It's not often you walk into a restaurant mid-week and can hardly spot a free seat, noted my husband, as we were warmly greeted and shown to our sun-drenched table by the window at PL1 Restaurant in Plymouth. This student-run establishment is part of City College Plymouth's catering department, where students develop their cooking and front-of-house skills under the watchful guidance of lecturers.
The energy and hum of the restaurant reminded me of university halls – it's like an up-market canteen, with groups of regulars chatting, music at a volume where you can actually hear it, and industrious waiting staff smiling at regulars, dishing up and fetching condiments. A bit like sitting in a café and watching the world go by on the busy street outside, this is a good place to sit and absorb the rhythm of daily life.
The simple menu gave us a choice of three dishes per course, and notably it was not too meat-heavy, which makes a pleasant change. I chose the creamy cauliflower soup, which had exceptionally well-balanced flavours, while Jeff's bite-size smoked haddock fishcakes were pleasingly fish-filled, with a hint of chives. Our warm bread rolls and butter didn't last long either!
My plump cod fillet was cooked perfectly; creamy white flakes fell off my fork. Served on a bed of wilted spinach and buttery new potatoes, this established combination was a winner with me. Jeff's "delicious" minute steak came with a variety of accompaniments – a creamy mushroom sauce, a Yorkshire pudding with horseradish and a grilled tomato. There was also a generous serving of tangy, tomato-rich ratatouille and baked new potatoes to share.
The rich chocolate brownie had that all-important crunch then moist centre, and came with an equally decadent chocolate sauce, while the hot, cinnamon-rich apple tart was served with lashings of thick custard. This was a more than ample end to a good meal.
The menu changes regularly here to enable students to test out a variety of skills. I recommend paying them a visit for good-value, good-quality food and service.