Educate Your Palate
Inspiring food at student prices at TVU
When I met up with Professor David Foskett to talk about Thames Valley University's recent naming, 'College of the Year' he told me their training restaurant, Pillars, needs 'friends'. They've got themselves two.
Earlier this year, the department received the Academy of Food and Wine (AFW) accolade for exceeding all the requirements to, “consistently strive to promote front of house service as a career, via personal achievement, promotion or as part of a wider scheme”, and deserved the award for their contribution to all the industry training activities that are made available to students on their hospitality courses.
And Pillars picked up its own trophy to add to the cabinet - the 'College Restaurant of the Year' accolade was bestowed by Restaurant Magazine - a leading publication for restaurant lovers and professionals alike.
Pillars is run in-house by chef lecturers and students on hospitality courses. They beat off competition from fifteen other short listed and catering colleges and universities across the UK to take the title. It's not hard to see why.
We arrived prepared for hiccups in both the service and the menu. In fact, all were better than we've encountered in most of the restaurant's neighbouring establishments who could learn a thing or two if they too became 'friends' of our local university.
The food may be sold at cost (our three course meal for two, including a very nice bottle of red, came to £35 including tip) but don't think you'll be eating in cheap surroundings - the restaurant was recently given a makeover by a reputable interior design firm.
We were warmly greeted and seated, offered tap water (which pleased my husband greatly!) and fresh bread. And then came a little surprise hors d'oeuvre - well, not so much surprise as our maître d' of its imminent arrival. But since it was free and we didn't know what we were getting it was a pleasant one! Breadcrumbed tiger prawns, a goat cheese ball, a delicious sweet chilli dip and a small cup of what I will describe as spicy Gazpacho (but I could be completely wrong on this). I'm well trained and eat what I'm given! Anything that's put in front of me in fact...
The menus at Pillars are written by students and change every day to follow the various curriculums running concurrently in the department. I chose a warm Prawn Creole. Not the most exciting starter I've ever started but it was executed well. My companion went for terrine and got two for the price of one! His only criticism was that there was melba toast accompaniment. We did still have bread on the table so perhaps greed on his part?..
Chicken for me for our next course, served with a delicately fragrant tarragon and wine sauce, perfectly mashed potato, and a medley of vegetables (someone help me out here - they were small versions of melon balls and there's a name for it I know...). And if I didn't have enough on my plate, a side dish of roasted vegetables came soon after.
My delightful companion had loin of lamb and declared it perfectly cooked. He was correct. It was accompanied by asparagus and a delicious puree, which we believe was celeriac, but again don't test me on it!
Dessert was probably the best part of the meal for me - apple tart with a créme anglais. For my partner a strawberry trifle. And because they must have noticed that we are a little under weight, a free extra pudding. I'm not sure how we managed to finish it but we completed the task laid in front of us.
Full marks to Pillars Restaurant. Professor David Foskett says that whilst the restaurant is often fully booked, at certain times of year they need to attract new clientele. I think we should all do our bit to help these poor students on our doorstep. I for one feel I could possibly be persuaded to eat fantastically well at a fraction of the normal price...
December 11, 2007