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Australian Restaurateurs Win Lawsuit Against Newspaper Critic For Defamation

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Look out you critics: an Australian court has ordered John Fairfax Publications, which owns the Sydney Morning Herald, to pay the owners of now-shuttered Sydney restaurant Coco Roco for defamation. A 2003 review (warning: PDF) by former Herald critic Matthew Evans tore into the restaurant, giving it a score of 9 out of 20 (which signifies "stay home"). Coco Roco shuttered six months later. The restaurant was worth $3 million Australian when it opened; no word on how much Fairfax is paying them for their troubles now.

The review is delightfully scathing: Evans called the restaurant "simply unpalatable," somewhat famously describing the limoncello oysters (yes, limoncello oysters) as "sickly sweet, overtly alcoholic, slippery, salty and bitter." He also said the sorbet "jangles the mouth like a gamelan concert."

The fatal flaw of the review, the one that caused the court to side in favor of the restaurant, was that it failed to clarify that Coco Roco was actually two restaurants and that Evans was only reviewing the more upscale Coco. Yet both Coco and it's bistro sibling Roco suffered and eventually shuttered after the takedown.

Australia apparently has pretty strict defamation laws: Australian food writer Winsor Dobbin tells Crikey, "Some of the stuff that AA Gill and Jay Rayner write in Britain would certainly land them in court in Australia." But if the likes of Evans aren't free to protect Australians from limoncello oysters, who will?

· Final Course Is Cash For Herald Food Saga [The Australian]
· Legal Battle Over Restaurant Review Leaves Bitter Taste [Crikey]