If you’re eating out in Sydney, watch out for the soggy blackberries, overcooked potatoes and outstandingly dull roast chicken. They’re expensive.

Throw in some limoncello oysters that jangle like a car crash, and you’ll pay more than $A600,000. And that doesn’t include the tip.

That’s how much the Sydney Morning Herald paid in libel costs after reviewing the CoCo Roci restaurant.

Their reviewer, Matthew Evans, used ‘soggy, overcooked, outstandingly dull, and car-crash’ to describe his meal, and added: “More than half the dishes I’ve tried at CoCo Roco are simply unpalatable.”

He also said the pork belly tasted like parched Weetabix. The restaurant went belly-up six months later.

The restaurant sued for libel and won, after an epic four-course legal battle that lasted 11 years.

One of its owners, former beauty queen Ljiljana Gacic told the New South Wales Supreme Court she gained nine stone and attempted suicide after reading the review. Whether the nine stone came from eating dull chicken and overcooked potatoes is not clear.

Her sister and fellow owner, Aleksandra Gacic, said she could not walk for half an hour after reading it.

Food reviews are usually protected by a libel defence called fair comment. But the Herald’s problem was that Coco Roco was two restaurants. And the judge ruled the review didn’t say which one the review applied to.

Unsurprisingly, Evans has quit reviewing. He says that the court’s ruling was a sad day for Australian food journalism.

For him, the judgement must have been harder to stomach than the soggy blackberries.

Cleland Thom is a legal advisor to TNT and other media. He also runs online journalism courses. Contact him at cleland@clelandthom.com

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