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Aspire Restaurant, Trafford College

Jennifer Choi has fun and experimental dining at Trafford College’s good value training restaurant

Published on April 12th 2010.

Aspire Restaurant, Trafford College

Dining out is always a bit of a game of Russian Roulette, particularly for those who venture beyond their safety blanket restaurants to new places. The head chef might be off sick, the kitchen understaffed, the waiters untrained or hungover, or the menu ill-conceived... any of which can tip that precariously balanced formula which produces a "nice meal".

Still, with its revolving guest chefs and that element of interaction, we would gladly return to Aspire for another dining adventure. It will always be a work in progress, but the beauty of this is that you will almost always have stellar service from eager-to-please staff, which is more than can be said for many other restaurants.

When you look at it this way, dining at a catering college restaurant is really not that much of a gamble. And this was how I convinced my initially dubious companions ("so basically we are guinea pigs at the mercy of a bunch of unqualified restaurateurs") to join me in Aspire.

Housed in Trafford College, Aspire is the restaurant in which catering and hospitality students hone their craft. Visually it's a nice clean space, decorated like your average mid-range eatery with precisely set, white-linen tables on wooden floors. Weekday lunches and mid-week dinners are served.

Half of the 60 covers were filled with families and older couples, amongst them swanned smartly attired waitstaff; the animated chatting in the background was a big tick for the great atmosphere.

No grumbles about our being 15 minutes late as our jackets were taken, we were welcomed and shown to our table with menus to hand. This team was on form. Waiters and waitresses hovered at a judicious distance to spy nervously on their customers, but this also made catching their attention easier.

Perhaps a bit harshly I decided to throw curveballs into an otherwise straight-forward set menu, with four courses and tea/coffee excellently priced at £14.50. What if one of us didn't eat pork, and the other didn't like goats' cheese? Front of house were calm, and the chef was unfazed. Substitutes were offered with little fuss.

The wine list was minimal but seemingly priced at cost, with our Domaine LaFond Côtes du Rhône Roc Epine 2008 a mere £9.50. An oaky blend of Grenache and Syrah, it tasted too young to drink but after an hour of breathing the tannins gave way and we got heaps of smoke and black fruits.

As we waited for our courses we nibbled on a small plate and two types of soda bread; tomato and rosemary. The small plate consisted of miniature chicken skewers and what looked to be handmade sausage and apple rolls. Save for the subtly fragranced rosemary soda bread, none were amazing but my party appreciated this nice touch all the same.

Our goats’ cheese roulade starter with beetroot and walnut dressing were well-presented, with a nut-crusted roulade ringed by prettily dressed leaves. The cheese could've been lightened with a fold of yoghurt or crème fraîche and the beetroot was nice, but it was the salad sideshow that stood out.

It looked ordinary but what we thought were orange segments and zest turned out to be a pleasantly sweet and tangy glaze dotted with crunchy citrus peels. The non-goats’-cheese eater got a random mix of salmon and mushroom with his beetroot salad. A definite must-try-harder of an alternative dish but we were being awkward with a set menu.

Before the mains arrived came an 'intermediate' course; a Dublin Bay prawn cocktail with langoustines, to refresh our palate.

A longish wait followed after our plates were cleared, and we debated whether we were being overly critical on a restaurant being test-driven by trainees. Would we have noticed otherwise? The other diners didn't seem to. When it arrived it was a well-landscaped dish, with a substantial bacon loin as centre-piece, next to some roasted carrot and potato high rises, a mini kale forest, and lake of gravy and broad beans swimming in white sauce. The non-bacon main, as requested, was a spiced butternut squash risotto. It was nothing to look at, but the flavoursome root veg soon made up for that.

As the dishes cleared, the waitstaff gathered at the back whilst the manager brought out the head chef of the night, congratulating him on his meal. A shy gentleman by the name of Alex Chen was met with cheers and applause. The team in the kitchen when went round all the tables for Q&As. This lot was receptive, humble and gave helpful explanations, one of which being that the bacon was brought in pre-cured. It made for the highlight of the evening.

Then our desserts were brought out. You know all those cooking shows where chefs umm and ahh over whether to do dessert, and ultimately fail because whereas savouries are an art, sweets are an exact science? This was the case with our iced bailey parfait which if truth were known needed a little more work, a little more exactness.

Still, with its revolving guest chefs and that element of interaction, we would gladly return to Aspire for another dining adventure. It will always be a work in progress, but the beauty of this is that you will almost always have stellar service from eager-to-please staff.

And of course, these places are very necessary. They are the proving grounds for future chefs. Mistakes are a part of learning, the mistakes here, nowhere near as grevious as in some of our well-known restaurants, come at a laughably fair price. The name Aspire is perfectly chosen and the place is recommended for diners up for a bit of adventure.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 6/10 food
5/5 serivice
4/5 ambience
Address: Aspire Restaurant
Trafford College
Manchester Road
West Timperley
WA14 5PQ
0161 952 4678

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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Leah BrothertonApril 15th 2010.

I live round the corner from the college and never thought to try this out... may check it out now, thanks.

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