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University is beckoning for freshers and seasoned students alike, and ritual demands Britain’s bright young things have a final farewell meal with their parents before getting sloshed with their new mates. If you’re looking to fill your offspring up with something hearty before sending them off to the land of crisp sandwiches and and cheese toasties, look no further than Square Meal. And for added street-cred, why not suggest a bar or two you can drop them off at afterwards?
Nestled in the lap of Harborne’s genteel residential area, Simpsons (pictured, left) easily maintains its deserved reputation for standard-bearing fine dining. Executive chef Luke Tipping delivers perfectly balanced modern French dishes made from immaculately sourced ingredients, and the conservatory setting of the dining room makes for a carefree environment.
Once dinner is over, direct your offspring to The Living Room on Broad Street – a lounge-y latin bar with live music that’s the perfect start to the obligatory Broad Street bar crawl.
A revamped boozer in chic Clifton Village, The Albion has gone all gastropub with leather armchairs, a log fire and an open-view kitchen. Lovingly prepared dishes include classic tapas such as salt-cod fritters as well as à-la-carte options such as steak, ox cheek and chips for two, and there’s a sun-trap terrace out front.
Once you’re ready to offload your progeny onto the city, point them in the direction of Hausbar (pictured, right), a late-night, Berlin-style drinking den serving cocktails to the cognoscenti.
Housed in a university building that dates to medieval times, Cambridge’s Hotel du Vin strikes the perfect balance between swish and informal. There’s something for everyone here: classic French comfort food such as confit duck leg with sauce Bordelaise and smoked-haddock fishcake with poached egg and chive beurre-blanc, plus an indecently attractive wine list and plenty of atmosphere.
Afterwards, soon-to-be students should check out Cambridge’s established pub scene – the Boathouse being a standout destination.
Standing as bold as brass on the Cardiff Bay waterfront, Wood’s Brasserie is a slick operation whichever way you look at it: from the stunning view and buzzy vibe to the friendly service and kitchen that’s not afraid to take risks. Welsh ingredients and inventive cooking combine in dishes such as ravioli of salmon and Gower-coast lobster, with lemon-and-chive butter and Loomswood Farm duck breast with glazed cabbage and summer-truffle tortellini.
For big kids in search of an after party, Cardiff institution Buffalo hosts edgy live music and comedy and serves devastatingly potent ‘zombies’, which have a two-per-night restriction.
Seafood chef Roy Brett used to work with Rick Stein, and his clean-lined crustacean restaurant Ondine, at the other end of the country from Padstow, is a good bet for special-occasion meals such as these. Sustainable seafood such as Scottish langoustines and brown crab make the cut on the ethical, MSC-accredited menu, and an exclusively Old World wine list lends weight to proceedings.
Young-blooded hipsters after a nightcap should head to subterranean cocktail bar Bramble, which brims with lo-fi decadence and hums to DJ beats nightly.
If a fraught farewell meal is on the cards, try elegant but comforting British brasserie No 3 York Place – a culinary landmark that has kept its heart. A modern restaurant in a charming old townhouse, it serves French favourites with English ingredients to good effect.
With your charges anxious to make a dent in their student loan, tell them to head to swanky cocktail bar Chino Latino – the two-for-one cocktail offer (before 7pm) means they’ll need to find a friend to take.
Old meets new at 60 Hope Street, a modern restaurant in one of the city’s smart Georgian houses. Gut-busting dishes such as roast Cumbrian beef fillet with spinach-and-oxtail cannelloni, shallot purée and red-wine jus should give them a good shot of iron and vitamins before studenthood takes its toll, and desserts such as ‘de-plated’ pistachio brûlée with white-chocolate parfait and pink-peppercorn grissini tuile should sweeten the pill for bereft parents.
After dinner, let them loose in Alma de Cuba (pictured, right), one of Liverpool’s most eye-popping and beat-pumping venues – they’ll be one step ahead of their peers if they get a foot in the door here.
Top-quality steak chain Gaucho offers Mancunians a slice of London lifestyle dining away from the capital. Argentinian meat is the name of the game here, and it’s delivered with flair in sexy, youthful surroundings that will up your street-cred with your kids. It will also give them a slab of all-important protein to see them through the first week of term.
Hard-to-miss mini-chain Kro 2 should be the next port-of-call – for your flying-the-nest children at least. The reasonably priced drinks and spacious patio are a big draw for student loafers.
For those driving their brood up north, Seaham Hall (pictured, left) is a short detour from both Newcastle and Durham, and mid-way between the two university cities. The chic White Room Restaurant is a great place for holding heartfelt conversations and imparting parental reassurance and advice, and the grounds are perfect for a post-prandial stroll.
Big-city lights call to students of both Durham and Newcastle, so Tiger Tiger is a good bet for those all-important first-time drinks. The national chain is a perpetual student magnet, but Newcastle’s branch is a cut above some of the lairier versions.
Anxious elders wanting to send their little darlings off to uni with a decent meal under their belt should book a table at Gee’s Restaurant (pictured, right) – they won’t be alone in doing so, as it’s a go-to joint for parent-child tête-a têtes. Housed in a Victorian glasshouse on a quiet residential road and serving flavoursome modern-European fare, it’s an accomplished restaurant that will have you wanting to visit the city more often.
Sometimes, it’s best just to follow the herd, and in Oxford the herd goes to The Purple Turtle. It’s been going strong for more than a decade and still pulls in the student crowds due to its laid-back ‘anything goes’ policy – and the scarcity of really decent nightlife in this hallowed university town.