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Revealed: Brighton and Hove's five dirtiest restaurants and takeaways
How do you fancy steamed butterfly king prawn with noodles, soy sauce, fresh ginger and spring onion from your local Thai restaurant?
Or how about a succulent tandoori chicken on the bone and marinated with tandoori masala and fresh herbs from your local Indian restaurant? Sounds tasty right?
But would you be as keen to tuck in knowing that these meals were prepared in a kitchen that food inspectors have given a hygiene rating of zero out of five. Doesn't sound as appealing now?
Fortunately the chances of eating in such a place in Brighton and Hove are rare.
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Of the city's 2,555 restaurants and takeaways just five have the zero rating in the Food Standards Agency (FSA) official food hygiene rating scheme which requires owners to make an urgent improvement.
The FSA say restaurants with zero ratings are likely to have a history of serious problems and are “very likely to be performing poorly” in how hygienically food is handled, the cleanliness of the premises and how well organised the company is around food hygiene.
A further 95 have scored just one star and require a major improvement in their hygiene standards.
In fact residents are much more likely to eat in a restaurant boasting a five-star dining experience, with more than half of eateries earning the top ranking.
And standards are improving with the proportion of premises with three stars, judged to be generally satisfactory, up from 91.4% in December 2012 to 92.9% in January this year - above the national average.
But while restaurant owners will often proudly display their five star rating with a recognisable green sticker, those eateries with dirty secrets behind the kitchen doors are understandably more reticent to show their current rating, for fear of scaring off customers in a fiercely competitive market.
Of the city's five worst-performing restaurants for hygiene in the city, unsurprisingly none display their ratings prominently.
Currently FSA advice states businesses are only “encouraged” and not obliged to display these stickers and certificates at their premises, in a place where customers “can easily see them”.
So while savvy customers can check the FSA website for hygiene ratings, the everyday patron stepping off the street is often none the wiser about the state of the kitchens in the restaurant they are about to use.
Top figures in the city's food tourism industry think that should change.
Brighton and Hove Food Festival director and Brighton Visitor publisher Nick Mosely said: “Showing your ratings should be mandatory.
“If you go to New York it is mandatory and that should be the case over here.
“Another problem is they changed the name from scores on the doors which was catchy and good for PR and marketing and is now called the food hygiene ratings system, which is not as catchy.
“It would be better to go back to the original name, although that is a national decision.”
Mr Mosley added customers should be confident of being able to walk into restaurants in Brighton and Hove and knowing they are eating food prepared in clean kitchens is key to the local economy.
He said: “Anything that shows increasing standards in the city has got to be good for tourism.
“Food tourism is one of the bigger drivers in UK tourism and had overtaken heritage tourism in recent years and we are all working together to make sure that Brighton and Sussex are on the food map.”
But one of the managers of the zero-rated restaurants said that his customers were not put off by his rating, which he considered to be unfair.
Anthony Francis, manager of Little Devil Rose Thai noodle bar in Western Road, said: “I think the zero rating was bit harsh, we never got complaints and everybody was happy with the food.
“People say we are the best Thai food in Sussex.
“It was just silly little things really like dirty lights that needed cleaning, it was all a bit nitpicking really.
“We had an open kitchen so people could see into the kitchen, we weren't hiding behind doors.
“I can see the point of these ratings but it's how they go about rating it, it tends to be a little bit over the top.”
Mr Francis added that since their latest inspection he had moved a few doors further down the street and his new property will be re-inspected in March.
Don Connacher from Sukothai Palace said: "We have always had high standards of food hygiene since we opened eight years ago and had a four star rating prior to this incident.
"We had a short term issue mainly due to the failings of a sub contractor but all issues were solved on the day of the inspection and a return visit later in the day by an inspector confirmed this.
"Our restaurant, as prior to this one off incident, now conforms or exceeds all relevant food safety regulations and we are waiting for a full re-inspection from the council to confirm this."
The loyalty of customers to Lovely Jubbly, based on Crowhurst Road in Brighton, is also seemingly unaffected by the news that the premises has a zero rating.
Ruari Barratt, 32, is a JournalistWorks student who studies at Argus House.
He said: “I have eaten at Lubbly Jubbly a few times.
“The food's alright and it wouldn't really bother me that they have that rating, but then again I am not fussy.
“To be honest, and I'm sure he wouldn't thank me for saying so, but I mostly go there because the first time I went there was a guy there who looked so miserable I didn't have the heart not to buy a baguette from him.”
A new Brighton and Hove City Council report on food safety in the city also warns of a “concerning trend” in the number of premises that the council has had to take to court over unacceptable hygiene problems.
The number of prosecutions undertaken for food hygiene offences for the current year has increased from an average of three to four a year to six between April 2013 and January 2014.
Council officials say a significant number of recent prosecutions have been as a result of mouse or rat infestations, which can be blamed on a number of factors including poor management and economic difficulties.
Yesterday the company behind “family-friendly cafe bar restaurant” Ohso Social in Kings Road Arches in Brighton were fined £10,000 after being found guilty on five counts of breaching food safety regulations.
Council inspectors found mice droppings at the premises during an inspection on November 14 last year.
Defendant David Chapman of Boardwalk Ltd in Camelford Street in Brighton appeared at Brighton Magistrates' Court to hear magistrates describe the state of the premises as “nothing but utterly repellent”.
The council has also successfully prosecuted Ocean Restaurant in Kings Road in Brighton, GFC in Church Road in Hove and Sukhothai Palace in Middle Street in Brighton in the current financial year.
In the same period of April to January this year, 48 hygiene improvement notices were served and seven businesses voluntarily closed while there were 35 reported cases of salmonella and 180 of the campylobacter bacteria.
The council is hopeful that a pilot scheme with the FSA, which paid for training for 40 of the poorest performing takeaways, will improve standards.
Councillor Pete West, chairman of the environment, transport and sustainability committee, said: “Standards of food hygiene in the city are going up, with more food businesses than ever achieving five stars and nearly 93% having three or more stars, which is better than the national average.
“Where poor hygiene is found, the food safety team works with those businesses to help them improve.
“Customers are also more aware and are contacting us more, which means that our food safety team can intervene earlier.
“Five star establishments can advertise the fact on their windows, which is an added selling point and provides consumer confidence.”On the issue of the mandatory displaying of hygiene ratings, a Brighton and Hove City Council spokeswoman added: “Wales has recently passed legislation to make the displaying of scores mandatory.
“The English FSA is keeping an eye on how things develop but unfortunately there is still one English local authority which has not adopted the scheme.
“So the FSA can't think about requesting parliament to look at this until the last one is signed up.”
Zero-rated restaurants in Brighton and Hove:
- China Town in Saltdean Vale, Saltdean
- Indian Kitchen in Church Road, Hove
- Little Devil Rose in Western Road, Hove
- Lovely Jubbly in Crowhurst Road, Brighton
- Sukothai Place in Middle Street, Brighton