The Lounge, Sunderland College, North Hylton Road

Sunderland City College catering students
Sunderland City College catering students
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Forget turkey twizzlers and spaghetti hoops –this new generation of gastronomes are turning student food on its head.

A training ground for cookery students, The Lounge is a restaurant that gives the public the chance to sample the fruits of their labour, before their skills are snapped up by top restaurants. Which I’m sure they will.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a restaurant within the college, but once you’re in, The Lounge’s standard of service and food means you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a city centre restaurant.

Word of mouth has seen The Lounge propelled to number five out of almost 300 eateries on Sunderland’s Trip Advisor page, beating competition from established businesses on Wearside.

The students’ skills have also earned them an invitation to take part in the first Sunderland Festival of Food, which takes place in Mowbray Park in May.

It’s a well-deserved plaudit. Eager to please and learn, the students who served us on a Thursday lunchtime, were pleasant, helpful and super polite.

Though the restaurant itself isn’t the grandest in the city, it’s laid out immaculately, with glasses and cutlery that have been polished to perfection.

The lunch menu is well thought out and not overly-complicated – think British classics such as soup of the day, mushroom and leek pie and braised beef with horseradish mash – meaning it didn’t take long to make our choices.

My first course – roasted butternut squash, feta cheese, chilli and pumpkin seed salad – was big enough to be a light main.

Presented in a trendy asymmetric dish, it was brimming with flavour. I expected a smidge more kick from the chilli, but, that aside, it was excellent value for money.

It took me quite some time to devour the chunk-upon-chunk of feta and mounds of sweet, squidgy squash, but I was determined to polish it off.

I was feeling pretty full – but my main was so delicious I couldn’t bear to leave a scrap on the plate.

I’d gone for smoked haddock risotto with poached egg, and this version rivalled any I’ve had in fancier restaurants, who charge triple the price.

Smooth, creamy, yet still light, it was exemplary. The egg was poached to perfection, meaning it needed only the lightest of pokes to pierce it into runny submission.

As an added bonus, I got to enjoy this feast for the bargain price of £7.50 for two courses. A main course costs just £4.75 or three courses for £9.25, which is perfect for thrifty diners.

As the restaurant is fully licensed, you can also enjoy a reasonably-priced selection of wines with your lunch.

Lunch service runs on week days from noon, with last orders at 1pm. There is also a dinner service but, be warned, this only operates on Thursday nights from 7pm.

My meal was so good it’s whet my appetite for the restaurant’s forthcoming theme nights, which include a Pay What It’s Worth night on February 27, an Orient Express night on April 24 and a tapas night on May 22.

Katy Wheeler