Going to university in a small town definitely has its pros and cons. The lack of any proper shopping, clubs (R.I.P. Lizard), or general cosmo-culture means that cafés and coffee shops rule the town. During my years at St Andrews, being ‘ladies who lunch’ has become a go-to pastime for many of my friends and I, and we've quickly discovered the best dishes.

Embracing the St Andrews café culture, however, comes at a price. The time may come when you’re short on cash, waiting for the next instalment of your student loan, but in desperate need of your favourite St Andrews foodie fix to help deal with those looming deadlines. With less effort than it takes to fight for a table at Cottage Kitchen, you can re-create popular local dishes from the comfort of your own home.

In order to test if these Fife favourites can be accurately recreated, I’ve dedicated my Sunday morning to giving them a go with a group of kind volunteers to judge my efforts.

1. The Gorgeous Panini

Panini are lunchtime staples on offer in many cafés in St Andrews. Gorgeous, most renowned for their glorious scones, have a variety of tempting savoury options on offer, for take-away or sitting in. Their most popular has to be the eponymous 'Gorgeous', with a combination of Italian flavours that is guaranteed to please. You may be under the impression that panini making is too tricky for the average student kitchen, but think again.

Once you've got the ingredients, creating your panini is a simple assembly job. I have, however, put a lot of thought into the delicate art of panini assembly and can therefore propose the best way. 

avocado, sandwich, cheese, pesto
Jessica Findlay

If you don’t have a panini press, don't panic - neither do I! Just heat a little oil in a griddle or frying pan and use a spare lid to press your sandwich. Flip the panini half way through cooking to make sure it gets a nice colour on both sides.

#SpoonTip: Using leftover roast vegetables instead of chicken makes a great vegetarian alternative.

#SpoonTip: Using leftover roast vegetables instead of chicken makes a great vegetarian alternative.

Verdict: I quote: "Wow, this is gorgeous", no pun intended! With all the ingredients, you don't actually save that much, but pulling off a legit panini without a press greatly impressed my taste-testers!

2. Zest salad

The beauty of a Zest salad is that you can customise your order according to your preferences. This one takes a bit more prep but it’s easy to make in bulk, so you can get several days worth of healthy lunches at your disposal. I decided to go for a base of spinach leaves, then make four different add-ins. 

vegetable, rice, salad, onion, pepper
Jessica Findlay

Spicy cous-cous: Add some cayenne pepper and smoked paprika to a bowl of uncooked couscous, cover with hot vegetable stock, cover, and leave for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork then leave to cool.

Chickpea and feta: Roast a can of chickpeas with olive oil and some cumin for 15 minutes, leave to cool, then mix in some cubed feta.

Courgette salad: Grate a whole courgette, add a sprinkling of chill flakes and lime juice (you can buy this bottled and then keep for when you next need) and season with salt and pepper.

Carrot and beetroot slaw: Grate a carrot and two pre-cooked beetroot then add a splash of soy sauce, a dash of sesame oil, and some more lime juice.

After preparing each component, simply assemble your salad layers, add your dressing (I usually go for a simple balsamic, but this mix of salads doesn't really even need one) and enjoy! Your salad components can either be stored separately or mixed together for future lunches. 

Verdict: This was easily the biggest crowd pleaser. 10/10 for both taste and value for money. I had enough salad to feed at least 3 people for a fraction of the cost of one Zest takeaway.

3. North Point’s Graduate Breakfast

Yoghurt on a bagel? This threw me at first, but as a staple on the North Point menu, there must be something to it. I’m all for trying unusual food combinations and decided to give it a go!

banana, peanut, peanut butter, butter, bagel
Jessica Findlay

Simply toast a bagel, spread peanut butter and jam on both sides, top with sliced banana ,drizzle over some greek yoghurt and honey, then enjoy your balanced, fairly healthy, and very delicious breakfast!

Verdict: None of my tasters had ordered this from North Point before and were confused as to why I had put yoghurt on their bagel. After tasting, however, they all came around to this unique breakfast combination.

4. Pret’s Kale and Cauli Mac n Cheese

With the chill of the Scottish winter kicking in, there are few things more comforting than mac and cheese. Pret’s addition of kale and cauliflower both adds some interesting texture AND ups the nutrition count, so you don’t even need to feel guilty about indulging in this bowl of cheesy goodness. I’d recommend making a big batch to give yourself several days’ worth of comforting meals. This is also a great crowd-pleasing vegetarian main to take to a pot luck.

vegetable, pasta, gnocchi, spinach, parsley, sauce
Jessica Findlay

A great mac n cheese starts with a roux, which may seem daunting, but once you’ve got this basic technique down, you open yourself up to a whole world of comforting pasta bakes and gratins. Take a look at this foolproof guide to learn how.

To make your mac’n’cheese, the first thing to do is break up a head of cauliflower and roast the florets in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and dash of salt and pepper for about 20 minutes.

Boil pasta (Pret uses tubetti rigati. I couldn't find any so used conchiglie but any pasta will work!) for about 3 minutes less than the packet says. While this is cooking, make your roux in a large pan, then add a pint of milk and about half a block (or more) of grated mature cheddar to make the perfect cheesy sauce.

Add the pasta, a bag of kale, and roasted cauliflower to the sauce, season with salt and pepper and pour the mixture into a baking dish. Top with grated parmesan, bake at 180 for 20 minutes, then finish under the grill for that irresistible golden top!

Verdict: Surprisingly easy to make and the added vegetables (even when coated in cheese sauce) definitely take away any need to feel guilty. Another big win in terms of costs. Buying all the ingredients cost less than one take away from Pret and made enough to feed at least 4.


Buying everything I needed for these recipes, aside from the store cupboard ingredients I had at home, cost me less than £12 (thank you, Aldi) and made enough for more than one portion in each case.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from visiting these local cafés. Supporting small businesses, especially in a small town, is really important to our community. This experiment has proven, however, that with minimal effort, and at minimal cost, your student kitchen is capable of reproducing these lunchtime favourites.