On Tuesday this week, to celebrate my colleague Mirelle’s birthday, the ladies and I lunch at The Apprentice. A light-filled, white-tableclothed room on the seventh floor of the TAFE NSW Sydney Institute in Ultimo, this is a training restaurant staffed by the chefs and hospitality students studying there. This is not your usual dining experience: on the plus side, lunch is three courses plus coffee for an amazing $22 per head, house wine comes at $3.50 per glass, and the standard of the food is pretty good, if fairly simple given that on the website it describes itself as a five-star outfit. On the minus side, even though there are three choices of starter, main and dessert we don’t get to choose (it’s a bit like being at a wedding where dishes are placed roughly alternately as they come out of the kitchen), and our two wait-staff are so nervous (one senses this is because they’re being watched and evaluated constantly) that they fumble and panic and make a litany of mistakes. One girl starts clearing plates while some of us are still eating and then, on realising her error, puts the plates back in front of their owners saying, “I know it looks really bad but if I take the plates away before you’ve all finished I’ll get busted!”.
Anyway, to the food. I’m lucky in that I get all of the dishes I would have chosen. To start I have jamon and fig salad – half a sweet, grilled fig with little piles of salty jamon, crumbs of creamy feta, segments of firm baby beetroot and a lemon vinaigrette. It’s delicious and very pretty to look at.
This is followed by teriyaki salmon with green bean and apple salad, served with rice. The salmon is slightly overcooked for my liking which is for it to be still translucent in the middle – not to everyone’s taste, I acknowledge. I like the sticky teriyaki glaze on the fish but the sauce on the plate could do with a bit more body to help it coat each forkfull. The rice is very plain but the accompaniment of crisp, Granny Smith apple is a nice, unexpected touch. Overall, however, there’s not enough going on in the flavour stakes here.
The birthday girl is presented with oven baked rib eye beef fillet with potato puree, mushroom gratin, asparagus and jus. This dish is the winner of the day for me – the thick piece of beef is tender and flavourful and the gratin topping rich and tasty.
My dessert is apple tarte-tatin with butterscotch and vanilla ice cream. The pieces of apple are a bit too firm but the pastry is a flaky delight and the vanilla ice cream (I couldn’t really taste any butterscotch) is beautifully creamy and speckled with plenty of tiny black vanilla seeds.
I would definitely recommend this place for the amazing value it represents – and it’s nice to be assisting in the education of our future restauranteurs – but with the caveat of a warning about the slightly shambolic service.
7/695 Harris Street, Ultimo
Visited 8 May 2012