'Trans activists' swamp London restaurant with one-star reviews and prank calls 'as owner supports JK Rowling'

27 May 2023, 11:33

James Chiavarini says the targeted attacks have been 'ongoing'
James Chiavarini says the targeted attacks have been 'ongoing'. Picture: James Chiavarini/Google
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A group of 'trans activists' have targeted a family-run restaurant in London with fake one-star reviews and prank calls after it was labelled a 'safe space' for women, its owner has claimed.

Il Portico, located on Kensington High Street, has been open for more than five decades and has been managed by four different generations from the same family.

Its current owner, James Chiavarini, takes pride from the fact that the restaurant has stood the test of time in so many ways - including multiple recessions and a pandemic.

But is now facing backlash from a group of 'activists' who have called the restaurant 'Nazi' and 'transphobic' after James publicly expressed support for JK Rowling.

After Il Portico's sister restaurant teamed up with JK Rowling to raise £24,000 for those affected by Ukraine, James says he became the target for activists who disagree with the author's views.

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Il Portico, west London
Il Portico, west London. Picture: James Chiavarini

In June last year, Il Portico has its windows smashed following the fundraiser, though James was unable to prove exactly who carried out the attacks.

Now, after his restaurant was labelled a 'safe space' for women online, James says Il Portico has been targeted once again, including fake one-star Google reviews and prank calls to the restaurant.

He told LBC: "They call us transphobes, a Nazi restaurant, they say that we associate with fascists. There's been fake reviews and also prank calls being made to staff.

"It's been happening all week...It's easy pickings for them. They choose a public-facing business and Google will allow anyone to place a review regardless of whether they've been there. It's so easy for them, you don't have to engage."

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James says he knows the reviews are fake as he regularly asks those leaving poor reviews to get in touch to verify their experience.

One woman left the same review on two of James' restaurants - one of which has been closed down for more than a year - which he says shows how his businesses have been personally targeted.

One review read: "Disgusting food along with the owner being a horrible individual."

Another said, simply: "Bad experience."

Other reviews appear to have been taken down, which Google will do if it says it cannot identify a 'violation', which would include being a fake account.

There is a concern that the fake reviews, despite them being in the minority, could have an impact on business.

One Google review
One Google review. Picture: Google
James will ask reviewers to verify their identity
James will ask reviewers to verify their identity. Picture: Google

"The way we're set up, we're biologically hard-wired to pay more attention to the negative. A one-star review carried more weight than 15 five-star reviews - it can do a lot of damage.

"But it can have a very short shelf life. The good will of five-star reviews tends to last longer, especially as people realise how deranged some people are acting. They're burning bridges with the public."

James added that if anything, the negative reviews has only "strengthened my resolve" in supporting the likes of JK Rowling, who herself has been targeted.

In November 2021, the Harry Potter author had her address posted online by a series of activists, prompting a police investigation.

At the time, she said she believed it was an attempt to "intimidate" her "out of speaking up for women's sex-based rights".