It's easy enough to find good restaurants in Auckland. Almost every local publication has regular reviews and lists of the best places to dine. I rely heavily on this information. All the new establishments are usually covered and because we frequent eateries that come highly recommended we avoid wasting time on ones that aren't up to scratch.
One vital aspect that is frequently overlooked in such reviews is whether the establishment has excellent hygiene standards. As confessed in What are your restaurant gripes?, I won't dine anywhere that hasn't been awarded an A-Certificate: "Life's too short to eat at restaurants with lower hygiene standards than my own kitchen. For that reason we'll only eat at establishments with the highest rating. We've skipped out of restaurants prior to ordering because their certificate wasn't easy to find on the wall. Displaying this food grading certificate prominently is compulsory and I subscribe to the (unproven yet compelling) theory that if it isn't in an obvious place then it mustn't be an A."
With 3,400 local establishments holding an A-certificate, why anyone would patronise a place with a lesser grade is a mystery to me. It was recently reported in Revealed: Dirtiest places to eat in Auckland City that "10 restaurants and cafes have received E grades, with 29 given a D grade". Then in a stroke of pure genius the Dirty Dining Diary was launched. That's right. Some intrepid members of the online crew "decided to put their bellies on the line and review all 29 of the D listers, revealing one a day for the month of September".
We're so accustomed to reading approving (and sometimes gushing) reviews of eateries that it's refreshing to gain an insight into some of the dodgier dives in our city. I delighted in details such as grubby plastic-covered tables, "water tumblers stacked up on damp dishcloths", pieces of meat that "didn't seem right to eat", "pigeons scratching beneath our feet", a "rank smell", "potentially dodgy seafood" - and (my favourite so far) the report of a "small critter" crossing a table. I keenly anticipate each day's instalment.
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But back to restaurant reviews. Isn't it time they included the grading of the restaurant concerned? I'd always assumed any place that consistently gets rave reviews from respected critics would naturally have an A-certificate. Well, I was wrong.
As explained in Eatery loved by celebs rated a D, a Dominion Road dumpling house which was "popular with celebrities and foodies" - and was "named in the top 10 on Metro's lauded Best Cheap Eats list and rated best Chinese takeaway in Viva's Best Takeout Awards" - was found to have questionable food hygiene.
Recently we headed to a cheap and cheerful Malaysian place that has been the focus of many glowing reviews. It's been described as "an institution" and "as good as it gets". We entered and asked for a table for two. My eyes were instantly drawn to the B-certificate on the wall and I stifled a gasp. The waitress showed my husband to a table but I was already out the door and running down the road as fast as I could.
Are hygiene certificates important to you? Would you eat at a restaurant with a B-grade? What about a D or E? Should restaurant reviews include such ratings?