ASK Italian pasta dish in hot water for ‘misleading’ lobster claims

Andy WellsFreelance Writer
The ASK lobster pasta dish was made with a lobster and fish mix (Wales News)
The ASK lobster pasta dish was made with a lobster and fish mix (Wales News)

A national restaurant chain has apologised after it was found one of their lobster dishes was somewhat lacking in lobster meat.

ASK Italian had been selling the Aragosta e Gamberoni – lobster and king prawns – pasta dish for £14.95 in its 112 outlets around the UK for years.

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But instead of lobster chunks, the meal was made with 70p worth of a lobster and fish mix - a cheaper product which is a fraction of the cost of lobster.

The lack of lobster in the dish was spotted by a Swansea Council trading standards officer during a routine visit to a branch in the city.

Consumers ‘misled’ over ingredients, court told

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.

Lee Reynolds, prosecuting on behalf of the local authority, said the issue came to light after an inspector visited ASK on Swansea's Wind Street in March 2019.

He said the council officer selected a dish from the menu called Aragosta e Gamberoni – which was described on the menu as "lobster and king prawns in a creamy tomato sauce with a hint of chilli" – and asked to see the ingredients.

The actual lobster content is 35%, with a similar amount of white fish and alongside ingredients such as potato starch and soy protein (Wales News)
The actual lobster content is 35%, with a similar amount of white fish and alongside ingredients such as potato starch and soy protein (Wales News)

The barrister 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 actual lobster content of the frozen sensation is 35%, with a similar amount of white fish and then ingredients such as potato starch and soy protein.

Mr Reynolds said the projected sales of Aragosta e Gamberoni around the country totalled around £3m.

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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."

He conceded while the description had been "misleading", there was little or no risk to safety.

The court heard that once the council raised the issue with the company, the dish in question was removed from menus around the country.

Azzurri Restaurants Ltd, the parent company of ASK, had previously pleaded guilty to selling a food with a misleading label as to its substance between December 2016 and March 2019 – contrary to the Food Safety Act 1990 – when representatives of the firm appeared in court.

Swansea Magistrates Court heard consumers had been "misled" about the true nature of the dish (Geograph)
Swansea Magistrates Court heard consumers had been "misled" about the true nature of the dish (Geograph)

Oliver Campbell, for the defendants, 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 £260m per year, with ASK accounting for £94m of that.

ASK ‘falsely represented’ nature of pasta dish

He added that in 133 visits from environmental health officers, and a "significant" number of visits from trading standards officers, at branches all over the country over the years, no other council had raised issue – and there was no evidence any customers had complained.

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.

Giving Azzurri Restaurants Ltd a one-third discount for its guilty plea he fined the firm £40,000.

The district judge added that Swansea Council was to be commended for uncovering the issue.

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