A top chef has questioned the way restaurants are inspected for their hygiene.
Pete Laurenson, who runs the kitchen in The Victoria Park in Bedminster, was celebrating this week as his workplace’s cleanliness was praised by council officials.
But the 35-year-old can still recall the pain he felt when an earlier inspection resulted in a two-star hygiene rating.
He said: “It’s hurtful for everyone in the kitchen – the morale of everyone in the kitchen dropped for a few months.”
The Victoria Park, on Raymend Road, was hailed by The Times in 2017 as one of the best places in the UK for Sunday lunch.
But the gastropub was struck a major blow the following year when it lost its five-star hygiene rating.
Inspectors issued a verdict of ‘Improvement Required’ after their visit on October 31, 2018.
(Image: Michael Lloyd Photography)
“That one inspection took us right down to a two star. It really badly affected our business – and my reputation as well,” Mr Laurenson told Bristol Live.
Mr Laurenson, who was not present during the inspection, believes the low score was partly down to miscommunication.
He said the inspector claimed the kitchen was cooking pork at a low temperature, which would have been unsafe, but in fact the meat was beef, being safely cooked using the sous-vide method.
“They went ahead and did the report and said we were cooking pork at below 60 degrees but we actually weren’t,” said the chef.
Mr Laurenson believes the misunderstanding would not have arisen if the kitchen were more fully-staffed at the time, which would have allowed more time to be devoted to answering the inspector’s questions.
Based on this experience, Mr Laurenson feels it is not always fair for inspectors to visit at peak times.
(Image: Michael Lloyd Photography)
“I just think they [inspectors] should be a bit more considerate when they walk into a building and [they should] ask, ‘will I be able to get all the answers I need?'”
Reflecting on the entire inspection system, Mr Laurenson added: “Obviously these things are in place for a reason, but sometimes you can get caught with your pants down.”
This week The Victoria Park was visited again and awarded a four-star hygiene rating, according to Mr Laurenson, who described his kitchen as “stunning”.
Another industry figure with doubts about the inspections is the owner of The Cross Hands pub in Fishponds.
The landlord – who wished not to be named – believes the visits are “valid”, but feels his establishment was hard done by when it was given a one-star rating in April 2018.
“You could eat the food off the floor but if you don’t have your paperwork they give you a one [out of five],” said the landlord, who explained that crucial documents were not in the building on the day of the inspection.
The owner said: “The chef had taken it [the paperwork] home with him. He had taken it home to make sure everything was up to date and we were unable to get hold of him.
“It’s just one of those unfortunate things – that’s what it was, but I can’t prove that.”
(Image: Google Maps)
Reflecting on the overall regime, he said: “The problem with the system is it’s all-or-nothing and Bristol City Council is seriously under-resourced so they haven’t come back and I’ve sat on that low rating for quite some time.”
The landlord, who took over the business in 2014, said he has never placed the pub’s hygiene rating on the front door – even when it was given five stars.
“I’ve never done it because I don’t believe it’s representative,” he said.
A Bristol City Council spokesman said: “Food hygiene inspections are a vital part of our commitment to protecting public health across the city.
“Overseen by the Food Standards Agency, our inspectors operate under guidelines which are set out in law.
“It is the responsibility of businesses to comply with food hygiene laws at all times, but as well as enforcement options, food safety officers also offer advice to businesses on improvements.”