The campus canteens are busy every day. With good reason? How good is the food and ambience? A tasting panel checked out the canteens. And found significant differences.
Photos: Sven Menschel
Taste is personal. Something you soon notice if you ask students and staff what they think of the food in the campus canteens. So what is the reality? The proof of the pudding is in the eating, thought Resource, and set out to compare the four main canteens in the Forum, Orion, the Leeuwenborch and the Restaurant of the Future.
It might be wise to start with a disclaimer: this is not an objective scientific study. The tasting panel consisted of four people: two members of staff and two students, three women and one man, three carnivores and one committed vegetarian. The choice of the panels was not random either. Nevertheless, the results give a fair impression, and one that matches those of the poll that’s been on the Resource website for over a week.
The setup of the Campus Canteen Test is simple. We aimed at three different sandwich lunches (budget, plus and luxury) and one hot lunch. The tasting panel visited the four canteens on two consecutive (meatless) Mondays and Tuesdays to see, taste and evaluate. As an objective yardstick, a price comparison was also drawn up, taking the most common foods served at lunchtime.
And the winner is… Well, it depends. There isn’t really one clear winner. There is a loser though: Cormet. The caterer in Forum scores a mere 6.3. Pretty meagre, certainly compared with the other caterers, who all score nearly two whole points higher. The tasting panel think Cormet’s food is expensive and at best mediocre. Only the luxury lunch is okay but that sets you back more than 10 euros. There is a lot of criticism of the daily hot snack, which is early always deep-fried. As for the plastic cutlery Cormet offers its clients because steel cutlery was stolen, the response is withering.
The tasting panels is most impressed by the food in Orion (OSP caterer, 8.0) and the Restaurant of the Future (Sodexo, 7.9). Both score highly on all fronts in fact. The food is carefully prepared, the selection is good and the ambience pleasant. The RotF is a bit pricier, though. That might partially explain the different clientele. You rarely see any students in the RotF.
But if you want good food and a cheap lunch, you should go to the Leeuwenborch. The Wageningen-based Good Food Catering is the cheapest option across the board when it comes to readymade lunches, at 7.6 coming in just behind Orion and the RotF. In Consumer Association lingo, that makes the Leeuwenborch the ‘best buy’. With one blot on its copybook: it’s not a very nice place to sit. And the small canteen gets very full.
The conclusions are very much in line with those of Resource’s online poll. The Leeuwenborch gets the most votes, slightly more than Orion. The RotF trails behind them and the Forum comes last. People taking the poll in English have nothing good to say about food on campus in general and in the Forum in particular (see box: Culinary Graveyard). Food for thought and discussion.
The budget lunch: two slices of bread and cheese, a currant bun, a cup of soup and a glass of milk
The plus lunch: two slices of bread and cheese, a currant bun, a cup of soup, a salad and a glass of drinking yoghurt.
The luxury lunch: a filled roll or baguette, a salad, a glass of orange juice and a cup of drinking yoghurt
The hot meal: Menu of the day (on Mondays meatless), a cup of drinking yoghurt and a glass of orange juice.
‘Overall I think the description “nothing special” fits this canteen’. Dorothée has just polished off the plus lunch. ‘For a lunch with bread and cheese, a very limited selection. And it tastes just like it looks: very standard and mediocre.’ She makes an exception for the tomato and pumpkin soup, which is good. ‘Except that I think 25 cents is a lot for five croutons. I thought they came with it!’ Anna is a lot more critical. On her plate she’s got a couple of slices of cold bread, a fried egg with cheese, two vegetarian croquettes and a dollop of potato salad. And this is the hot meal. She gives the canteen a 4 for value for money. Only the fresh orange juice is good. ‘The bread is ice-cold, but the currant bun is nice,’ is all Roelof has to say about his budget lunch. Denise is more positive about her luxury lunch. ‘Fresh and colourful. It makes a healthy impression. But where is the pulp in the orange juice? A great pity.’ What’s more, you pay through the nose for all that tasty food: 10.51 euros. ‘I do almost a week’s shopping for that!’ One thing everyone agrees about is the cutlery. Denise: ‘Everything plastic. What a pity! It looks cheap and not sustainable.’
Across the board, the panel runs out of superlatives. ‘Super! Value for money,’ says Denise. ‘The parsnip soup is especially fresh-tasting and it’s nice and creamy. Nice that the croutons are made of old bread.’ ‘A nice variety of bread. Thick and crusty,’ comments Anna. She gives her plus lunch nines. She praises the diversity of the selection, with both a standard and a vegetarian main course. Dorothée, who is having a luxury lunch, agrees. ‘A roll with grilled pumpkin and cream cheese. Delicious! Everything is very fresh and clearly made with care. A lot of choice in both the basic and the more luxury products.’ Roelof gets the hot meal today: couscous with chicken and a vegetable stew of courgettes, peppers and raisins. ‘Beautiful colours, a fair portion and fresh ingredients. In short, a tasty meal.’ ‘I had never eaten here before,’ says Dorothée, ‘but I don’t know why, actually.’ Was there anything to complain about then? Oh yes, says Denise. ‘The crust of the currant bun was a bit dry and my milk glass was a bit dirty.’
Denise is very satisfied with her hot meal: vegetarian pasta. ‘Delicious; the vegetables are very fresh. And a reasonable price for good food. It is so much, in fact, that I can hardly finish it. And I can eat a lot!’ Anna is complementary about her luxury lunch too. ‘A delicious roll with goat’s cheese. Dark brown bread, a varied filling and a salad with nice colours.’ She praises the variety too. ‘As well as the hot meal there are several other smaller meals on offer. Maybe there could be a bit more choice of bread.’ The basic lunches do not score so well. The soup isn’t very nice, thinks Roelof. ‘Is this tandoori? That’s not the taste I’m getting.’ Dorothée agrees wholeheartedly. ‘The soup is tasteless. If you call it tandoori I expect something spicy. And the bread is dry and tasteless. And it’s a pity they’ve only got young cheese. For a basic lunch there’s not much choice here. I find it all just a bit too minimal. For that money I’d rather bring my own sandwiches. I won’t come back here in a hurry.’ So opinion is divided. The more luxurious the lunch, the better the score.’
Restaurant of the Future
Roelof is chuffed. ‘Here it feels as though you are sitting in a real restaurant. The food is laid out tastefully and with care. And the fast till works perfectly.’ He’s got the luxury lunch today. ‘A beautifully prepared roll with a nice salad. And the cut-your-own bread is a delicious traditional loaf.’ Denise has struck lucky with her plus lunch too. ‘Not terribly exciting but a nice menu. The bread is fantastic and the pumpkin soup is very tasty. There is a lot of choice of bread, fillings, juices and drinks. But they could offer a bigger choice of hot meals. A nice atmosphere!’ ‘Small and cosy, very light and a nice layout,’ says Anna. Even her budget lunch gets nothing but praise. ‘Tasty pumpkin soup and delicious bread with goat’s cheese. It’s not particularly cheap but the quality makes it worth the price.’ Dorothée doesn’t find the do-it-yourself till very easy to use. ‘But the staff are very friendly and helpful.’ She is having a hot meal: spring stamppot with veal meatballs. ‘Real mince and well spiced. Lots of different vegetables too, with a bit of bite left in the stamppot. ‘Pity I didn’t realize there were large portions too.’ The larger portion costs two euros more.
The tasting panel
Roelof Bijl, facilities and services staff member in the Forum.
Until recently Roelof Bijl (59) always had lunch in the Forum. Until it got too much for him. ‘I couldn’t stand it anymore.’ What bothers him most is the quality of the hot meals. ‘In the Forum it is always deep-fried. I’m not fussy but you do want a bit of variety.’
Denise Hoelandt, sixth-year Animal Sciences
Two or three days a week Denise is on the panel at the Centre for Taste Research on the Marijkeweg in Wageningen. ‘You contribute to research and the money’s good.’ Now and then she has a Chinese meal in the Forum. ‘But I usually pick up something at the Jumbo or I bring a packed lunch.’
Dorothée Becu, website manager
Dorothée Becu usually eats lunch at her computer. ‘I have a good meal in the evening. I live alone but I always cook for myself. I don’t use ready meals or anything like that. Becu joins in because she thinks the test is a nice initiative. ‘I have never been into the canteens at the Leeuwenborch or Orion.’
Anna Gelhausen, second-year Animal Sciences
Anna has to do with catering on campus on behalf of the Green Office. ‘We work together with the caterer to make the catering more sustainable. So the taste test fits my “work” perfectly. And she has a vegetarian take on things. In fact, it’s thanks to her that there is Meatless Monday on campus.
What do you think of the food on the campus?
Especially on Resource’s English site, this question revealed strong feelings. ‘Food culture @ WUR is miserable and I feel ashamed when visitors come here and I have to take them for lunch or dinner’, writes Jorge Mendes de Jess. ‘Healthy food in WUR doesn't exist!’ in Jonh’s view. Shani deals the final blow: ‘WUR is a culinary graveyard.’