Fine Dining Face Off III: Taste Restaurant, Leicester College
Have you been following the Fine Dining Face Off through December? This is the final installment, so if you’re not sure what’s happening, head to part 1 here and then part 2 to catch up on my thoughts on the Olive Branch and The Spotted Duck. The final installment is concerned with the Taste Restaurant at Leicester College.
This is a hidden gem in the truest sense of the word. Fantastic fine dining at incredible prices, provided by the catering and hospitality learners at the College. We’ve been on a number of occasions and haven’t failed to be impressed. It is a bit of a mission to find in the College if you haven’t been there before, I think that signage from the main entrance to the restaurant itself could be improved given that there are many external guests visiting to enjoy the dining experience.
The Boy and I visited in the autumn term this year for lunch. If you think that fine dining is out of your reach because you can’t afford it, then this is the restaurant for you. On our visit, three courses were available for the princely sum of £10 – incredible value! Our coats were taken and we were seated at a smartly set table, with crisp white tablecloths. Tablecloths have become a bit of a bugbear for me recently because they are so hard to find now. Everyone seems obsessed with exposed wood and the like, but I think that a nicely presented tablecloth speaks volumes about the care and attention the team are willing to put into your meal.
Our order was taken by slightly nervous, but knowledgeable waiting staff – remember everyone looking after you is still in training. First we enjoyed a freshly baked roll from the bread basket and my napkin was ceremoniously laid on my lap by the waiter. To start The Boy chose a traditional salad nicoise, while I opted for the breaded brie. The twist on the nicoise was a home smoked mackerel instead of tuna, which was full of flavour and beautifully presented. My breaded brie had a fantastic combination of soft and crunchy textures and the balsamic reduction and red onion marmalade it was served with gave just the right amount of sweet and bite to complement the creamy cheese perfectly.
The mains were the star of the show, as you would expect, with The Boy enjoying a large pan fried chicken breast served with a meltingly rich fondant potato and buttered greens. Every element was cooked to perfect, the chicken not dry, the greens still full of colour and flavour. The only criticism was that it would have been nice to have a gravy boat served with the dish. We’re from the North-West – we like a lot of sauce.
I opted for the salmon dish, served on a bed of lightly crushed potatoes, which added texture and creamy spinach. The salmon was moist and delicious, but with an enviably crispy skin. The flavours worked beautifully together with the delicate flavours of fish and spinach being brought together beautifully by the light but flavourful white wine cream sauce. Once I again I would have also liked a little extra sauce on the side because that’s how I roll, but I did note another table actually asked for more sauce and did receive it. We’re obviously too frightfully British to engage in such behaviour.
Our dishes were cleared quickly and efficiently and then the table crumber was released to remove any unsightly crumbs we had left behind. The Boy had left far more crumbs than I, it should be noted. Now you really won’t see that level of service any more until you come out way up on the other end of the fine dining price scale. It was a nice touch and fantastic to note that the next generation of waiting staff are being trained to really consider ever detail of the dining experience.
For pudding we both selected a baked cheesecake. The presentation was a little off for me – the knife had needed to be cleaned between slices to keep a clean edge, and while it looked good, it was a little immature. The caramel banana and physalis garnish was a nice touch however, and the sharp coulis a perfect complement to the dense lusciousness of the cheesecake itself.
A thoroughly enjoyable meal then, and I also had the pleasure of being invited to a Christmas party, enjoying the three course Christmas menu recently, which was also faultless in my opinion. I think it was the best turkey roast of the festive period for me.
|My festive face|
Surroundings – 7/10 – It’s a little bit hard to find, and the decor is a little touch on the dated side, but your table will be immaculate. Given that it is part of a Further Education college, I think I can lean on the generous side.
Atmosphere – 7/10 – I’d recommend going with a group to really make your lunch or dinner special. The restaurant was relatively full when we visited and we felt very comfortable in the friendly environment, but would have had more fun with more people!
Service – 8/10 – The trainee team are genuinely excellent – attentive, warm, and starting to develop their tableside banter (if you poke them a little). Be aware that sometimes things may go a little off – our water took a little while to appear and it was hard to flag down the appropriate team member when we needed our drinks replenishing for example, but the students are all being supervised and prompted where necessary by their tutor and overall we were impressed by the professional service of the food and the attention to detail.
Food – 9/10 – A fantastic portion size that left you extremely satisfied at the end of the three courses. This is not the highest end sourcing of ingredients, but a good solid quality is clearly on offer and at the price point you really cannot argue with this.
Presentation – 8/10 – Very good presentation, generally contemporary and clean, but not over fussy, which I liked. A couple of elements could do with a little more refinement. Tableware is simple, white and uncomplicated with good quality silver and glassware. The food is the star and the way they have chosen to plate emphasises this.
Fine dining credentials – 6/10 – This feels like a low, but fair score. They have the full package. Cooking is on point, presentation is simple but effective and the serving team are clearly eager to give you the full experience, but it is a little hidden away in a college and the dining room could do with a little modernising (which I blame firmly on the Tory government’s unbelievable cuts to the Further Education budget since you ask). Better orientation signage and a slightly smarter environment would really push this to the brink of perfection for me, but as it is I am mightily impressed and will be returning regularly
45/60 – Just pipped to the post by The Spotted Duck, but given their three course menu is literally a quarter of the price, I think that makes Taste Restaurant the moral victor!! Plus by visiting them you are helping to train our future professionals.
Where are your fine dining favourites?