Monday, March 20, 2006

The Apprentice, Harris St, Ultimo

The Apprentice, Harris St, Ultimo
Monday 20 March, 2006

I had heard about the TAFE Sydney Institute working restaurant from a fellow food blogger and was curious enough to look into it myself.

I called the number and spoke with a very friendly staff member who explained there were a series of forms to complete including a credit card booking form before our reservation would be confirmed. All this to dine at TAFE? I filled out the forms and faxed them back only to be informed that the restaurant is only open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday during term - surely this should be stated on the plethora of forms I was sent initially? Anyway, several hours later, we were booked in.

The Apprentice is the name of this working restaurant and it is located on Harris St within the TAFE Ultimo campus. Not too sure about the name - reminds me of the Donald Trump reality TV series and believe me, I wish Donald had appeared throughout the evening to utter the infamous words, 'you're fired' to some of the students/ staff.

Despite not knowing where we were going (we had instructions) my foodie friend and I parked in a neighbouring street and walked over to Harris St. I don't know about you, but it's been a while since I've visited a University campus and is it just me or do all the buildings look the same? Anyway, we found the entrance and followed the signs to the lifts. Upon entering the foyer we were greeted by a man lying face down in a chef's uniform on the black lounge - charming.... or maybe an indication of how hard they work their students? Either way, not the best first impression as we waited for the lift to the 7th floor.

As we disembarked on the 7th floor we were greeting by about 12 smiling staff. All standing, waiting in anticipation for their first guests. We felt we were on show, not them. We were greeted and then led to our table. Shortly afterwards we were introduced to our waiter for the evening, Josh. He was very young, clearly very nervous and visibly shaking as he poured water into our water glasses. We responded by being very friendly and encouraging.

After providing us with menus Josh returned and asked if we'd like a drink to start. The options were beer, white and red wine or as Josh said, 'or there's Coke and stuff'. First I asked if I could have a mineral water (no) and then I asked what the white and red wine were. Josh's response was chardonnay or cabinet.

A short time later Josh appeared to take our orders - he gave no eye contact and mumbled the words, 'do you know what you want yet?'. There were 3 - 4 selections for each - Appetiser, Entree, Main and Dessert. I chose:

- Suppli al Telefono - crumbed arborio balls filled with cheese, peas and herbs (one crumbed arborio ball appeared on a plate and it was very dry and chewy)
- Char-grilled squid with lime, coriander, mint and mizuna (the squid was too salty and chewy and the mizuna was inedible - I don't like bitter lettuce)
- Pan fried loin of pork with apple celeraic puree, snake beans and cumin oil (the stand out dish of the evening - delicious - the pork was cooked just right and the apple celeraic puree was very moorish and a great accompaniment to the snake beans that were also cooked to perfection)
- Campari & passionfruit sorbet (very, light, sweet and refreshing).

My foodie friend selected:

- Seared kangaroo rump carpaccio with roasted baby beetroot, horseradish cream and watercress (OK, but the beetroot was hard)
- Summer Italian salad with mozzarella, mint, peach and pancetta (huge pieces of mozzarella and peach)
- Handmade saffron linguine with grilled asparagus spears, lemon, garlic and parsley (this was my foodie friend's favourite dish)
- Bittersweet chocolate tart (beautifully presented and very nice pastry base with a mild bittersweet chocolate filling).

Over the course of the evening we had some truly cringe worthy moments with Josh e.g. he spilt the red wine on the table; instead of sweeping the crumbs into a napkin, he swept them into my foodie friend's lap (seriously); and when we were offered tea/ coffee and asked what herbal teas they had, he went to check and returned with 'we don't do herbal stuff, just normal tea/ coffee'.

However, it is important to remember that this is a training environment. Josh is a student and is there to learn. The supervising teachers were visible and corrected most of the floor staff in front of the guests (I don't agree with this as the students are already nervous enough). However, for $35 pp including 4 courses and 2 glasses of wine - it's a great deal and the menu changes regularly as do the students.

The one thing we would have liked was to provide feedback (either verbally or via a feedback form) on the experience. We did seek out the supervising teacher towards the end of the evening but to no avail.

The Apprentice - Level 7, Building E, 695-731 Harris St, Ultimo - (02) 9217 5527


Anonymous helen said...

I didn't realise you get four courses at dinner! Yum!

Yes, the service can be a little overwhelming (in its, er, attempted execution) but as you say, it's a school and they have all my wellwishes!

9:22 am  

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