LONDON • A non-existent restaurant supposedly based in a garden shed briefly became London's top eating place on the travel and restaurant website TripAdvisor, which on Thursday hit back at the hoaxers.
"The Shed At Dulwich", based in a south London back garden, offered invited guests conceptual dishes named after moods, including "Lust - rabbit kidneys on toast", "Empathetic - vegan clams in a clear broth" and "Contemplation - a deconstructed Aberdeen stew".
The menu was accompanied by mouth-watering photographs of the dishes which, in reality, comprised bleach tablets, shaving foam, gloss paint and even a fried egg rested against a human foot.
"One day, sitting in the shed I live in, I had a revelation: Within the current climate of misinformation and society's willingness to believe absolute bulls***, maybe a fake restaurant is possible?" wrote Oobah Butler, who has a history of pulling pranks for news and entertainment website vice.com.
"In that moment, it became my mission. With the help of fake reviews, mystique and nonsense, I was going to do it: turn my shed into London's top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor," he said.
Starting at No. 18,149, the worst restaurant in London, The Shed worked its way up the rankings, thanks to fake reviews sent from different computers to avoid TripAdvisor's defences.
Under the heading "An unrivalled delight", one reviewer wrote: "Many restaurants get it wrong nowadays by trying to set too much of a mood. Here, you order the mood and the mood is always right."
Another reviewer wrote: "As the sun was setting, we were offered blankets - we politely declined (one had a stain on), but a nice touch, adds to the alfresco feel."
The restaurant was soon inundated with booking demands, public relations offers and media requests, shooting its rating to the No. 1 spot in London just six months after its initial listing.
Bowing to popular demand, the restaurant eventually opened its doors, with diners treated to ready meals from budget supermarket Iceland.
TripAdvisor responded in a statement on Thursday, saying: "Generally, the only people who create fake restaurant listings are journalists in misguided attempts to test us.
"Most fraudsters are interested only in trying to manipulate the rankings of real businesses - so naturally, that is what our content specialists are focused on catching," it added.
"As there is no incentive for anyone in the real world to create a fake restaurant, it is not a problem we experience with our regular community - therefore this 'test' is not a real-world example."