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Eat My Words: We review The Yarrow, Broadstairs and its Student Lunch Experience

Many moons ago I was being given a tour around a college in the county when we entered the hairdressing training area.

There I was informed how, on certain days of the week, those members of the public happy to be human guinea pigs could have their hair styled by students training for the profession at a fraction of the cost on the high street.

The Student Lunch Experience is one of the best value deals in Kent - if not the country
The Student Lunch Experience is one of the best value deals in Kent - if not the country

While I could see the financial benefit to the customer, I always pondered the risk factor involved. What if the student lopped off a bit they shouldn’t? Or the blue rinse came out orange? Risky, I always felt.

And it was these memories which were revived as I strolled along to a student-cooked and served meal in Broadstairs.

Every Thursday lunchtime, Broadstairs College offers a maximum of 35 diners the chance to experience a meal cooked and served by its students as part of their training.

The cost? £15 a head for a three-course meal. It’s already so popular all December dates are sold out. In these stricken times, it was hard to argue with that. Especially as you’re not having to go into the college’s canteen, but the rather swanky surroundings of its very own hotel.

The Yarrow sits next to its campus – a vast, imposing building which shrieks of grandeur. The college splashed out £10 million to revamp it – turning it from being dilapidated and unloved into a fully operational hotel which has an ‘excellent’ rating on Tripadvisor.

The Yarrow is a very impressive looking building
The Yarrow is a very impressive looking building

The meal I arrive for on a gloomy, drizzly November day is not to be served in the hotel’s restaurant, however, but down the stairs in one of its function rooms.

The chap who greets us is far too old to be a student and is one of those overlooking the service – it’s a reassuring presence. The rest of the staff are all very smartly attired and are all comfortably younger than my (young adult) children. It makes me feel old until I notice the average age of my fellow diners and I feel young again (no mean feat, I might add). There is, of course, a certain age group that a cheap mid-week lunchtime meal is going to be perfect for.

You can nominate rising stars, industry trendsetters and unsung food heroes in the first Kent & Medway Food & Drink Awards.

The room we’re in is often used for weddings apparently; its high ceilings support several beautiful, glistening chandeliers and its vast windows overlook an enclosed garden area complete with pretty wooden gazebo. Sure it’s lovely in the summer.

However, it’s clear this meal service is a ‘pop-up’ one and you’re not entering a permanent, dedicated dining room. The strict limit on numbers means diners are generously spread over a large area which creates a slightly odd disjointed atmosphere. It’s not going to spoil your enjoyment, but it will remind you you’re not in a ‘real’ restaurant. It is the only point where this will be the case, however.

The menu, which bills this as the ‘Student Lunch Experience’, is tight – three options for starters and mains which tick the box for veggies or meat eaters and two for dessert.

Chandeliers and £15 a head for three courses? What's not to like?
Chandeliers and £15 a head for three courses? What's not to like?

I opt for the smoked salmon pate with pickles and bread for starters and pan-seared sea bream with sorrel sauce for my main course.

First off, let it be clear that the youngsters serving do a supremely good job. If I was expecting stereotypical surly teenage behaviour, nothing could be further from the truth here. They are friendly and attentive and their parents should be proud of them. And when my starter is served to the ‘wrong’ side of me (I had no idea there was a right or wrong to this, if I’m completely honest), a member of (adult) staff is quick to correct it.

Clearly, there is a desire here to do everything ‘just right’. You have to admire the attention to detail.

There’s a (very modest) slice of bread (gone in a couple of bites) to keep us busy while we await our starter and water is brought to our table.

The smoked salmon pate...small but perfectly formed
The smoked salmon pate...small but perfectly formed

The starter’s arrival does, if I’m honest, initially make me fear the worst as to how this meal will turn out.

More a ‘smear’ of salmon pate with a triangle of crisp bread, I am temporarily underwhelmed. But its sparsity is offset by being beautifully presented and its light, fragrant taste makes me lose any concerns I was starting to harbour. This is, after all, striving for a fine dining experience. It also delivers what I suspect most starters actually should – namely a light, delicious dish which whets your appetite for more, rather than filling you up too much before the main course.

Sea bream - you're not going to emerge bloated from this meal, but you will have been well fed
Sea bream - you're not going to emerge bloated from this meal, but you will have been well fed

After a short pause, the sea bream arrives. Again, it is beautifully presented. The light tangy sauce dances across the tastebuds, the fish's flavour is complemented and I’m warming to this place with every mouthful.

Someone has clearly given this menu some thought and it achieves a fine balancing act throughout – it satisfies perfectly while always leaving room for the next course.

Which brings me on to the dessert. Profiteroles for me – warm Bakewell tart with anglaise sauce for my guest.

Profiteroles - hard to resist and that drizzle of raspberry was well judged
Profiteroles - hard to resist and that drizzle of raspberry was well judged
The classic Bakewell tart
The classic Bakewell tart

The profiteroles have a raspberry drizzle on the plate which lends a tarte edge and elevates the dish. The Bakewell tart, I’m assured, is delicious.

It’s a pleasing end to what is a well-crafted meal. I emerge into the grey Broadstairs air full but not to bursting point. A good thing as I’ve work to do in the afternoon.

So well done to the young students toiling in the kitchens and those front-of-house staff who ensured no delays and were always pleasant and polite. And for £15? You’ll be hard-pushed to get a better deal anywhere in the country.

Scores out of five:

Food: Light, subtle flavours, beautifully presented and well-judged ****

Drink: There’s a range of alcoholic options – beers, wines, spirits, soft drinks and coffees – so you’ll be spoilt for choice. All at regular restaurant prices. Boringly, I stuck with water ****

Decor: The room was warm and beautiful – but did look a bit sparse given its scale and the capped number of diners they allow – but that’s hardly a complaint ****

Staff: Everyone we encountered were friendly, efficient and extremely competent. Bright futures lie ahead *****

Price: What can you say to £15 for three courses? Possibly the best value fine-dining meal in Kent, if not the country *****

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