City Bistro, Sunderland*
Having previously featured Enfields – Gateshead College’s Catering & Hospitality restaurant – on the website I was already aware of the talent we are developing in the colleges of the region. Sunderland College has its own in the stylish form of City Bistro, located within their £29 million campus, and I was invited along to give it a try for myself.
We were ushered through the stylish dining room into the kitchen, where I was given a tour of the facilities on offer to prospective catering students.Afterwards we were sat at the exclusive chef’s table in the restaurant, which gave us a sneaky peek at the work of the students and head chef Kelvin Linstead as they prepared our dinner.
Being aware of my dietary requirements students were tasked with devising courses that were both elegant and delicious. Because there is now a growing awareness of the need to teach upcoming culinary talents in how to accommodate those with allergies and specific diets this was a great opportunity to create more than a simple salad, risotto or sorbet for a vegan!
While each course was being plated we had the chance to chat with Kelvin and some of the students involved in the preparation and plating of the meal. His CV features some of my favourite eateries in Newcastle like Jesmond Dene House, Peace & Loaf and the long defunct Pan Haggerty.
The restaurant is open to the public for lunch and evening service on selected evenings of the week. It will also be open during the summer holidays. You can chose from a la carte or a Tasting Menu, which was the option given to us, or from an express menu. You can find out more here. I was dining with my non-veggie sister who had said she was happy to eat the same as me for the evening.
We were served up a selection of appetisers – as pictured above – to begin our gastronomic journey. I didn’t think anyone could top my own fussiness but Lucy seems to have gone above and beyond with her dislike of many ingredients. She gamely tried the Red Pepper Soup despite saying she didn’t like peppers and was pleasantly surprised by how much she enjoyed it.
Leek soil was used to give an umami flavour to the pickled beetroot dish which followed. The wholegrain mustard and crispy kale also added another dimension to the earthy plate we were served.
Next was an aubergine stuffed courgette flower, which had been coated in a light tempura batter. The harissa paste packed quite a punch, while the lightly sauteed courgettes and spring onions added a freshness to the dish.
I’m not the biggest fan of avocado, it has to be said, but I really enjoyed the homemade tacos topped with charred corn Kelvin and the team prepared. A squeeze of lime added a zing to the combination of creamy avocado and sweet pepper.
The sweetness of the cauliflower and golden raisins balanced well with the meatiness of the oyster mushroom on our next dish, which was supposed to be the last of the savoury courses. Kelvin must have realised we were ladies who liked our grub because another plate was quickly rustled up in front of our very eyes.
The final course of squash, giant cous cous, spinach and pine nuts was delicious. The attention to detail while plating was observed by us and marvelled at.
The vegan Chocolate Brownie was perfectly executed. It was made using oil instead of eggs and was a great way to demonstrate to the students that eggs are not required in baking. The pistachios and morello cherries cut through some of the richness of this dessert.
Our final course was an aquafaba meringue teamed with strawberries and coconut cream. The meringue was slightly chewy and I have asked if they will give me a masterclass on how to make these. It seems the catering students of the NE are doing better than the vegan who has tried many times to master this trickery in her own kitchen!With its frosted glass it is easy to forget that the restaurant is housed within Sunderland College. The dining area, menu on offer and service demonstrate the commitment of Kelvin and Curriculum Leader Robert Stewart, who was front of house during our visit, in training up the future stars of the culinary world. To hear some have been interviewed by the likes of L’Enclume made me keen to support in whatever way I could. Getting the word out about what’s on offer here is hopefully the start of this.
The menu is exceptional value for money and would be great for those who are looking for something a little different in the area on an evening. Mains are around the £14 mark, or you could enjoy a three course lunch for just £11.95. There aren’t many dining establishments of this standard around – especially those who’d cater for vegans – so it is lovely to be able to champion what City Bistro is trying to do for the dining scene both now and in the future of Sunderland.
Thanks for reading,
Want some more posh scran inspiration? Check out some fine dining reviews from around the region here.