Mould, dirt and mice droppings — welcome inside some of Northern Ireland’s worst-kept restaurants.
That’s according to health inspection reports obtained by Sunday Life, and carried out by council environmental health officers across the province.
And the findings of these reports are guaranteed to make your eyes — not your mouth — water when you find out what is really inside your favourite kitchen.
Out of over 3,013 restaurants, cafes and canteens assessed in the country last year, just three scored ZERO in recent health inspections.
- The Ginger Tree, Belfast.
- Saggy’s Brunch cafe, Belfast.
- Indian Royale, Magherafelt, Co Londonderry
Shocking reports reveal how council technical officers found poor levels of cleanliness, food being unhygienically handled or stored and poor management in all three premises. Owners were urged to take immediate action.
Documents retrieved from Belfast City Council under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) reveal how The Ginger Tree restaurant — which claims to have brought Japanese cuisine to Northern Ireland — closed voluntarily for a short period after a rodent infestation last summer.
A Voluntary Closure Undertaking (VCU) was signed by management at the Donegall Pass eatery on July 30 last year, the same day health inspectors arrived unannounced.
Officers found mice droppings in the dry goods store and small rear store, and that pests were entering the building via a door in the kitchen.
The restaurant re-opened two days later on August 1, 2013 after remedial works were completed, and then verified by Belfast City Council.
The ten-page report also revealed how the chic city centre eatery, established in 1990, didn’t have hot water in the premises. Hobs, ovens, sinks and even plastic food containers were also found to be unclean, and there was evidence food handling surfaces were not being “properly disinfected”.
In Saggy’s Brunch cafe on the Shore Road, health officers described food hygiene awareness among staff as “inadequate”, with “high risk” foods being stored at the wrong temperatures, according to a report written last June.
Food handlers were also observed wearing the same apron or overalls while handling raw and ready-to-eat foods, and there was also evidence of flies in the kitchen.
It said: “These pests carry food poisoning bacteria and can contaminate food and food surfaces that they land on. The rear door was left open and provided easy access for these pests.” The cafe — which claims on its Facebook page to make Ulster’s best fry — was also criticised for having a staff toilet which “opened directly” into the kitchen where food was being handled.
At the Indian Royale restaurant, Magherafelt District Council health inspectors found that silver dishes used for serving curries and rice were being stored in a wash hand basin.
A report, dated September last year, also revealed most surfaces in the kitchen were covered in dirt and grease, as well as the floors and walls behind the bar, and a stairwell leading to the basement. A chest freezer, found in a room just off the bar area, had mould and “about” six inches of water.
The popular Indian restaurant was also criticised for storing a used mop bucket beside pots and pans used for cooking food. Food hygiene awareness among staff was described as “inadequate” and essential temperature records used for noting essential food storage each day were not available — because it was believed the owner had taken them out of the country.
All three restaurants have since been revisited by council health officers and have brought their standards into line.
According to the government’s official Food Safety Standards website, almost 15,000 premises in the province were visited by council officers in the last year for the food rating scheme. Councils rate not only restaurants, cafes and take-aways, but also hospitals, schools, farms and shops.
A total of 7,386 restaurants scored five — the best possible score an establishment can receive; 3,764 rated four; 1,454 were scored three; and just over 300 businesses were rated two.
Surprisingly, almost 300 are listed as scoring a poor one — meaning major and widespread non-compliance with food safety standards.
Some of those included Thai restaurant The Golden Elephant in Castlereagh; the famous Donaghadee eatery and pub Grace Neills and the very popular Holywood restaurant Koi Asian Cuisine.
Eight businesses scored zero, which means urgent improvement is necessary, and include Connswater Shopping Centre’s Poundland and Greyabbey’s VIVO shop on Main Street.
At inspection, officers not only check how hygienically food is handled, prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored, but also the condition of buildings including cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities. Businesses can also lose marks for how well it manages and records what it does to make sure food is safe.