Tony CooperHe may have been a paying guinea pig for trainee chefs and waiters, but TONY COOPER awards top marks to Norwich City College's Debut, a restaurant with the 'wow factor'.Tony Cooper
He may have been a paying guinea pig for trainee chefs and waiters, but TONY COOPER awards top marks to Norwich City College's Debut, a restaurant with the 'wow factor'.
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As I take my table at Debut, the training restaurant that's part of the internationally-renowned Hotel School affiliated to City College Norwich, I meet an old friend who has been a regular here for more years than he'd like to remember. He loves the place.
I can't go as far as admitting to that, but one day perhaps. However, on the few occasions I'd dined here (only at lunchtime) everything had run smoothly as clockwork and been to my liking. But that was a long time ago.
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This was my first evening visit and I'm pleased to say, turned out to be a night of culinary and social bliss.
I'd had a taste of what was to come earlier in the week when I attended the launch at Epic Studios in Magdalen Street flag-waving City College Norwich for being one of the founder members of the National Skills Academy for Creative and Cultural Skills. Tray upon tray of canap�s flowed round a large gathering of well-wishers and they were all well presented and tasted delicious while wine was served in a most professional manner.
And the same can be said of the food and waiting staff at Debut. But little did I know that I was going to be sitting down to a substantial three-course � la carte supper with such tantalisingly-little palate-refreshing dishes served in between courses as passion fruit sorbet.
A selection of canap�s soon arrived at the white linen-draped round table comprising sweet chilli pork, haddock and mozzarella cheese tartlets and goats' cheese and walnut croutons.
But before starting on the first course I came across a culinary term that I have never encountered before - amuse-bouche. Similar to appetisers they're not ordered from the menu but served according to the whim of the chef. The term is French and literally translates itself as 'mouth amuser'. It all sounds rather grand but in the end our amuse-bouche turned out to be just a small cup of carrot and coriander soup. It seemed rather a letdown.
The table was divided on the choice of first courses. In the end all three posted on the menu were sampled. I went for mousseline of Cromer crab and thermidor sauce. No problems there. My guests took to the pork, apricot and pistachio terrine spiced with apple relish and raved about the wonderful mixture of textures. She found the apricots soft and sweet while the pistachios were to her liking - nice and crunchy.
Another guest groaning with delight as he wolfed the vegetarian dish of warm salad of soft poached egg served with wild mushrooms and hollandaise sauce.
A good start, but time for a break and to enjoy that delicious ice-cold passion fruit sorbet.
The main courses were well-balanced between the four of us. Two of us took immediately to the Italian-style turkey dish heavily wrapped in puff pastry and generously filled with pecorino, basil and spinach. Another went for roast breast of duck served with hash, spring greens and Adnams beer gravy.
The restaurant certainly possesses that 'wow' factor. We were all incredibly impressed with everything and when you thought it just couldn't get any better, it did.
I've always had a sweet tooth and I picked the sweetest and stickiest dessert on the menu. I tucked away the steamed toffee, banana and pecan pudding in no time at all. It put a smile on our faces. We also adored their chocolate fondue doused with Cointreau ice cream with honey creatively balanced on a swirl of dark chocolate.
The Cointreau ice cream then inspired Cointreau coffee to finish off what we all agreed was a very pleasant supper. A large silver tray of petits fours added to the moment.
Very different to any commercial establishment, what makes Debut such a happy environment is the students working in it. They're eager and keen to do well and many of them do and rise to the challenge of their chosen profession.
Take, for instance, Ben Brown. After leaving City College he found employment with Galton Blackiston at Morston Hall. Now he's working in a fashionable restaurant overlooking Darwin harbour just round the corner from the iconic Sydney Opera House.
That's really something worth chalking up.
t Debut, Norwich City College, Ipswich Road, Norwich, 01603 773227
t Opening times: Supper Tues/Wed and Thurs (arrive before 7.30pm). Lunch: Mon-Fri, 12pm-1.30pm.
t Prices: A five-course supper plus canap�s and coffee and petit fours �19pp. A two-course lunch costs �7.50, three-course
�8.50 with coffee.
t Vegetarian options: Yes, and if anyone has any special dietary needs the chef will do his upmost to accommodate them but with prior notice.