Restaurant critic William Sitwell cleared of 'press harassment' after legal battle with chef

The critic's review of a Notting Hill restaurant sparked controversy

Updated on 05 November 2019 • Written By Eamonn Crowe

Restaurant critic William Sitwell cleared of 'press harassment' after legal battle with chef

A leading London restaurant critic has been cleared of accusations of misleading writing and press harrasment which were made by a disgruntled chef. 

William Sitwell, who is the Daily Telegraph’s restaurant critic, was accused of misleading the public by chef Richard Wilkins of Notting Hill restaurant 104. The debacle began when Sitwell accused Wilkins of sending him threatening text messages and leaving aggressive voicemails following the publication of a negative review.

However, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) ruled in Sitwell's favour, commenting that the "article had accurately reported the details of the contact between the author and complainant”. The IPSO also clarified that “the fact that the article under complaint was the second article the newspaper had published about the complainant and his business did not constitute harassment.”

Detailing the exchanges in his newspaper column, Sitwell said that Wilkins first made contact with him via voicemail at 12:30am following the review’s publication. He claims the voicemail featured Wilkins saying: “I’m going to be waiting for you. I’m going to come and find you. Things are going to get really dirty. I mean it, I seriously mean it.”

The 48-year-old critic started at the Daily Telegraph in January 2019

The messages then took a darker turn, with Sitwell alleging that Wilkins also threatened to disrupt one of the critic’s supper clubs, which he hosts at his family’s expansive Northamptonshire estate. “Maybe I’ll turn up to one of your supper clubs and spoil it,” the chef said in a voicemail, “Let’s see. It’s only going to get worse.”

The communications begun after Sitwell published a dissaproving review of 104 entitled "Note to chef: make sure you check that innovation is functional, not unsettling", in which he labelled a dish involving Challans duck as "undercooked and chewy" and found a dessert of chocolate moelleux to be "too appreciate the chocolate." As well as the sinister voicemails, Sitwell also claims that Wilkins sent him hostile text messages, in which he told Sitwell “you won’t be able to avoid me for long” and that the journalist would have to “get used to having [Wilkins] in the back of your mind wherever you go.”

One of the desserts available at 104 Restaurant

This is not the first time that Sitwell has attracted controversy. In October of 2018, he stepped down from his job as editor of Waitrose Food magazine after sending a mocking email to freelance journalist Selene Nelson in which he suggested that the plant-based writer should pen a feature on “killing vegans”. Nelson subsequently leaked the information to the press, leading to Sitwell’s departure. Just three months later he began his new position at the Daily Telegraph.

After the publication of our article, Wilkins got in touch with us to give his side of the story.