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Getting Back At Critics

CBS News' Simon Bates offers his thoughts on what appear to be disappearing commodities: family-owned restaurants with homestyle cooking.
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I'm overweight. I know it and I hate it. But I blame the fact that British restaurants have improved so greatly over the last ten years that I can't walk down Charlotte Street here in London without temptation in the form of a rave review for this eatery or that brasserie, luring me in.

Restaurant critics have done for me and my figure, and, with the help of those terrible bureaucrats from what we call here 'Health and Safety', they have also done for the traditional Italian restaurant, which seems to have vanished.

There used to be a restaurant called the Monte Bello near my apartment. Run by an Italian family, you could go there for lunch and a chat about a contract, stay drinking cheap wine for the afternoon while the lawyers fought over the small print so you could sign it at the end of dinner. All without moving out of your chair.

And who cared about the Pollo Sopresa? It was meant to be that colour. Now that was a restaurant. But now it's gone. Too expensive to run, not trendy enough to visit. So, maybe it's time to strike back at the restaurant critics, and their snobbish eating habits. And I'm pleased to report that the fight has begun.

In Belfast, Northern Ireland, there's a good old fashioned Italian restaurant called "Goodfellas". Been going since 1991. Cheap and cheerful, the food is hot and fresh with not a piece of tofu in sight. They proudly declare they even make their own pizza bases.

In August 2000, the 'Irish News' sent its restaurant critic to eat there. The resulting review wasn't a happy one. The critic found fault with just about everything. The atmosphere, the staff, the drink and most of all, the food. Out of five possible stars, he gave it one. Ouch! You'd have thought that the restaurant would have bitten its lip and followed my mother's advice of: 'never complain, never explain.'

But bless it, Goodfellas did not go softly into that good night. It went beserk and sued the pants off the Irish News. And it won. Last week the jury at Belfast High Court decided the review was defamatory and the paper has to pay fifty thousand dollars in damages, plus legal costs in the region of another eighty thousand.

I hope that a million family owned restaurants across the US hear this and when the local paper loftily dismisses their efforts, say "We're mad as hell, we're not taking any more and we'll see you in court". And please, remember after you've won your damages, this is Simon Bates, and I love good pasta.
by Simon Bates