Sunderland and fine dining have never been easy bedfellows. But in tune with the changing cityscape, a head-turning restaurant has emerged in an unlikely place.
City Bistro is housed within the sparkly new Sunderland College. But a student kitchen it is not.
Surroundings of blonde wood, contrasting walnut feature walls and teal furnishings give an air of sleek modernity that make it every inch a city centre restaurant of its time.
Statement lighting and an open kitchen lure you in and you pray the food delivers.
From the kitchen, the man making sure it does is Kelvin Linstead. He’s spent time in kitchens at Jesmond Dene House, Peace&Loaf, Jesmond and Slaley Hall. The food he’s teaching students to serve up here is certainly setting standards.
The menus are impressive and the food delivered on-point. What’s more you can feast well for prices that are not fine-dining – a £9.95 two-course feast could include cod brandade, cucumber, gin and tonic as a starter with a follow-up of chicken breast, celeriac, mash and wild mushrooms. For £11.95 you can bring chocolate mousse and peanut brittle to the dining party.
As a prelude to the city’s Restaurant Week (11-19 March), we dined on main courses in the City Bistro, which is headed up by restaurant manager Himal Arachchi who has worked at numerous Hilton UK restaurants, and a five star resort in the Maldives.
A main course of cod came with a sweep of cauliflower puree, fondant potato and a soft herb crust. Light puddled parsley sauce surrounded a piece of fish which was skilfully cooked – perfectly white and fleshy, on the cusp of just-right translucent.
A great plate of food, beautifully presented and as good as you’d get in a more pricey, top-notch restaurant. We also spied and tried a fine-looking, inventive veggie dish of charred leeks, egg yolks, wild mushrooms and beurre noisette – a great combination.
The restaurant is a genuine training environment for around 150 students – who are learning skills from catering to front of house. The benchmark is high with real attention to detail, teaching and honing skills that create work-ready graduates able then to transfer to top level restaurants anywhere.
According to Rob Stewart, curriculum leader for hospitality and catering at the college, “this is not a student kitchen, the type of food on offer is something seasonal and really different with a modern service.”