Auckland's filthiest restaurants were revealed this week, with E ratings forcing seven to shut down while another 12 were given a D rating. Steve Braunias visits some of the worst.
One of the few grand sights in the west Auckland suburb of Henderson – very well, the only grand sight – is the beautifully restored hotel on the banks of the Oratia Stream.
It was built in 1873. It's now The Falls restaurant. It has deep-stained wooden floorboards, and historic photographs line the walls: men felling kauri, women pushing prams. Henderson's heritage, framed in black and white.
But the latest addition to the gallery is a certificate from Auckland Council's food-safety team. It's right by the front door and the frame is hung somewhat askew, as though put there in a hurry, or in a bad temper. It presents a single letter, upper case, in bright orange: D.
News reports this week that the council handed out the dreaded D to 12 Auckland food establishments - seven did worse, and got an E – were gleefully headlined "Filthiest restaurants revealed" and "Dirtiest restaurants named".
The shame it brings was evident in the manner of Sai Kumar, director of The Falls, when he spoke about it in the restaurant on Wednesday morning. He closed the doors so customers didn't come in and listen. He said: "It came as a shock. This place – it's clean all the time. Always had As. Always. Always."
The council claimed there were cleaning issues and something called "allergen management". Kumar explained a customer sent back a meal which contained croutons. "But she didn't inform us she had gluten allergies. She didn't inform us." He said a lot of things twice; he was still in a daze, was trying to hold onto logic. "So of course we didn't know. We didn't know."
He said the woman was part of a group, and that when they paid, one of the customers said to him, "Please don't mind my auntie. She's always like that." But auntie complained to the council. As for the "cleaning issues", Kumar was even more bewildered. "We clean every day! Every night! It doesn't add up to a D."
His wife came in and sat down. She didn't want to give her name. She said, "It breaks my heart to see a man who was so happy, who loves hospitality – now I only see stress."
Kumar said, "It takes its toll." But he had belief in his team, in his food, in The Falls. It's a classy joint, a popular restaurant. The small print on the certificate advised that The Falls "is under surveillance by food safety officers". Kumar was confident they would restore the A. In the meantime, he had to wait it out, and display the deathly D. "The stakes," he said, "are high."
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How high? Down the line in Glen Eden, Ghazal Indian Cuisine was given an E – and its doors are already closed, the ship abandoned. An empty two-litre Coke bottle on a counter was all that remained on the thin grey carpet. The front window was smashed. Low cloud hung over an attractive stand of nearby gum trees; in the failing light, its branches were black as death.
The E has also struck down Sui Yuan in Mt Albert. The doors were locked. Inside, the plugs on the appliances were torn out. A sign on the window reckoned, "We are going to be closed from May 16 to June 8 for holiday." Will it really reopen next week, and once again serve lamb and turnip dumplings, and something called "pock hock"?
Next door, Sue Song served up a hot, delicious bowl of roast pork with noodles at Happytime BBQ. There was a row of six certificates marked A, and four marked A+.
Sue's sister, who doesn't have or want an English name, undid the napkins around plastic bottles of sauce and mustard, and wrapped around new napkins. She attached them with a wooden clothes peg.
Everything was as neat as a pin. Three lucky cats on the counter waved their paws.