Learning their trade: Great service and value are on the menu at Gaskell’s Restaurant at Wakefield College

This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check with the restaurant the latest details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

When you sit down to a meal in a restaurant or hotel, do you ever wonder where the people who are cooking your food or waiting your table learned their skills?

Did you know that, right here in Wakefield, we have our own well-established and fully-licensed training restaurant operated by young hospitality students who are working towards their Professional Cookery Diplomas and BTEC National Diploma in the hospitality industry?

Well, wonder no more – Gaskell’s Restaurant at Wakefield College (Margaret Street Campus building) is the establishment in question and I had the good fortune to sample their lunch menu recently when I visited as a guest of the restaurant.

My first visit to Gaskell’s was nearly four years ago when I dined there with members of Wakefield Civic Society’s Dining Club. The food was so well prepared, and the students so friendly, that the evening was judged a great success by all and it was no surprise to us that members voted Gaskell’s one of the Society’s Restaurants of the Year in 2010. It was, however, a very pleasing outcome for the man in charge of the hospitality and catering programme, Laurent Berges, who was, of course, delighted that his staff and the students had been recognised in this way. Gaskell’s then completed the hat-trick by going on to win the award again in 2011 and 2012.

It was, therefore, with high expectations that I chose Gaskell’s, named after Wakefield’s first MP, Daniel Gaskell (1782-1875), for my review and I decided to try their lunchtime offering, a new experience for me.

The restaurant is situated off Margaret Street in the St John’s area of Wakefield, an area resplendent in fine Georgian and Victorian architecture. Alas, the architecture of the college building doesn’t match the style of its neighbours being a rather utilitarian contrivance that dates from around the 1960s. Somebody must have loved it once, I suppose, but we’re not here to judge the architecture, so I’ll press on. All I’ll say is, don’t let the outside deter you – it’s what happens inside that matters and, from the moment we crossed the threshold, we were once more impressed by the warmth of the welcome we received.

Greeted at the door to the restaurant and our coats taken, we were shown to the bar area and given our menus to peruse while we sat in comfortable chairs sipping our drinks. The restaurant is fully licensed and offers a reasonable mix of soft and alcoholic drinks – wine, for example, at £12 or £13 a bottle, also available by the glass.

Our waiter, Chris George, introduced himself to us and showed us to our table. The restaurant was nicely busy with a mix of couples and groups, everyone chatting away and seemingly enjoying their meals.

The lunchtime menu, which changes weekly, is simple affair with a choice of starter, three main course offerings and three desserts to pick from. I went for the Yellow Split Pea Soup served with a bread roll, followed by the vegetarian Toad in the Hole, served with Sauté Potatoes, Roasted Root Vegetables and Sauté Cabbage, finishing off with Apple and Wensleydale Pie with Cardaman Ice Cream and Custard. (I also sampled a good piece of my partner’s Curd Tart, this sweet being one of my particular favourites). The whole meal was truly excellent: beautifully cooked and presented with sufficiently-sized portions to fill without being over-faced.

Service by Chris and his assistant table waiter Luke Bradbury, was efficient and attentive. Like all the students working in the restaurant, whether front of house or in the kitchen, they operated under the supervision of staff lecturers but otherwise, the idea behind Gaskell’s is to provide students with “a realistic working environment in which to practise the skills they have learnt in the classroom”. This is not one of those slick, high-class establishments where the waiters are haughty and everyone speaks in hushed tones: it is a training school for young people learning their trade and conversation seems to be encouraged. I asked Chris if he had drawn the short straw in having to wait on my table – quite the contrary; he had volunteered to do so and this attitude is typical – the students are keen to impress.

According to the website, Gaskell’s provides customers with “the opportunity to sample high quality dishes at moderate prices” and, at this point, I must say something about the prices – they are exceptionally good value for money! With a three-course lunch for just £8.50 and dinner prices starting at just £13.50, (drinks extra), no one can complain about the cost especially as the quality of the food is something you would perhaps associate with a much higher-priced meal. Watch out for their programme of themed dinner menus – details on the website.

After my lunch, I chatted with Chris, now in his final year as a BTEC student, and Luke, who is a first-year student. Both were committed to their chosen career paths. They enjoyed working with people but also saw the catering and hospitality business as one that could offer great job opportunities in the future. Interestingly, they also saw the industry as one that would offer opportunities to travel – something that is in fact about to happen as they will both be taking up a month-long placement in Sweden in the near future as part of their course work. With some of their fellow students studying in Venice at the time of my visit to Gaskell’s, it certainly does seem that Wakefield College is creating international opportunities and a great reputation for its students.

Reservations Hotline: 01924 789505 (Phone line open Tuesday 9am – 3pm, Wednesday 9am – 3pm & 5pm – 8pm, Thursday 9am – 3pm, Friday 9am – 12pm)

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