I was interested to see you ran an excerpt from Meanjin’s new comedy section, Stephen Downes on Stephen Downes.

The loose subtext of Stephen’s essay is: all restaurant reviewers except me are the puppets of public relations operatives and charismatic restaurateurs.

I clearly remember the last time I saw Stephen. It was February 2. The occasion: Red Emperor restaurant’s annual Chinese New Year media banquet. A public relations exercise of some considerable snout-in-troughery. Being a mere pawn in the marketing game, I always try to attend this function; it’s great fun, the food is usually very special and the wine several notches above most function beverages. And just about every journalist and wannabe media flunkie who ever uttered or penned a word on the subject of tucker in anything from a national glossy to a suburban freebie has attended a Red Emperor dinner, too.

Stephen usually attends.

Less than two months ago, Stephen reviewed Red Emperor in the Herald Sun with a score of 41/50. If Stephen were to apply the same rules of piety to his own work (as outlined in his Meanjin essay) as he would the rest of us, he might consider …

A: not attending such dinners

B: not reviewing restaurants at which he has repeatedly enjoyed management’s hospitality or

C: declaring the interest.

Apparently, you can have it both ways. It’s all right for the rest of us. We’re corrupt, and everyone knows it.

Stephen has apparently travelled his own road to salvation but it’s a matter of public record that he has ghosts in his professional closet (did anyone mention Crown?) that are almost as frightening as the idea of cheap house red in kanatoules, the aluminium wine pitchers you most definitely find in Greece and, unusually for Australia, at Hellenic Republic, too. How dare a Melbourne Greek restaurant adopt authentic Greek restaurant practices?

The sound of “j’accuse” in Stephen’s undoubtedly perfect Parisian accent sounds, to me anyway, just a little like yesterday’s leftovers sold as today’s specials.

Peter Fray

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