Friday, 10 October 2014

Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup : Food Critics for the day

About once a year, when the kids are at school, I sneak off for lunch with my husband at the training restaurant inside the local Further Education College. It’s a win-win situation. The student chefs and waiters get us as guinea-pigs. We get a three-course meal for under a tenner – with the added entertainment of experiencing the students' still-developing culinary and hospitality skills.

Last week, I decided to take it one step further. The kids both had Friday off school because of staff training. It was the perfect opportunity to take them there. But not just as punters. As secret Food Critics.

Both kids were very up for it, even the Teenager, though he's usually first in the queue if there's a big stuff (or money!) involved. So I booked a table for three and put together this official-looking form for them to fill out over lunch.
We were seated at a cosy table in the corner of what is essentially a classroom-disguised-as-a-restaurant. Perfect: We could write our forms discreetly. After all, we weren’t there to make the students feel bad. Then again, as it was only a few weeks into the academic year, there should be lots to (constructively) criticize.
We weren't disappointed. It was deliciously Fawlty Towers, full of schoolboy – or college student – errors: They gave us only one menu between the three of us, an unbrûléed crème brûlée (“the burning machine is broken” they said), no bowl for the empty mussel shells, burnt yet soggy crisps and surprise anchovies on top of my son’s caesar salad (which happen to be the one food he's allergic to – they make his tongue swell up!).     

The kids scribbled away.
The Big One, in particular, was putting his knife and fork down every few seconds because something else had popped in his head that he was keen to get down on paper. In fact, I think he enjoyed it a little too much, dishing out  insults and low scores with the stern-faced arrogance and glibness of a Masterchef judge. “Would you like to be a food critic?” I asked him. “I think I would,” he said smugly.
Before I show you their verdicts, let me tell you what we ordered:

Me: Mussels in cream sauce
Son: Caesar salad
Daughter: Shared my mussels (she can’t manage three courses)

Main courses:
Me: Couscous-stuffed courgettes with a tomato sauce
Son: Chicken and bacon club sandwich with homemade crisps
Daughter: Pasta carbonara

Me: Crème brûlée 
Son: None (he was too stuffed)
Daughter: Chocolate brownie with vanilla ice-cream

The Little One's first impressions were pretty good ... 
[click on comments to enlarge]
... whereas the Big One found fault with the menu.
Both were unimpressed with the service ...
(I like the way she refers to our pop-up cafe!)
Presentation got a mixed response from the Little one ...
... but the Big One really put the boot in ...
The Little one was much more generous in this area ....
... always won over by a pudding, my girl!
And so to the final overall scores:

Little one: 73 ½  out of 90
Big one: 29 ½ out of 70 

I also did a form and gave an overall score of 66 ½ out of 90.

“Can we hand these forms in to them?” asked the Big One as we paid the bill. “No, we can’t. It’d be mean and rude,” I said. “But they need the feedback, he argued. It’d help them improve.” 

He had a point … but no. 

I left a tip instead.

If you like this idea, you might like The Shopping List Challenge.


  1. Wonderful idea! I love seeing kids with an appreciation for good food prepared well. Good for you!

  2. Thank you Robin. Me too. Food is after all one of the greatest pleasures of life!

  3. I'm going to check if our local college has a training restaurant! Have a feeling they do. Great idea.

  4. If there is and you go, I would love to hear about your experience Sezz!