Two Instagram influencers say their lives have been destroyed over the fallout from an expensive Christmas lobster dinner, which has forced them to fear for their safety and endure vile abuse.
At the heart of the controversy is whether or not Jennifer Do and her daughters Belinda and Julie Nguyen “completely finished” a $364 fresh lobster at western Sydney’s Silver Pearl Restaurant on December 25, 2020.
Court documents obtained by news.com.au show they claim they did not eat a single bite — only their mum’s partner ate some — before complaining to staff they thought it may be frozen or “off” and leaving the restaurant with the largely-untouched lobster on the table.
The trio took their defamation case to the Federal Court, where they are suing Silver Pearl Restaurant over a social media post made in the wake of the dinner that read: “Beware FRAUDULENT DINERS”.
The post described the women as “dishonest, entitled (and) classless,” claiming they falsely accused the chef of serving them frozen lobster and that they “completely finished” their meal, refused to pay and left.
But a summary of evidence each of the women filed to the court ahead of a judge-alone trial paints a very different picture of alleged events.
In it, they claim their lives have been ruined by their new-found reputation of being fraudsters, over a lobster they allegedly didn’t even eat.
According to Belinda Nguyen’s statement, by December 25, 2020, the food blogger had done about 100 restaurant reviews in exchange for meals at different venues, but she went to Silver Pearl with her family as normal customers.
They chose to eat at Silver Pearl that night because Belinda’s mum and partner had eaten there before and enjoyed it.
Shortly after arriving, Belinda and Julia took some photos near the Christmas display before coming back to the table, where their mum’s boyfriend, Son, said he’d sampled the food a few times and “it smelled really off … it tastes bitter … he does not feel so good”.
According to Belinda, Son dipped some pieces in sauce to make sure it was not edible.
Julie said she’s “not going to risk it” and called over the manager to explain Son had tasted the lobster but it smelt off, to which the manager said the lobster was fresh and they would “never do that”.
An argument broke out and the group eventually left, leaving $40 cash on the table for the wine but not paying for the food.
Belinda, Julie and Jennifer “were still hungry as none of them had eaten the lobster” so they allegedly went across the road to a restaurant called Bar Luck and paid for cooked lobster.
According to Son’s evidence, he “still felt a little funny in his stomach but not too bad at this time” and “ate some of this lobster but not as much as he normally would”.
The women wrote that the fallout from the Silver Pearl’s Facebook post, which claimed they completely finished the lobster and left without paying, had caused them to fear for their safety due to the online and real-life abuse they’d received from members of the public.
In the weeks that followed, Belinda allegedly received private messages that were “aggressive and threatening,” and had people in the Vietnamese community telling her they disowned her.
She claimed she went to the shops at Liverpool a week after the incident and noticed a group of people pointing at her, laughing and calling out words such as “scammer”, “s**t”, “can’t you pay your bills” and “go die”.
For the next six months, Belinda was on “extreme high alert” and had felt deeply stressed and anxious since then.
Her mother, Jennifer, also claimed she experienced several abusive incidents while outside of the home, particularly at the Vietnamese grocers where she was allegedly called a “b***h”, “scum”, “cheat” and “coward”.
She claimed one person told her to “go to hell” while another person asked why she ate lobster but did not pay, allegedly causing her to leave the grocery store and eat pizza for dinner.
“In 2020, Jennifer stopped doing a lot of things that she loved. Before then she felt respected and admired within the Vietnamese Community. But after she felt mocked, hurt, and ridiculed,” the evidence read.
Julie and Belinda claimed they lost their desire to work in law and the corporate world as they coped with the fallout from one regrettable Christmas outing.
No criminal charges have been laid over the incident, as police determined it was a civil matter.
The Silver Pearl restaurant strenuously denies falsely accusing the visitors of finishing their dinner and not paying.
The trial will be heard before Justice Robert Bromwich in October next year.