's Blog, I was "waving my arms, demanding very loudly, disturbing the other guests like some kind of prima donna".

First thing next morning I rang my credit card centre (taking a note of the name of the lady I spoke to) who could see the transaction in the system and said it had never been declined. It was posted to my credit card account as normal that day and is as clear as a bell on my statement.

Coincidentally, last week, I also wrote an article about the problems of ego and fame and how some chefs don't know how to handle success when they get it.

Having met and shaken hands with Dunne at the Taste of Dublin this year, I had been looking forward to trying Cleaver East. Little did I know that he would behave so badly and that he would stoop so low by posting this picture of my decapitated head being clutched by Carville instead of the original pig's head. This is a new low in behaviour for any chef never mind any civilised person. With the tragedy of Drummer Lee Rigby being decapitated on a London street back in May, it is totally inappropriate having Dunne emulating a revolting event which one would have to be sick to think is funny.

I don't imagine Michelin would be too thrilled having their Star-holding chefs behave like this!

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