They say you never have a second chance to make a first impression, so when, after a rather last-minute booking, I found myself being shown to my table, my first thought was that this was not how I expected a college restaurant to be. Bright and spacious, with immaculately set tables and a very well-turned-out team, @34, the training restaurant at Exeter College, presents a streamlined and modern face to the world.

But, of course, the proof of the cuisine is in the eating, and after that favourable first impression @34 managed to keep raising the level, course after course.

A selection of delectable canapés was followed by a rather divine starter of pan-fried oyster mushrooms with asparagus and, deep joy, a wild garlic mayo that was sublime beyond imagining –and really I wanted to take a jar of it home and have it on toast for breakfast. Apparently, the students had been out foraging the wild garlic that afternoon, and I’m sure this must be a vital part of any course and they need to go and do it again and again - and again.

This toothsome start was followed by an extremely good nut roast – having been off-meat for more than 40 years I’ve tasted quite a variety of this staple and, believe me, this was right up there on the leader board. The students had, smoothly and without fuss, adapted to my request for a non-meat option, but those on the meat and fish menu were obviously enjoying their meal as much as I was. An accompaniment of duchess potatoes, truffle bonbon and spring greens set everything off very nicely.

Then to dessert... Oh my! The ambrosial indulgence that was set before us included chocolate mousse, hazelnuts in spun sugar, frosted mint leaves, a delectable caramel sauce and a raspberry sorbet of such glorious hue that I’d be happy to wear it.

It was at this point that an unexpected ‘intermediate course’ was introduced. In keeping with the evening’s ‘Take to the Skies’ theme, and as part of a cross-college collaboration, aeronautical engineering students from the aerospace department took the floor, eloquently describing their passion for what they are studying and giving an insight into a very different career. They fielded unplanned questions from the diners with ease and confidence.

Beth then delivered our cheese course, impressively remembering without hesitation the array of cheeses and college-made chutneys and crackers.

Over coffee I chatted to Ally, another second-year student, who is clearly relishing studying here and who explained that the students alternate between kitchen and front-of-house on different evenings, so they all get the experience of cooking or serving.

It comes as no surprise that Michael Caines, a former student of Exeter College, has given his name to this catering academy, promoting ‘excellence in hospitality’. He visits from time to time, to perform demonstrations for the students and to inspire them with ideas, encouraging them to think about flavours and combinations of ingredients. These visits are an opportunity for students to ask Michael questions, to engage with him, cook with him and to learn from him.

And it’s clearly working. All our food was exquisitely presented and delicious. It was served with a polish and professionalism that belies the very young age of the students who were delivering it, and their enthusiasm and engagement was a pleasure to witness.

Matt Pickett, the college’s hospitality manager says: ‘Although we are a training restaurant, we pride ourselves on the highest standards,’ and they undoubtedly achieve this.

These youngsters have bright futures ahead of them. Go and sample what they have to offer.

Open during term times.