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Last Updated: Friday, 15 June 2007, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Australian food review defamatory
Restaurant
Critics say the ruling sets a worrying precedent
Food critics in Australia are digesting a controversial High Court decision that an unfavourable review of a Sydney restaurant was defamatory.

The review of Coco Roco restaurant, published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2003, was found to be an attack on the restaurant as a business.

The reviewer, Matthew Evans, had written that the flavours of one dish "jangled like a car crash".

Critics of the court decision said it could stifle honest reviews.

'Unpalatable'

According to the BBC correspondent in Sydney, Nick Bryant, the city likes to think of itself as one of the great culinary capitals of the world, and its restaurant reviewers wield much the same power as theatre critics in New York.

Business capacity and reputation are different from personal reputation
Court judgement
Now, though, they might have to become less acerbic in their opinions, he says.

After two miserable visits to Coco Roco restaurant, Mr Evans was distinctly unimpressed, complaining that half the dishes were simply unpalatable.

He claimed that while the establishment "was touted as Sydney's most glamorous restaurant," the reality was that "if glamour peaked at about 1985, then perhaps they're right".

The restaurant closed within months of the review, with its owners blaming the comments for its demise.

In a 6-1 decision, the High Court decided that the review was an attack on the restaurant as a business.

"Business capacity and reputation are different from personal reputation," the court judgement said.

Further hearings will now be held, to determine what, if any, damages are applicable.

Critics have cried foul, saying their opinions could now become as banal as the food at the heart of the case was reported to be.

"If a poor review leads to diminished returns at the box office of the theatre, are we now going to say that it is due to the review and not to the quality of the work?" veteran critic Leo Schofield told reporters.




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