Dining with a difference – Restaurant review: The Clink Cymru, HMP Cardiff

I’ve wanted to visit The Clink Cymru ever since it opened at HMP Cardiff in September 2012, following the success of the charity’s first restaurant, which became the UK’s first public restaurant within a prison when it opened at HMP High Down, Surrey, in 2009.

The concept
Situated just outside the prison walls, The Clink Cymru is staffed by category D prisoners from HMP Prescoed, who each spend 40-hours per week preparing, cooking and serving food at the 96-cover restaurant.

However, there is some confusion amongst the Welsh media in relation to the prisoners who work at the restaurant, with the BBC and WalesOnline reporting that prisoners from both HMP Cardiff and HMP Prescoed work there. Having checked with The Clink directly, it appears that Cardiff is a category B prison and as the restaurant sits outside the prison walls, these prisoners wouldn’t be allowed to leave the prison grounds for work. In contrast, as HMP Prescoed is a category D prison, inmates are able to travel to The Clink for work on ‘Release on Temporary Licence’. 

Alongside working full-time at The Clink, prisoners complete training to help them to achieve City and Guilds NVQ qualifications in Hospitality & Catering and Customer Service. It is hoped that by training prisoners in catering and teaching them skills like cooking, waiting, butchery and baking, the charity can help to cut reoffending rates; usually, 75% of those who leave prison without employment secured will reoffend within two years.

Reduced reoffending rates
Both of The Clink restaurants have proven to be very effective in reducing reoffending rates. In 2011, 12.5% of graduates reoffended (2010: 14%), compared to the national average of 47%. In 2012 the charity trained 88 prisoners, of which 26 were released into employment and, to date, only one of these has reoffended.

A focus on fine dining

The restaurant has all the hallmarks of a fine dining venue, with an elaborate five-course evening menu, attentive service and classy decor like mirrored walls and mood lighting. By gaining experience of working in a similar environment to a 4-5 star hotel or restaurant, prisoners can increase their chances of securing employment within the Welsh catering and hospitality industry.

The menu
Designed to complement the changing seasons, the five-course evening menu is created by chef, director of operations and founder, Alberto Crisci. It consists of a choice of starter, fish course, main course, dessert and petit fours. A big emphasis is placed upon quality, fresh local produce and a lot of the fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and herbs used in the cooking is grown at HMP Prescoed, where prisoners train towards gaining horticultural qualifications.

At £39.95 per head, the menu is far from cheap but it’s not bad for a fine-dining venue that’s currently rated #1 restaurant in Cardiff on Trip Advisor.

Starters/First Course

To start, I ordered the French onion soup. This was rich, stocky and full of flavour, infused with spices and mustard seeds. It also contained a few sliced onions, which had really soaked up the flavours of the soup and tasted great.

The toasted bread stick in the soup was hard and crunchy, but helped to add texture. It was a bit like a big crouton.

My soup was served with two triangular slices of a flat, soft cheesy bread interspersed with finely chopped red pepper, accompanied by two balls of what I first thought were mozzarella cheese, but upon biting into one of them discovered them to be fresh butter. Yum…

My friend Sarah opted for the duo of Welsh goats cheese served with sunblushed tomatoes and pine nuts, which looked very appealing.

Fish Course

For my fish course, I chose the citrus-cured salmon gravalax. This tasted absolutely fantastic; the salmon was fresh and succulent, the salad was well-dressed and the beetroot houmous garnish was surprisingly tasty (I’m not usually a big fan of beetroot).

Sarah opted for the vegetable spring roll, served on a bed of salad leaves with a sweet chilli dip. This was an innovative take on a traditional spring roll – vegetables fried in a crispy, golden brown batter in a long, slightly flattened roll.

Main Course

Moving on to our main courses, I ordered the braised Welsh beef, served with a celeriac and garlic pomme puree, mashed potato, seasonal greens and Vichy carrots, and finished with a red wine jus. The beef was incredibly tender, although it was just a little fatty in places, while the mashed potato was perfect – smooth, creamy and well seasoned. I loved the idea of serving the carrot halved lengthways and I have since tried this out at home with great success.

Sarah chose the pan-seared chicken breast served with chorizo bubble and squeak and seasonal veg, and finished with a Cafe au Lait sauce. This looked particularly appealing and Sarah kindly let me sample some of the bubble and squeak, which was delicious – the chorizo tasted great in it.

Chicken at The Clink restaurant Cardiff

Dessert

By the time we’d reached dessert, we were both feeling pretty full up and I was glad I’d only ordered the soup for my starter.

I couldn’t resist the sound of the traditional Welsh cheeseboard, served with traditional crackers, sliced apple , celery, jellied grape and a spiced chutney, with a small side salad. The portions of cheese didn’t look that big at first, but there was actually plenty of cheese for one person, given the size of the entire meal. This was a lovely cheeseboard, with plenty of variety and high quality cheeses.

Meanwhile, Sarah ordered the raspberry syllabub served in a chocolate cup, finished with fresh berries. This was presented beautifully and almost looked too good to eat (almost!) – I’ll probably order this for dessert if it’s still on the menu next time we visit The Clink.

Petit Fours

The final course consisted of a choice of coffees and teas, served with solid chocolate fondants. I ordered a latte, which was rich, strong and exactly what I needed to stop me from falling into a food coma and give me enough energy for the journey home. The chocolate fondants were sweet and tasty, albeit a bit sickly.

Service

We were very impressed with the service at The Clink restaurant. The waiters were very polite and friendly when bringing food to our table, or clearing away plates when we’d finished eating. Each course came out of the kitchen at a good, steady pace, and we appreciated having the opportunity to take a short break before our desserts were brought to the table. On the whole, the service could have put most restaurants in Cardiff to shame.

Conclusion

The Clink Cymru has truly exceeded my expectations and I cannot recommend it enough. I will most definitely be returning. The quality of the food and service is fantastic in itself, but when you consider this alongside what The Clink charity is doing to aid the rehabilitation of prisoners, it just gets even better. Just be sure to book in advance, as the restaurant tends to get pretty full!

Looking to the future, The Clink Charity (partnered with HMPS) plans to have 10 restaurants running across the prison estate by 2017. Each restaurant will cost around £500,000 to build, so charity funding is critical to the programme’s success.

Click here to make a donation to The Clink charity

The Clink Cymru
Her Majesty’s Prison Cardiff
Knox Road
Cardiff
CF24 0UG
(029) 2092 3130
www.theclinkcharity.org

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