Noise complaints as Chinese restaurant operates unlicensed karaoke bar

Utopia, Ditchling Road (Credit: Google)
Utopia, Ditchling Road (Credit: Google)

A Chinese takeaway in the centre of Brighton has been found operating as an unlicensed late-night karaoke bar.

Utopia – also known as No 1 Restaurant – in Ditchling Road, close to the Open Market, also had a separate room where the tile-based game mahjong was being played.

Neighbours have been complaining about being kept awake and one of their ward councillors has written to licensing chiefs on their behalf.

Earlier this year Brighton and Hove City Council served a noise abatement notice on the owners, threatening the possibility of an unlimited fine if the notice were to be breached.

Now the owner, Lei Wang, and his business, Yingbo Food Culture, have applied to vary the existing premises licence so that it can be run as a restaurant.

It was formerly the Sichuan Garden takeaway, with a late licence to sell food until midnight and to deliver beer, cider and wine with “substantial food” orders.

Mr Wang wants to be able to sell drink on the premises until midnight and to be able to stay open half an hour later – until 12.30am.

His application is due to be decided by a council licensing panel at Hove Town Hall on Friday (July 19).

A report to the panel said that council licensing officer Donna Lynsdale tried to visit the premises several times to follow up a complaint about noisy parties going on until past 2am.

She also said that Mr Wang had emailed to ask about extending the opening hours from midnight until 2.30am.

She said that the premises was in a part of Brighton and Hove that had been designated a “special stress area” by the council because of the level of crime and disorder and public nuisance.

Any new premises licence – or variations to an existing licence – could be refused if they were likely to add to the problems faced in the local area.

She went back to the premises with the Sussex Police licensing team and found that the takeaway kitchen and customer area had become a fully equipped bar.

Behind the counter there was a cooker but it was not connected while store rooms had been knocked through to create a karaoke room and the separate mahjong room.

The report to the licensing panel includes a letter from Ms Lynsdale which said: “As they had no kitchen and the cooker was not working, they were unable to comply with the conditions of the premises licence.

“The bar on site was fully stocked with spirits, which was a further breach of the premises licence.”

She added: “Based on my interactions with this premises, the licensing team has little confidence in either the premises licence holder or the other individuals who are running the business.”

Inspector Rob Lovell has also written to the council. He said: “Sussex Police have concerns that the premises will not operate solely as a restaurant following the breaches.

“Concerns have been raised that the premises does not have a sufficient kitchen in order to operate as a restaurant.”

Yingbo Food Culture said in its application for a restaurant licence that alcohol would be served only to customers seated in the dining area.

It planned to have two dining rooms and said that it would not serve alcoholic drinks in the mahjong room.

Neighbours are unconvinced and have objected and, on Friday, three councillors – one Labour, one Green and one Conservative – will have to decide whether to grant the owners’ request for a later licence.