What kind of image springs to mind when you picture students running a restaurant? I’d wager it’s not a particularly favourable scene – those two words go together like jam and brillo pads. You’re probably imagining haute cuisine of supernoodle sandwiches and limitless bowls of cereal (two items of food which I pretty much survived off during my first year at uni).
A few weeks ago, myself and the boy were invited along to a French themed dining evening at the City Restaurant at City of Bristol College on Anchor Rd. Naturally, there was a certain degree of apprehension before we departed that evening; surely college students couldn’t match the level of catering and waitering expected of a fine dining restaurant?
Well, we were most certainly proved wrong.
The first surprise was walking through the door and being greeted by an actual restaurant – not exactly the cafe type vibe I was anticipating. City Restaurant is located just down the road from At Bristol, and is open during the day for a very reasonably priced lunch, plus cake and coffee.
Still reeling from the sight of an actual dining establishment, soon a lovely chap showed us to our table and introduced our waitress for the evening, who promptly went and got us some drinks, and a basket of the most heavenly bread I have ever eaten.
SERIOUSLY, it was just bread and butter, but MY GAD was it good. They had smushed all manner of ingredients into the (presumably, homemade) butter, like sundried tomato, what tasted like caper and sardine, and my personal favourite, wild garlic. There is nothing better than freshly made butter on warm French bread. Delightful.
We had three courses to look forward to this evening of traditional Southern French cuisine. To start, Tom had bouillabaisse, which is my idea of a nightmare. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a seafood stew which originates from Marseille, or so I am told. I opted for tuna niçoise (from Nice, I guess) and was very pleasantly surprised when presented with beautifully seared tuna steak and a delicately made salad of green beans, egg and tomato. I don’t know about you, but my incarnations of this salad are usually a tin of John West chunks plopped on to a plate. CoB College 1 : Lily 0.
By this point, halfway into our glasses of red, we were making great exclamations of our shock and surprise at how fancy the whole affair was, considering we were sat in the restaurant of the catering college, which isn’t everyone’s initial thought when it comes to fine dining. I have honestly had worse service and food at high street restaurants, which is certainly saying something. I suppose it shouldn’t really be that surprising – this is the birthplace of some of the city’s best chefs, after all, and these students are the next big thing waiting to happen.
You may have noticed that I had fully forgone vegetarianism by this point. Having thrown my self-imposed rulebook out of the window, I opted for a French classic, Coq au Vin. Tom had an omelette avec frites and Gruyere cheese, which was very tasty, but he was greedily staring down my plate with burning envy in his eyes.
The chicken was, as you would imagine, completely delicious – anything cooked exclusively in wine is going to taste superb. It was accompanied with the butteriest mash and crispiest bacon known to man, and I didn’t even offer Tom a taste. What a hideously greedy girlfriend I am.
Managing to locate a small corner at the bottom of my stomach which hadn’t been consumed by deliciously rich French cuisine, I managed to squish a pud in. Tom is reliably predictable in his pudding choices, opting for anything which contains either lemon or chocolate, so had a delightfully sharp tarte au citron with the thickest, crumbliest pastry we had ever eaten. For balance, I had the other option – a perfectly poached pair with tangy compote and a blob of sweet creme fraiche.
I cannot recommend eating at City of Bristol College City Restaurant highly enough. Granted, it’s not the tip top level of sophistication which can be achieved at other restaurants in the city, but it’s better than a good many of them. If you fancy checking out the CoB College restaurant then take a look here.