The publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald has been ordered to pay more than A$621,000 (HK$4.5 million) in damages after an 11-year legal battle over a restaurant review that said the best thing about the place was the view.
The reviewer, Matthew Evans, said that Coco Roco, a fine-dining restaurant on Sydney harbourside that has since closed down, was expensive and served food with many unpalatable flavours, and that the menu was flawed in concept and execution. The service, he said, was mixed.
"Why anyone would put apricots in a sherry-scented white sauce with a prime rib steak is beyond me," Evans wrote in the review, which is available online.
He scored Coco Roco nine out of 20 - which put it into the category of "stay home".
"A generous chock of meat comes perfectly rested, medium as ordered. But the halves of apricot are rubbery and tasteless (which is probably a good thing). I scrape the whole wretched garnish to one side."
Evans was even less impressed with the degustation of oysters. "There's a saffron-infused one. There's a seafood foam, which looks like it's been piped on top. The texture is scary and, let's be polite, not to my tastes. The limoncello, however, is worse ..."
The review concluded: "In a city where harbourside dining has improved out of sight in recent years, Coco Roco is a bleak spot on the culinary landscape."
The A$2.85 million restaurant complex closed within six months of the review and the three owners sued the newspaper's publisher, Fairfax Media, and Evans for defamation.
The marathon legal battle came to an end on Tuesday when a judgment in the supreme court of New South Wales ordered Fairfax to pay 11 years' worth of interest on top of the original damages of A$160,000 awarded to each of the three restaurateurs, Aleksandra Gacic, Ljiljana Gacic and Branislav Ciric.
The judge noted the lengthy history of the case, which includes the plaintiffs' claims for damages, a mistrial on liability and damages, a successful appeal by the plaintiffs to the court of appeal and a second trial on damages.
The defendants, who had been unable to prove the statements were true or fair comment, were also ordered to pay the plaintiffs' costs.
Australia's Crikey website quoted several food writers expressing concern that the ruling would muzzle restaurant critics.
"If a reviewer has to rein in their opinions, it's a disservice to readers. It limits ... how critical you can be in print or for that matter on social media," said the wine, food and travel writer Winsor Dobbin.