The day job as a high school teacher has allowed me to encourage students to figure out their future aspirations for their life post-16. Some with ambitions of working in the hospitality and catering industry go on to college courses at Wakefield College, to follow their dreams and fulfil their potential, all with the aim of being the best chefs they can be. For somebody who never really knew what they wanted to do or be as a 15/16 year old, or even now for that matter it’s something I really admire!! So I’ve often wondered about Leeds students and what provision there was for those.
I heard about The Food Academy a few years ago, but by the time I cottoned on to going, it had moved! Relocating in 2013, it moved out of the the city centre to a new site with fantastic facilities on Hunslet Road in the Printworks. Leeds City College Food Academy shares many parallels with Wakefield College, with its own training restaurant where menus are designed, prepared, cooked and served by its students.
Being intrigued, my friend and I went for dinner there last week. On arrival we were introduced to our server for the evening Sasha, one of the students learning the ropes both in the kitchen and on the restaurant floor. Their students are discretely kept an eye on from a distance by tutors, so we could accept that every now and again, they may be given pointers on what to do during service etc.
As far as the food goes, The Food Academy offers a four course menu at £18, yep, just £18!! I have to admit I was surprised at the price and it had crossed my mind if our experience would be a reflection of this, especially as anything near that price is virtually unheard of if you want fine dining in and around the city.
The menu had quite a few enticing dishes with four choices for all courses apart than the intermediate, so decision making was less than straightforward. But we managed to reduce any stresses by swiftly ordered wine whilst pursuing our options (isn’t it a hardship!). Their wine list showed a varied selection with lots of scope on price, from which we chose a mid-priced Viognier that was full of floral notes and even though I’m hardly a wine connoisseur, I thought it was a pretty good choice! All the while it was great that Sasha was happy to chat, evidently passionate about the course, we found her welcoming, friendly and she made us feel at ease in no time.
Having noticed students using facilities fully decked out for baking and patisserie, it wasn’t a surprise to be brought out bread baked on site. Some tomato and cheese bread roll swirls served just warm with salted butter; they were light, soft and tasty so lasted just a few minutes.
To start with we were brought pigs cheek scotch egg with extras, it looked fantastic and on paper had all the elements of a fantastic dish. Cutting into the egg first, where its golden brown crust gave way to flavourful soft meat and a small egg. The egg was just over runny, which was a shame, but I can imagine how difficult it is to do when the egg’s so small. On taste it was excellent, lovely and savoury, complemented by the surrounding elements; pickled onions and apple provided sharpness, the home made black pudding whilst soft in its texture was rich and earthy in taste. It was one of those starters you try to eat slowly to savour, but you just know there’s no chance of that happening! As presentation goes, it was aesthetically beautiful, but I’m a bit fussy when it comes to serving ware, with really long plates and cutlery it was a bit of a tight squeeze, but that didn’t detract from the food as it was very good.
Next up was an intermediate course, which I’m assuming acted as a palate cleanser. Here we had a rather large goats cheese espuma, served with a chicory marmalade, radish and young vegetables. I have to admit we both struggled with this dish, neither of us are goats cheese fans and for me personally even though it’s goatiness wasn’t as strong as I’d normally expect, it was still strong enough. I don’t normally speak negatively when portion sizes are on the big size, but in this case it could’ve been slimmed down slightly as it was pretty generous. However on the positive the dish had a lightness and the vegetables had been pickled nicely.
For the main course it was a toss up between the ox cheek and the gurnard for the both of us, this time we did we the reverse to the starters – I went for the fish course and my friend the meat.
My fish was nicely cooked with its skin lightly crisped, the lentils were excellent in combination with cepes gave them a real meatiness and matched the fish well. Accompanying vegetables were cooked on point and the mustard and hibiscus made for interesting partners to the dish, cutting through the richness from the lentils. It was a lovely plate of food. I cheekily ordered a portion of the hand cut chips as well, It was a relief to see they weren’t those ridiculous large chips you often see when hand-cut chips are seen on a menu, these were more the size you’d see from a chippy which pleased me no end! To look at they had more colour than expected, but on taste the appearance was more than deceptive as they were decent; soft on the inside but had a light crispness.
My friend was full of praise for the treacle braised ox cheek, the meat melted in the mouth and the dauphinoise potatoes were as you’d expect good ones to be; thinly sliced, soft and with enough garlic and cream to make them extremely moreish. I would say for next time though, my friend only ordered dauphinoise potatoes as a separate side order because the menu didn’t point it out as part of the ox cheek dish anyway. It may have been helpful for the server to have pointed them towards a different choice when ordering.
So for the most part, all had gone swimmingly well, we’d been enjoying a lovely dinner and just about to contemplate ordering desserts when I turned back to the table to see my friends napkin on fire!! For whatever reason it must have gotten too close to the candle on the table, a mini panic ensued until I grabbed my glass of water and extinguished the flames. We felt so guilty, Sasha and the other staff were brilliant and helped us clear the table without any fuss so dinner could resume! There was definitely a huge sigh of relief on our part; no-one had been hurt and the table hadn’t been damaged.
We got our breath and our composure back to choose from the dessert menu, once again we were spoilt for choice with four fantastic sounding desserts. I think my dessert looked stunning, what do you reckon? The pastry was so thin, multi-layered and crisp, I loved the combination of the toffee apples, a spot of creativity with sugar work too and use of ingredients especially with the bee pollen. A delicious dessert!!
The other dessert tasted exactly like it was suppose too – the chestnut mousse was light with a delicate chestnutty taste, the horlicks sorbet was all malty and gorgeous and finally the rich, chocolatey soil had a lovely crumbly texture.
After my initial apprehensiveness over the quality of the experience we might receive, any qualms were very much quashed as not at any moment during our meal did I think that the food was cooked by a bunch of students! The quality was very good and the dishes and skills on show demonstrated maturity beyond their years. It’s definitely worth venturing to for dinner, and for the price it’s a bit of a bargain!
The Food Academy At Printworks
Leeds City College
0113 284 6262