Fake London Restaurant Rises to #1 on TripAdvisor

“The Shed at Dulwich,” aka the greatest restaurant that never was.

By Ethan L. Johns
December 11, 2017

Image: Chris Bethell / “The Shed at Dulwich”

Having trouble snagging that hot reservation at the highest-ranking restaurant on the web? Well, you might want to first make sure that the place actually exists.

Writer Oobah Butler must have been having one hell of a laugh when his “appointment-only” restaurant peaked at the top of TripAdvisor’s list of Best Restaurants in London. He was likely laughing because his restaurant was not really a restaurant at all, but the backyard shed that he called home. As for the TripAdvisor page, he had created it to see just how many people he could trick.

Thanks to fake, stellar reviews written by friends and family, “The Shed at Dulwich” slowly climbed up in the rankings from dead-last place over the course of several months. When curious customers called the restaurant’s phone (a cheap burner phone Butler had bought for the prank), he politely declined requests for reservations by saying that he was fully booked.

He created a website with a sample menu, claiming that the chef’s dishes depend on the “moods” of his diners. To ratchet up the proof, he commissioned a series of images depicting the plates. In one photo (pictured above), Butler fashioned a gastronomic dish featuring a bleach tablet, Gillette shaving cream, some honey and black pepper. In another, he slapped a fried egg on his foot, placed it on a plate with a sprig of parsley, and composed it so that his toes were not visible.

TripAdvisor finally caught on to his shenanigans, but not before the “restaurant” had spent four days ranked as the best in London.

Ordinary folks might have stopped there, but Butler—who has researched (loose use of the term) other absurdist articles for Vice UK such as “I Broke Some Old Laws in Front of Police to See If They’d Arrest Me”—decided that, for one night, he would turn his shed into the restaurant people had been dreaming of.

He enlisted a chef friend with experience in fancy restaurants to spice up microwave meals from the supermarket, then served them to real guests, interspersed with actor friends. Some left furious. Others asked to come back again.

The whole scheme highlighted some of the issues with user-reviewed websites, and about reputability in the internet age. But Butler chose to see it in a different light.

“If I can transform my garden into London’s best restaurant,” he wrote, “literally anything is possible.”

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns