OPINION - The trashing of Il Portico is a low point for London

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 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

What a lunch yesterday: pork belly ragu, calf’s liver, thirsty gulps of grappa. Nine of us sat greedily at a long table in Il Portico, a family-run Italian in Kensington that’s met its customers with paper-thin slices of prosciutto since 1967, but we were there in dour-ish circumstances. In the 55 years Portico has been going, it’s mostly been left alone. A week ago today it wasn’t, though: one of its windows was smashed in.

Bored vandals, maybe. Except that a few days before the restaurant had raised £18,500 for Lumos, an NGO helping children suffering in Ukraine. One guest was JK Rowling, who founded Lumos, so Il Portico’s owner, James Chiavarini, decided to thank her on Twitter. “It wasn’t a gender critical event,” says Chiavarini. “It was about raising money for Ukraine.” But Rowling has been at the centre of an unsavoury storm over trans rights, so his tweet was swiftly blitzed.

Shortly after, a slew of accusatory Il Portico reviews made it to Google, and then the window was done in. “Now, I should stress there is zero evidence to link the break-in to Rowling,” says Chiavarini. “You could say it was a coincidence. But the one stars, people from Tallahassee calling me a transphobe, there’s no doubt that’s tied to it.” Does he regret the tweet? “Truthfully, I do.” Worse, he adds, have been the arson threats.

Chiavarini says he’s puzzled by the whole thing. “Am I transphobic? No! I couldn’t give a monkey’s. Besides, we literally exist because we welcome everyone; it’s how we pay the mortgage.”

Challenging transphobia and standing up for trans rights are both fundamentally important, now more than ever. These challenges, though, must be pointed in the right direction, or they threaten to undermine a cause of ever-pertinent importance. Who benefits from trashing a local, family-run place because it hosted a Ukraine fundraiser? Where’s the transphobia in that?

And what is achieved by threatening to burn the place down? Once, non-violent protest was the thing. It is agonising that such ideas seemingly have passed, and untempered violence is no longer a final resort, but a first one. Talks take time, but are the only real route to common ground; there is always more achieved in conversation than with conflict.

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