When I say the food at The Clink is really really good, people always silently add “for a prison”. Showing up willing to be pleased is important no matter what you are doing. So, you could say that The Clink has that on its side all the time. People who visit The Clink are there for a reason: they are intrigued, they are supportive, they have been strong armed into going, or they are interested in prisoner rehabilitation.
I am talking about The Clink restaurant at High Down prison in Sutton, about 30 minutes south west of London.
The average person, no matter how demanding they are in real life, show up at The Clink prepared to have a better than average meal, ready to be tolerant of poor service, gentle with new waiters who drop their cutlery, patient with slow service, and forgiving of a badly made espresso. Trust me, you can reserve all that good will for another venue. The ethic of the place is: train staff well, encourage them to get qualifications, give them work experience and send them out into the world to get a job and do a good job. The ethic of the food is: buy locally, cook seasonally, prepare as much as you can in house, don’t waste.
The result? The service at The Clink is immaculate: friendly, concerned, interested, and professional. The food is as good as you could find in any restaurant in any capital city. Pasta, bread, ice cream, sauces, cakes, soup, and cookies are all home made. Fish, meat, and vegetables are sourced as locally as possible and the food is seasonal. Really seasonal. The menu changes about once a week and frrequently depends on what Al can get from the fisherman and that is a function of what the sea provides on that particular day. Al is an interested chef: he speaks to all the guests and is genuinely interested in what you think about the food and any ideas you have for the restaurant.
I am fortunate enough to eat at The Clink rather a lot because I help out with the bread there. I have had the best ravioli I have ever eaten (stuffed with huge chunks of fresh crab meat in a perfect stuffing-pasta ratio and served with a light pesto dressing) and I have had delicious sandwiches. I have eaten their ice cream, their confit of chicken, their mixed salad, their gateaux and their steamed sweet potato. I am at risk of growing out of my jeans.
I went for lunch yesterday as a guest, rather than as sort of staff, dipping my spoon in whatever dish came my way. I took my enthusiastic and delightful friend, Harriet, the editor of the Good Schools Guide International. I know she thought the food would be good because I told her it would be so. I also know she added the silent rider “for a prison” because she confessed as much when we were semi comatose after the meal. I encourage you to go. You will not be disappointed. To tempt you further, here is what we ate:
1. Home made butternut squash soup garnished with caramalised onion and served with home made sourdough bread and butter.
2. Slow roasted breast of lamb served with sweetbreads, steamed broccoli and potatoes crushed in their skins with garlic and rosemary.
3. Coconut ice cream served with a plain, light biscuit
1. A trio of tortolonis, one stuffed with mushroom, one with spinach and ricotta, one with butternut and courgette served on a bed of tiny white beans and a tomato and raw onion salsa
2. same as Harriet (wasted opportunity, I know)
3. A trio of English apple desserts: an apple sorbet, a tiny apple pie with a top crust blanketing a cinnamon-apple compote, a tiny candy apple (a little scoop of apple dipped in sugar syrup that hardens).
4. Perfect espresso