A High Street restaurant chain has been fined £40,000 for misleading customers by selling a lobster dish that was made largely of white fish.
ASK Italian, which boasts 112 restaurants across the UK, described its £14.95 Aragosta e Gamberoni dish as ‘lobster and king prawns in a creamy tomato sauce with a hint of chilli’.
But a Trading Standards inspection revealed the dish contains just 70p worth of lobster, which only accounted for 35 per cent of the dish.
Inspectors found 34 per cent of the meal was white fish often used to make crab sticks and styled to look and taste like lobster.
Azzuri Restaurants Limited, which trades as ASK Italian, was fined £40,000 after admitting misleadingly describing food at Swansea Magistrates Court.
ASK Italian, which boasts 112 restaurants across the UK, described its £14.95 Aragosta e Gamberoni dish as ‘lobster and king prawns in a creamy tomato sauce with a hint of chilli’
Trading Standards uncovered the ‘lobster’ used in the dish was a frozen mix of ‘real lobster and lobster-flavoured seafood’ made with surimi’, which is used to make crab sticks
The court heard the company had made £3million from selling the dish since it was put on the menu in 2014.
The charge covered the period between 1 December 2016 and 20 March 2019 when Swansea Trading Standards alerted ASK and it was no longer made available.
The lack of lobster in the dish, which only cost £2.84 but was the most expensive on the menu, was spotted by a Swansea Council trading standards officer during a routine visit.
Lee Reynolds, prosecuting, said the council officer chose Aragosta e Gamberoni – which was described on the menu as ‘lobster and king prawns in a creamy tomato sauce with a hint of chilli’.
Mr Reynolds said: ‘The officer was shown the raw ingredients but to her it did not look like or resemble lobster meat so she asked to see the original packaging.
‘When the inspector was shown the pack it turned out to be something called Lobster Sensations, which described itself as ‘A delicious blend of real lobster and lobster flavoured seafood made with surimi, a fully cooked fish protein’.
The court heard the actual lobster content of the frozen sensation is 35 per cent, with a similar amount of white fish, and then ingredients such as potato starch and soy protein.
He said: ‘This was being sold as lobster throughout the national chain of restaurants.
‘We say consumers did not get what the consumer was entitled to expect when ordering the dish. They were not receiving, we say, proper lobster.’
The lack of lobster in the dish, which only cost £2.84 but was the most expensive on the menu, was spotted by a Swansea Council trading standards officer during a routine visit to the local branch (pictured)
Swansea Magistrates Court heard consumers had been ‘misled’ about the true nature of the dish and its cheap ingredients – but the company insists it was a ‘labelling mistake’, and there was no intention to deceive.
ASK apologised and accepted that without reference to white fish, the menu description was incomplete and likely to mislead.
Azzurri Restaurants Ltd, registered in Chapel Street, London, pleaded guilty to selling a food with a misleading label, contrary to the Food Safety Act 1990.
Oliver Campbell, for ASK, said the firm apologised for and regretted the ‘error’ it had made.
He said it had been a ‘mistake in the description given to the dish’ and there had been no intention to mislead.
Mr Campbell said the firm ‘strongly denied’ there had been a financial motivation behind the offending.
He told the court the company had a turnover of £260 million per year, with Ask accounting for £94 million of that.
It denied having a financial motivation and said the item had the lowest profit margin of all the restaurant’s pasta dishes, adding there was no health and safety risk associated with this case.
District judge Neale Thomas said in his view the way the dish had been described on the menu by the firm was a ‘deliberate action’, and that it ‘falsely represented’ the nature of the food.
But he said he was not convinced there was ‘evidence of profiteering’ by the company in its actions.