A British restaurant offering exotic zebra and wildebeest dishes on its menu was actually serving horse meat and venison, it has been revealed.
The Steakhouse in Watford was found guilty of selling horse and venison meats as the exotic dishes, following an investigation by the Hertfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service.
Kunal Soni, 32, of Belswains Lane in Hemel Hempstead, was ordered to pay £3860 in costs and a victim surcharge of £15 following a trial at St Albans Magistrates’ Court early last week. The offences related to the sale of meat which was misdescribed.
The court was told that, on April 25, 2014, two trading standards officers attended “The Steakhouse” restaurant in St Albans Road, Watford, to carry out a test purchase following a complaint about meat substitution at the restaurant.
The officers, who were the only two customers in the restaurant, placed their order with Soni from the menu for one zebra and one wildebeest dish. It was only after the food had been served and the officers identified themselves that Soni indicated that the chef had made a mistake.
In the kitchen, the officers noticed a ticket in relation to their order reading “1 venison, chips and salad; 1 horse, chips and salad”, with no reference to either zebra or wildebeest.
The meals were subsequently sent for analysis, which identified that the meat served as zebra was horse, and the meat served as wildebeest was red deer.
On May 2 last year, trading standards officers returned to the restaurant. During their inspection they found that the freezer contained more than 22 kilograms of what was labelled as horse meat – more than any other type of meat.
Neither the words “horse” nor “venison” appeared on the restaurant menu.
Soni did not dispute that offences had been committed but argued that he was merely helping out at the restaurant, having just sold the business to the chef. He therefore argued he should expect to have only limited responsibility.
The magistrates found that Soni had described himself as a manager on three separate occasions to local authorities, including on the date of the test purchase.
The magistrates said there had been an “obvious opportunity” to defer to the chef during the April 25 visit by trading standards officers. The action Soni had taken, a mere verbal check of the order, was insufficient.
The court was told that Soni was now a man of limited means and that his outgoings exceeded his income. He was given a 12-month conditional discharge for the offences. Soni can therefore be made subject to further punishment for this offence should he commit any further offence during the period of the discharge.
Richard Thake, Cabinet member for Community protection, said the public must have confidence in the food that was put in front of them when eating out.
“There can be implications regarding traceability of the food, allergens and religious concerns in some cases. Passing off food as something that it is not puts other competing businesses at a disadvantage and undermines trust in the market.”