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The Restaurant, South Downs College

Ninety guests packed into the smart college restaurant after sampling the canapés provided by John Campbell in the foyer, course after course of beautifully presented and served dishes the order of the evening with wines to match.

Acollege may not be the first place that comes to mind when planning where to go for a meal. But devoted foodies who know a good thing have already sniffed out South Downs.

The college's catering department, headed by the tireless and innovative Gerry Shurman, has reached the College Restaurant Of The Year national finals for the third time.

And last week 50 students – 25 chefs and 25 front-of-house – got to work with five of the finest, high profile chefs in the country – Heston Blumenthal (Fat Duck, Berkshire), Angela Harnett (Murrano, London), Marcus Wareing (Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London), John Campbell (The Vineyard at Stockcross, Berkshire) and Philip Howard (The Square, London).

Boasting 10 Michelin stars between them, they joined the budding chefs and lecturers Iain Baillie and Sean Denny to prepare a seven-course meal at the college's restaurant in aid of The Ark Foundation, a charity dealing with alcohol misuse and drug abuse in the hospitality industry.

'Seeing and working with all these students is quite incredible,' said Heston, whose restaurant was voted Best Restaurant In The World in 2005 .

'They're not here to wash up, they're part of the team and respected,' he added, students in their whites and headgear beaming in the background as the chef of chefs talked to the diners.

Philip Howard's kedgeree, a deconstructed Anglo-Indian dish of haddock, didn't go down the usual route of rice and fish, the rice rolled into rice balls rather than mixed into the fish. It was stunning as was Angela Hartnett's rabbit pasta, her Italian expertise demonstrating her prowess with depth of flavour, braised rabbit legs forming the base of the sauce.

Marcus Wareing's sea trout with carrot and licorice equally thrilled, the smart touch of prawn bisque poured at the table adding a rich aroma of shellfish and herbs.

Venison, sourced locally by John Campbell and served with choucroute, celeriac puree and sloe gin jelly, was our penultimately gloriously cooked dish of relative simplicity.

Then came Heston Blumenthal's take on the 1970s classic of Black Forest gateau with kirsch ice cream. Naturally this creation, in the hands of this most celebrated alchemist chef, had little to do with the naff cake of 30 years ago.

'I'm a 70s kid,' he told us, 'when the only pasta was dried, olive oil was only found in chemists' shops and an avocado vinaigrette was seen as the height of sophistication and luxury.'

His gateau involved industrial paint sprays to coat the multi-faceted cake, cut into individual towers before being sprayed, each portion, with its cherry ice cream and marbled chocolate slab placed on wooden boards made by the college's art department.

You may not be able to order such creations on a normal day at the restaurant, but the food on offer is still mightily impressive.

During term time you can try the likes of crispy duck with chilli and sesame seeds; smoked mackerel platter; braised beef in red wine with herb dumplings; ricotta cheese gnocchi with leeks and cheddar; profiteroles with chocolate; praline coated vanilla and honey ice cream.

We desperately need good new chefs and South Downs is leading the way in producing the next generation.

The Restaurant, South Downs College, College Road, Waterlooville PO7 8AA. (023) 9279 7979.

Caf: Open Monday-Thursday 9.30am-4.30pm( 3.30pm on Friday)

Restaurant: Lunches served from Tuesday to Friday midday-12.45pm (last orders).

Three-course lunch 10.95, two-course lunch 8.95.

Dinners: Monday-Wednesday evening 6pm-6.45pm (last orders).

Monday: Evening brasserie – three-course dinner 14.50.

Tuesday and Wednesday: Serving a Fine Dining Menu three courses plus a complimentary 'Amuse' 18.95.

Food: *****

Service: *****

Atmosphere: *****

How to get there: Take the A3 (M) towards Petersfield, take the road towards Purbrook, taking the first left at the roundabout. Turn left on the first road on the left, the college on the left. Large car park. The restaurant is on the ground floor past the main desk.

 
 
 

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