The Great Critic Hall Food Review

The Great Critic Hall Food Review

If you’re a first-year and noticed a baggy-eyed older student in your dining hall recently, chances are it was an undercover Critic Te Ārohi staff member nicking your food to review. Some would call it subterfuge, but we prefer the term “auditing”. Read on to see how your hall ranked.

St. Margaret’s

Ah, Margs, you elusive, cultish cuties. As the saying goes: “I’ve never met anyone from St. Margaret’s.” But Critic met you for the hall food review. As it turns out, your dining hall is lovely and your food is pretty fucking good (even if it took two tries to taste it). 

Our first attempt saw us Kel Knight speed-walk 30 minutes in the rain, only to find dinner was over. To make matters worse, your hot drink machine was behind an active prayer circle. Luckily, the next day we cruised through the front door and ended up first in line. The kitchen staff politely obliged our requests and plated up some food. 

We thought we’d gotten away being undercover freshers — alas, they ratted us out. An RA approached our table to say the kitchen staff didn’t recognise us. After flashing a Critic sticker saying “this is the fucking news” (our unofficial business card), she asked us if we’d come to speak at dinner, to which we politely declined. But if we were to speak during your dinner, we’d say your food is pretty damn tasty. 

Dinner was a kumara, mozzarella, and black bean burrito served with plain rice and a variety of salads, topped with sour cream, cheese, salsa, and guacamole. Joy, pure and sweet. The sheer size of the feta chunks in that salad made for an elite eating experience. 

The only downside was the kombucha tap. Namely — where did it go? The kombucha tap is what they show off to high schoolers to lure them into the cult. When I was picking a hall, it was between the work-life balance of Arana and the kombucha tap in Margs. No kidding, that kombucha nearly changed the course of my university experience. Tasting it was a must. When I asked a fresher where it was, she exclaimed she’d never seen the tap before and agreed its absence was “super weird.” Alas, St. Margs kombucha is as elusive and strange as the students themselves. 

Quality: 8/10. 
Mouth Feel: 5/10, a bit mushy. Some cucumber slices could have benefited the burrito’s texture.
Ability to cure a hangover: 8/10 from the sheer amount of carbs (go wild, Margs).


Studholme, we were terrified. While you were out pretending to be second-years on Castle Street, Critic pretended to be freshers in your dining hall. As it turns out, sneaking into a room of macro-obsessed teenagers induces heart palpitations and the impulse to ramble about CELS191 to a group of unconvinced health-sci jocks. Luckily, none of you baby-breathas gave a flying fuck. 

Kitchen staff greeted us with a warm, “Would you like a half or whole potato?” This, in combination with our own personal hardships (cozzie-livs, bb) made the whole experience feel very Oliver Twist. Bowing our orphan heads in gratitude, we replied, “That’d be ever so kind of you ma’am,” and took our potatoes. Stoke levels were high. After all, potatoes sustained the Irish through many a hard winter. It’s the perfect nourishment to help you all dodge the hall-cest induced fresher flu (we give it two weeks before you all know each other VERY well). 

It appears Studholme has extended their athletic reputation to their menus, because that lunch was healthy as fuck. Potato and chilli was paired with the kind of chickpea and pumpkin salad that an F45 coach would be proud of. You even had microgreens on offer at your salad bar, and satisfied our post-lunch cravings for a sweet little treat with a shortbread cookie. 

As for the dining experience, we’d like to make a special shout-out to the table of jocks who we caught staring without fail every time we looked up from our plates. The testosterone and absolute audacity that radiated from your table was as strong as the warmth of those little panel heaters in your dorm rooms (appreciate it while you can). 

Quality: 8/10
Mouth feel: 6/10
Ability to cure a hangover: 7/10. A notable lack of grease, but saved by the humble potato.


When I imagine the ninth circle of hell, it might be Carrington. The only thing worse than living at the top of a calf-destroying hill is being trapped there with 250 health-sci freshers. But in the name of journalism, Critic braved these conditions for a feed. In line, I clutched my plate determinedly as a fresher asked if I'm aiming for medicine or dentistry, scoping me out as competition a whopping half a week into sem 1 lectures. Carrington’s dining hall is small and dark, the perfect aura of intimacy to be cornered and asked for your progress test grades. 

On the menu was a delightfully well-seasoned BBQ beef brisket accompanied with (overcooked) roast potatoes, steamed green peas, cauliflower gratin, and a variety of salads. To sweeten the deal, Carrington served chocolate mousse resembling the laxative aftermath of when fizzless RTDs first came to Dunedin. Rumour has it, the university budget cuts mean halls only get dessert once a week now. 

Mid-mastication, I felt something strange occur. My brain cells were multiplying with each chew. Like a werewolf, I began to transform into a Carrington fresher, resisting the urge to howl, “How did you find HUBS191 today?” to anyone within earshot. Walking back down the hill, tummy full and brain bigger, I was certain that Carrington was the place to eat next time I needed to be an academic weapon — or  just take ritalin like everyone else.

Quality: 7/10. Megamind vibes. 
Mouth feel: 8/10, but only because the crunchy fresh salad was the first real vegetable I’d eaten all week.
Ability to cure a hangover: 0/10 (the walk up the hill would kill you before you even made it to the dining hall).


Ceebs the walk.

Te Rangihīroa

Te Rangi, what a frickin’ vibe. Besides the suspicious fresher who we conned into scanning us into the building, everyone was absolutely buzzing to see us. Critic was treated so well it’s almost as if you kinda knew what was up (despite not having a Critic stand yet), but admired the spunk and tenacity of our endeavour. Confidence was key here. We strategically disarmed any suspicion about who we were by bantering playfully with one of the kitchen ladies, who had the same cheerful innocence as the freshers around her. 

The grub was banging. Despite its technical difficulties, the cooks nailed a hearty beef schnitzel (which tends to be too dry in like 99% of cases), lathering it in a gravy that tasted more like the elixir of life than anything else. 

We struck up a conversation with a nice enough girl at our table. I took a photo of the shit stain on your ceiling. All in all, it was a great time. There’s little to say except how blessed we felt to be there. Sadness struck as we left, realising this would probably be our first and last visit to the new behemoth (except to give you a Critic stand). 

Quality: 7/10. Gimme that gravy in a bowl.
Mouth feel: 9/10
Ability to cure a hangover: 10/10 


To successfully infiltrate the cult of Selwyn and the strong bonds of friendship formed after four days of breatherism, Critic Te Ārohi had to come prepared: equipped with our fanciest pair of birks and a sense of Dunedin enthusiasm which has long since passed. Arriving early, Critic patiently waited in a cess-pit of a line, surrounded on both sides by the rumble of dick-measuring stories bragging about how much piss had been sunk the night before. 

We were inconspicuous at best — only for our cover to be blown upon being recognised by one of the kitchen staff. But alas! Blessed by their generosity, the review continued on. 

The prospective breathas who Critic had attached ourselves to in the line clocked the reveal; there was an outsider to this cult of debauchery. Thus, the stories of O-Week adventures were forced upon us, seeking approval and advice from a battle-worn Dunedinite (probably not the best person to ask, considering I, too, was hungover eating lunch at Selwyn). 

The lunch was made up of mac n cheese, macaroni meat pie — neither of which used actual macaroni, but penne — and rigatoni with tomato & basil sauce (has Selwyn converted to pastafarianism?). Critic had one of the first two options. Honestly, they looked identical; a beige sea of soggy pasta and tasteless white clumps of what one can only pray (to the pastafarian gods) was cheese. Critic’s meal had chicken in it though, so I was leaning towards the macaroni meat pie. 

The meal had the appearance of a pasta bake, which any decent human would expect to have a small amount of crunch. But if you had a straw and a lot of determination I reckon you could make it work. Sloppy and fairly bland, but the food was about as standard as hall food gets — at least from my fresher experience in Unicol. 

Quality: 5/10. Then again, it was free.
Mouth feel: 2/10. A great meal to eat if you didn’t have teeth.
Ability to cure a hangover: 4/10. The talk about gnomes and fresher angst about the toga party did nothing to help return me to my inner zen.

Caroline Freeman

This journalistic return to my own hall was supposed to feel comforting. A homecoming paired with a delightful lunch. Instead, I found myself thrown back into my own fresher year; anxious, stressed, and subservient to authority figures. The walk between the entrance to the dining hall is as if the panopticon prison design was changed so all the prisoners would always be watching the guard tower in the middle. From the very moment I stepped into the hall, it was like being high in a supermarket; I felt watched. 

Having foolishly assumed I could simply ask for a meal to review, my way was sternly barred by the bright flaming sword of bureaucracy. So I had instant coffee from the machine instead. Lacking a lunch of my own, I sat with the subbies in the back corner, watching them eat their chicken wraps. I felt keenly aware of the irony now being forced to just observe. Lettuce crunched under my gaze. I bore witness to sauce leaking through tortilla dough. The coffee was mid. 

To Caroline Freeman’s credit, the food looked delicious. Plain tortillas stacked next to a gravy-soaked mass of chicken had me itching to scoop that shit bare handed into my maw. Side salad options of plain lettuce, carrot, and grated cheese along with a fair selection of sauces turns this meal into a build-it-yourself Subway vibe. That is, if Subway had less of everything and the only vegan option were small dry looking falafel hockey pucks. Top that off with a little fudge square, and boom! A meal that might be nice? 

Quality: 7/10 (allegedly)
Mouthfeel: 2/10. Mostly the salivation of desperate wanting. 
Ability to cure a hangover: 12/10. Primal fear always sobers me up.
Coffee: Instant (bad)


Knox may be a bitch of a place to haul ass from campus to for lunch, but fuck is it worth it — at least it was the day Critic was there. Knox is a castle, and Critic was its queen — probably because Knox was the only hall we visited with the explicit permission of the head of college. It’s a fortress even the sneakiest of reporters were loath to tackle. 

Critic could practically feel the weight of a tiara on our head as Caroline (head of college) cut the massive line of freshers queueing for lunch and passed me a tray. “You’ve come on a good day,” she said, gesturing to the veritable banquet spread before us. Bao buns (chicken katsu or tofu), leftover mac n cheese from the previous night’s dinner, and more salads than could fit on one plate. To top it off, we grabbed a thick slice of banana cake and a mug of kombucha to wash it down (shame, St Margs). Critic salivates at the memory. 

If you showed us a photo of the dining hall and said it was the Hogwarts Great Hall, we’d believe you. Boasting bunches of balloons leftover from Caroline’s birthday party (bless), the room was buzzing with chatter from feasting first-years praising the food: “This is the best mac n cheese I’ve ever tasted!” As we sank our teeth into a bao bun, a subbie (Knox-speak for RA) at the table gushed about how nice it was to have “real vegetables” after living off frozen stir-fry mixes while flatting, and she was so real for that. 

Knox, you offer the royal treatment of halls ​​— if you ignore the past Masters’ portraits and mounted stag heads leering down from above eye level. We were too busy contemplating a second helping to mind.

Quality: 9/10
Mouth feel: 8/10. Like suckling on the teet of monarchic privilege. 
Ability to cure a hangover: 7/10, just from the cake alone.


Poor Salmond, Knox’s forgotten little brother. The almost half-hour trek from Central to the ‘Mond was terrifying, a true quest into the unknown because nobody has ever heard a bloody thing about this hall. And if living between Knox and an intermediate wasn’t bad enough, the food was pretty shit too. 

Before we get to the food, props to how fancy this place was. As Critic entered the near-empty dining hall, it was a weird mix between a chapel and school camp hall where you were served some mysterious slop at age 12. There were maybe a dozen other people there, despite it being peak lunch time, which just added to the uncanny valley vibe of this place (made understandable upon eating the food). 

Lunch was mac n cheese, greek salad, red cabbage salad, and leftover beef yoghurt curry from the previous night's dinner. The kitchen staff were lovely, even enthusiastically trying to give us more food, saying they had to give their guests only the best. For most of these reviews, we took a strong undercover fresher policy, but I’m glad I look like the furthest thing from a Salmond fresher. 

On the way to sit down with my steaming plate, I passed not only a kombucha tap, but a slushy machine as well. Critic guesses the one positive of living in a mildly-culty privately owned hall are cool bells and whistles like that. There was still nobody around, which meant few people got to witness us battling the somehow simultaneously undercooked and overcooked mac n cheese. Even a breatha in his first flat could whip up a better version of this lunch than this - really, how do you mess up pasta that much? 

Overall, disappointed that there wasn’t salmon at lunch. Isn’t that your mascot? 

Quality: 2/10
Mouth feel: 1/10
Ability to cure a hangover: 8/10 (shoutout to the slushy machine)


My ticket into Unicol was my most baby-faced friend and beigest of outfits. I strutted in with arrogance, thinking my Col alumni status might raise questions, but no. I was in - safe and unrecognised. It was clear that it was only the second weekend in the halls: boys and girls sat separately, there was a faint feeling of homesickness in the air, and it felt more like school camp than the mighty Col. 

On the menu for the night was Persian beef, Indian crumbed chicken, and kumara bhajis. Diverse and worldly. The Persian beef looked suspiciously similar to the dinner I dish up to my dog, and my friend snagged the bhajis, so I opted for the chicken. I was more than pleased. Good rice. Great chicken. Glorious sauces. Generally grand. But bad, bland vegetables. 

My ex-Selwyn confidante wasn’t as impressed (perhaps a hint of snobbery there). They also had ambrosia. In Greek and Roman mythology, this translates to the food of the gods; I wouldn’t define it as godly, nor would I define it as ambrosia. While the meal made for a fine hangover cure, it was incredibly disappointing to see they no longer served orange juice, the perfect morning-after remedy. 

Critic gives them points for a decent meal, and a shiny, new coffee machine. Points were lost for a lack of Col morale, weird boy-girl separation reminiscent of an intermediate school dance, and a juice-less tap. 

Quality: 6/10. Up the Col.
Mouth feel: 7.5/10 
Ability to cure a hangover: 6.5/10. Bring back the juice! 


Critic went into the Toroa dining experience full of questions. Why is your dining hall not at the actual college? Where do you eat breakfast? Do you all trudge down in oodies at the beginning of the day? At toast time? None were answered, but the food was aight. It’s just round the corner from the Critic office, so we popped around while working late(ish) one evening. 

The dining hall was pretty empty at 5:40pm when we were there, accommodated by a friendly RA who turns out wasn’t even meant to be eating there on his day off. Weird. The vibe of the dining hall wasn’t too dissimilar to the Link: oddly corporate, pale grey, and with a space that there weren’t enough diners there to fill. The rest were probably eating takeaways in their rooms a kilometre away. 

Dinner was a chicken potato-top pie (we got the veggie version), with your standard side of salad, potatoes (not Agria, sadly), and green beans. A respectable, well-rounded meal - if it were winter, that is. I delighted over the array of seasonings on offer at the end of the buffet line, opting for a healthy sprinkle of lemon pepper. 

Looking at the chicken option, the veggie pie seemed like a good call judging by the runny chicken gravy reminiscent of a small town dairy pie you’d endure on a roadie and only finish if severely hungover. My mate’s was left half-eaten, clearly not worth the effort of trying to prove that it was edible.

Quality: 5/10
Mouth feel: 4/10
Ability to cure a hangover: 7/10, so so much potato.

192 Castle 

Not gonna lie, we almost forgot to include 192 Castle College in the review. But riding on the high of successfully passing as a fresher at toga (soz to the guy who likely still thinks I’m a Unicol beezy), Critic rocked up to the hall for a Saturday lunch in the homestretch before pay day.

Your dining hall is the clit of the college: a fucking maze to find, tucked right into the fold, but oh so worth it. There weren’t many people there (figures). Critic began to sweat at the emptiness of the small dining room for fear it would make us stick out — well, like a baggy-eyed fifth-year pretending to be a fresher. A strategic side-eye of the girl ahead in line for a lesson in 192 Castle etiquette, combined with a bored yet painfully polite kitchen staff interaction, sealed the deal. 

192 Castle, your menu is as unimaginative as your name: hot dogs for lunch, and it wasn’t even the day of the Super Bowl. For fear of our cover being blown with a vegetarian request, Critic snagged a single mustard and ketchup topped saveloy (it’s doubtful there was much meat in there, anyway), and side salad, giving the bun a miss — something about hot girl tummy issues.  

I joined a group of girls at a table who asked what floor I was on. Confiding in my new HSFY friends about the “secret”, they were quick to tell me it wasn’t a good food day. We gossiped about Te Rangi drama as another reporter photographed their shit-stained ceiling. The lonely saveloy was your standard erect cheerio, if a bit sad without its bun, and I enjoyed the cheese sprinkled on my salad. I miss cheese. 

Quality: 5/10
Mouth feel: 2/10
Ability to cure a hangover: 3/10 (5/10 with a bun).


Don’t mess with Cumby — that place is like a bank vault. We were immediately ordered to sign in upon waltzing into reception. In typical Critic fashion, we took the piss and made up a fake room number and listed ourselves as residents, blowing raspberries trying not to laugh every time we looked at each other. Foolishly, we pencilled in our real names. 

The dining room was dead quiet when we entered. Realising we were 30 minutes early, we thought ‘fuck it’ and joined in on a game of volleyball with a fresher who recognized us as Critic reporters. Turns out this fresher was the koala at the Inflaty-180 (legend alert). After asking us whether we had to sneak into dining halls because we’re povvo (well yeah, but no), the Cumby koala warned us it’d be difficult to swindle dinner. Apparently Cumberland food has gained a legendary reputation amongst freshers, causing the RAs to set up a permanent ID scanning station to ensure all students actually belonged to the hall before they ate.

Thankfully, Critic’s O-Week media pass (refashioned with a bit of hastily applied vivid) got us through the ID check, no questions asked. And goddamn, the food seemed to get better and better with every bite. Lowkey, it was bougie as fuck. They dished up a stirfry lathered with veggies, mince, and some special sauce which I wasn’t going to deny. The koala wasn’t kidding; Cumby’s food is a guarded commodity for good reason. 

Before exiting through reception, we scribbled out our names from the visitor list (try catching us now). 

Quality: 9/10
Mouth Feel: 8/10
Ability to cure hangover: 5/10 (taste, not heft)


Holy fuck. Okay, some background: Critic’s review of Hayward came minutes after the Cumby koala assured us that if we managed to eat at her hall, there’d be zero issue over at Hayward (besides sore tummies from double dinner). We walked across the grass, cruised through an open door and queued up to grab some pizza and hot chips, riding the wave of a week's worth of undercover success. One of us gets tapped on the back: “I absolutely love your jumper!” a fresher fawns. Free food and flattery? This review was the best Critic idea in a while. We see a familiar face who turns out to be an RA at Hayward, and let her in on “the secret.” 

Well, it wasn’t a secret for very fucking long. Mid-meal, the college warden comes up and absolutely rips us a new one. Critic is accused of unethical journalism, breaking the law, a threat to safety, ruining the relationship between the magazine and university bureaucracy, obstructing the Student Code of Conduct, and then having the audacity to review them (got us there). Our attempts to explain the reasons for our ‘undercover fresher’ policy (can’t have the halls preparing to splash on us too hard ;)) were cut off by a furious account of the actual law. “But please, continue to tell me about your Critic policy.” In this moment, we fear Critic was not silent, but silenced. 

After writing down our details, photographing our IDs, and sending an email to all the halls, Hayward strongly suggested we sign out and offer to pay for our meal (fair tbh). Only we were so shook by the encounter, we walked out as fast as we could to warn our editor a strongly worded email may be headed her way. [Editor’s note: They interrupted my weekly Friday menty-b].  Back at the office, we realised we forgot to do the literal one thing Hayward asked of us. Let’s be real though  — we sure as fuck weren’t going back there. So we banked them the $8. 

As for the food? It was pretty shit ngl. Don’t have time to elaborate, currently preparing for Hayward v Critic Te Ārohi (Alex Latu, dear God please help us). 

Quality: 4/10. Bitter, sour, mean. 
Mouth feel: 4/10. Bit dry from fear.
Ability to cure a hangover: 10/10. Will be drinking away the stress, you might see us back (jk please don’t take us to court) 

This article first appeared in Issue 3, 2024.
Posted 2:49pm Sunday 10th March 2024 by Critic.