High quality menu with a bargain price - what we thought of City Bistro at Sunderland College
College food for me was baked beans and Birdseye potato waffles.
But Sunderland College’s City Bistro is as far removed from school dinner grub as you can get. In fact, some regular restaurants could learn a thing or two about quality cooking and attentive service from its on site bistro.
A jewel in the crown of the £30million City Centre campus, which opened opposite Park Lane in 2016, City Bistro is a commercial restaurant where hospitality students can hone their skills by serving hungry members of the public.
For budding chefs and servers it’s a brilliant chance to work in a kitchen that’s better equipped than most professional ones, and for diners they get to enjoy quality dining at a bargain price.
Although it very much looks, and operates, like a full-scale restaurant, with 80 covers in slick, contemporary surroundings, the opening hours are the only giveaway that this is a training facility.
It’s closed on weekends, so if you want to try out the fruits of the students' labour you need to get along for week day lunch service where you can pick up three courses for £9, which runs daily from noon until 2pm, and one week night service only, which is on Thursdays from 5.30pm to 8pm.
The evening sittings, which often play host to themed nights and guest nights, are a chance for the students to really flex their culinary muscles and we booked up for one which featured former North East Chef of the Year Dave Kennedy who’s donned whites at restaurants including the popular Cafe 21 in Newcastle. (It’s worth noting that the City Bistro website doesn’t appear to be updated regularly, so you’ll need to check its Facebook for news on guest nights.)
At some of the city’s pricier restaurants you could expect to pay £18.95 for one main, but, as this is a venture not geared towards profit, here we received five courses each for that price.
The decor is a little clinical with its muted palette and white walls, but the warm atmosphere on a sold-out Thursday night made up for it, and the enthusiasm of the servers was palpable.
The menu may be cheap as chips, but it doesn’t feature them. Instead, it’s an imaginative selection of British classics which change regularly to give the students a chance to try their hand at everything from charcuterie to latte art.
First up in our five course feast: cream of celeriac soup with bistro-cured pancetta and thyme. It was lustrously rich and the earthy taste of the smooth celeriac worked perfectly with the salt of the pancetta.
Next, we had marinated salmon in a delicate mussel broth with saffron and dill. The salmon was cooked perfectly: flakey yet juicy. But it was the mussel broth which stole the show. So much so, I could have eaten a bowl of it on its own. Fortunately, you get a free side of bread to mop up every last drop.
Lamb’s not usually my preferred choice for mains, but here it was showcased in three ways in one dish: as a lamb fillet, a lap of lamb and in a side of Shepherd’s pie.
The fillet was less fatty than your typical lamb dish and beautifully tender. The lap of lamb (like belly pork) isn’t a cut I’ve had often, but was packed with flavour. Meanwhile, the classic Shepherd’s pie was a perfect winter warmer on a cold January night.
I was verging on full, but the pear financier sponge smelt and looked too good to turn down. The moist sponge was complemented well with a salt butter caramel, hazelnuts and vanilla to create a sweet medley of flavours and texture. As if that wasn’t enough for your pounds, the meal was rounded off with coffee and petit fours.
The restaurant is also fully licensed so you can enjoy alcohol with your meal. Again, it’s at a bargain price, and we had a refreshingly crisp bottle of white between us for £12. It brought our total bill to less than £50 for a meal which tasted like it would cost twice that.