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Rocksalt restaurant in Folkestone paid customer taken to hospital

An award-winning restaurant paid a customer £3,000 after he was taken to hospital with food poisoning symptoms.

Rocksalt in Folkestone, where Mark Sargeant is the executive chef, denies responsibility for the diner's illness in August but made the 'ex gratia', or payment of grace, anyway.

The diner, who wishes to remain anonymous, was taken to a cardiac ward at Ashford’s William Harvey Hospital the following day after eating chicken liver at the award-winning restaurant on July 31 this year.

The Rocksalt restaurant in Folkestone
The Rocksalt restaurant in Folkestone

He was admitted with diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pains and chest pains, the latter owing to complications following a previous heart attack.

He was treated at the hospital for three days.

In a formal complaint to Shepway council’s environmental health (EH) department, he said the chicken livers were ‘jelly-like’ and ‘almost raw’.

In an email to the authority, seen by KentOnline's sister paper the Folkestone Express, he explained: “The chicken livers were served on toast as a starter from the set lunch menu for that day.

“On receipt I remarked to my wife that they were tepid in temperature at best and almost raw.

“Whilst I do take my meat rare – these were ‘jelly like’ on the inside.

Executive chef Mark Sargeant
Executive chef Mark Sargeant

“I ate 60 or 70% of the starter but remarked to the waitress that they were ‘a little too rare for me’.”

The diner’s complaint triggered an EH probe, which led to the restaurant being stripped of its five-star rating after ‘high risk’ undercooked chicken liver was discovered.

It branded the restaurant ‘Improvement Necessary’ and scored it ‘Poor’ for food hygiene and safety, giving it a two-star rating.

Rocksalt’s lawyer Edward Sainsbury told the diner via email the restaurant did not accept liability but would pay £3,000 to settle the matter.

He said: “Whilst my client makes no admissions as to liability in this matter, they are on this occasion willing to make an ex gratia payment of £3,000 in full and final settlement of any claim you may have against them in relation to this incident.”

Public Health England issued an official food poisoning alert in 2015 linking chicken livers to campylobacter, the most common form of food poisoning in the UK.

"Whilst I do take my meat rare – these were 'jelly like' on the inside" - the customer who ended up in hospital

Carried out by local authorities, inspections brand establishments from 0-5, with five being the highest.

Businesses can display their score on a window, although it is not compulsory.

Rocksalt was handed two out of five stars for hygiene, after inspectors discovered ‘unsafe’ cooking procedures.

Shepway District Council’s environmental health officer stripped its five star rating after finding ‘high risk’ chicken liver was undercooked during a probe in August.

His report said: “I noted some cooking procedures that could lead to an unsafe product.

“For example, chicken livers may be cooked medium.

“Core temperature is monitored using a probe and the product is considered cooked when it reaches 70C.

“The time temperature combination for thorough cooking is 70C held for two minutes.”

The council ordered the restaurant, which charges £8.25 for a chicken liver pate starter, to train staff on correct procedures.

Concerns were raised with the restaurant’s temperature record keeping charts where ‘high risk’ cooked foods were incorrectly monitored.

A message from Rocksalt, posted on website Scores on the Doors, says: “We have requested a revisit and have addressed the single cooking technique deemed incorrect.

“We have urgently retrained all staff to our correct procedure.”

Mark Sargeant, who trained under Gordon Ramsay, hit out at inspectors, saying the “powers that be” would have his staff cook the livers until they are well-done, turning them into a “rancid, crumbly paste”.

He said the way chefs cooked the product was something he had been taught in college.

The Rocksalt restaurant has been dropped to two stars by the Food Standards Agency
The Rocksalt restaurant has been dropped to two stars by the Food Standards Agency

Mr Sargeant, who opened the popular and award-winning restaurant in 2011, acknowledged the “food guidelines are there to help us”.

He said in a statement: “In any professional kitchen such as ours they are a normal part of our job.

“After many years of holding five stars, which in my mind should be normal really, we have been dropped down to two stars.

“The actual inspection part of the visit from the EHO (Environmental Health Officer) lasted two minutes and that the score was altered purely on a conversation the inspector had with my head chef.”

The inspector noted chicken livers were cooked “medium” which they said could lead to food poisoning.

Mr Sargeant said: “We also know that you’re no longer allowed to serve burgers rare and indeed the law has now deemed that we can’t enjoy a steak tartare without searing the outside first and then scraping it off before chopping it up.

“Now it appears that we are no longer allowed to cook chicken livers pink, something I have grown up with and learnt since college.

“A well done chicken liver is like eating rancid, crumbly paste but according to the powers that be it is how we should consume them.

“So when my chef said that we cook them to 70C instead of the recommended 75C, still over in my opinion, they decided to drop us from five stars to two.”

He confirmed the restaurant would be appealing the decision.

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