Tuesday 8th April - I'm normally quite a sociable sort, but as I approached HM Prison Brixton on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, I decided against chit chat with the ladies heading in the same direction as me, just in case it went something like this:
Me: "Are you heading to The Clink too?"
Lady 1: "Yes"
Me: "The restaurant?"
Lady 2: "No"
As it turned out, they were en route to The Clink restaurant in Brixton, the third of its type after HMP Highdown opened in 2009. The Clink Charity is a fantastic initiative that employs prisoners in various roles, doing 40 hr weeks working towards NVQ qualifications. Organic produce from Bromley gardens is maintained & harvested by prisoners training in horticulture, others work in industrial cleaning & recycling, and several are trained as chefs and waiters by Chef Alberto Crisci.
Before we had a chance to sample their food, anyone with a similar booking time was gathered outside the gates for a quick run through of the rules. No cameras (not ideal for a blog), no chewing gum (for imprinting keys or getting rid of bad tastes?), no sharp implements (not even a fork?) etc - being caught with any banned items could lead to anything from 2 to 10 years in prison! Not really worth it for a few photos...
After that slightly terrifying chat, it was all very pleasant. Chris and I were shown to a table in the reasonably attractive dining room within the prison walls, and we mulled over our lunch options, just as we would anywhere else. The only giveaways were the plastic cutlery and name tags on waiters' uniforms.
The exact details are hazy but we started with some fresh goats cheese & tomatoes, and a comforting celeriac soup. My papardelle with duck, chilli and greens wasn't bursting with flavour, but Chris was impressed with his roast duck breast. The trio celebration of apple dessert was a great way to finish - the mini apple crumble stole the show. A quick look at their latest menu shows some more adventurous options too:
- Oat crumbed North Sea herring, fine leaf salad , lime & black pepper mayonnaise - £5.95
- Tea smoked duck breast, orange and watercress salad with a honey, wholegrain mustard and burnt orange dressing and croutons (c) - £13.95
The food itself didn't leave a lasting impression, but the social atmosphere and enjoyable conversations with the hard-working prisoners certainly did, leading us to wonder how to leave a tip in a prison...
Once everyone had settled up, our group gathered once more to be taken back outside. There was time for one more scare as they accidentally shut the main gate with two customers still inside - I wonder if they do that every time for a laugh? Passports were recovered, iPhones were switched on, gum was chewed and we all went on our way after a slightly surreal but enjoyable lunch - definitely worth a try!
Matt The Fact: HMP Brixton is also home to Gordon Ramsay's Bad Boys' Bakery which he launched in 2012 - a similar social initiative with the aim of reducing reoffending rates by training bakers on the inside, and helping them find work on their release from prison. They have a strong connection with Caffé Nero, but you may also have seen some of their products at Brixton Market or Lower Marsh Market or in Ben's Canteen, Brixton Cornercopia, Daily Goods Coffee, ROAST amongst other places. And just down the road in Brixton Village, The Joint is so-called due to their connection with the Bad Boys' Bakery.
Friday 11th April - Now for something completely different, GB Pizza Co set up shop on Exmouth Market opposite the new Bonnie Gull after making quite a name for themselves in Margate, and I went along to the launch night, 3 months ago...!
Rachel & Lisa have set up a funky little site in London, with their trademark pink neon, vintage furniture, and traditional signwriting and artwork by street artist Teddy Baden. The loos also boast a collection of work by the renowned fashion photographer Mark C O’Flaherty. The enormous depiction of Garbo the great dane made more sense when two of them rocked up at the party late doors.
Before we get to the pizzas, I must mention the booze. They have prosecco on tap and organic wine in barrels, but you are left to pour them for yourself! No doubt, this is easy to regulate on a normal evening, but it was carnage (in a good way) at the first night!
|Local Ellie getting stuck in|
Now, the pizzas. Order at the counter, wait (a wonderfully short amount of time) for it to arrive, pick it up, fold it, ruin your [insert clothing choice], and eat it. There are no plates for your Margate-rita. Max's jeans lasted about 3 minutes.
We sat in the optimum position close to the prosecco and bang in the middle of a steady stream of staff carrying freshly made pizzas. Gaba & Lewis deserve special praise for their heroic efforts all evening.
We devoured countless slices of tasty, thin-crust pizzas (very different style to Franco Manca, Pizza Pilgrims & Homeslice) with a variety of delicious toppings. Think Fennel Salami, Pear & English Blue Cheese, Air Dried Ham & Rocket, Peppers & Goat's Curd, Lamb & Mint Pesto. Don't skip the garlic bread either. The prices are so low across the board that you might just find yourself ordering a second pizza.
|The awesome Gaba|
If you have any room left, get yourself a tub of Gelupo Gelato (Soho's finest - salted caramel / hazelnut is my preference) with a Climpson & Sons coffee on the side.
|Team Gelupo - Simon & Shannon|
|Dream Team - Lewis & Gaba|
And what a nice street to emerge on to after a few pizzas and proseccos...
GB Pizza Co is a lovely addition to Exmouth Market, and refreshingly cheap for the area! Thumbs up.
Thursday 10th April - Last but not least, a behind the scenes look at Compass Box Whisky Co. with Chris Maybin at their site in Chiswick. Chris welcomed me in to their whisky lab with an Unholy Alliance, a superb twist on a negroni made with their Spice Tree. This is where the blending magic takes place, in a large kitchen / tasting room a few metres from their desks.
Compass Box have set out to challenge the widely held belief that a blended Scotch whisky can't stand up to a single malt. They have also put together a varied core range to give us all several excuses to drink whisky. Mid-afternoon? Pre-dinner? Nightcap? Compass Box has you covered.
Before we got to taste testing, we looked around the lab / kitchen space where work akin to perfume making takes place. Various experiments & samples fill the shelves including Strathclyde in irn bru casks, and attempts to recreate the now discontinued Eleuthura blend. They are also starting to lay down their own whisky, a big project that is a focus of their 2nd decade of existence, along with their popular Great King Street range.
After a look around, we sat down to have a taste of the core range and some specials. Rather than go into great detail, here are my (occasionally unorthodox) notes:
For more detail, head to their fantastic informative website with fact sheets & tasting videos
Asyla – 40% - The Pinot Grigio / aperitif whisky - star of Milk & Honey's revered Penicillin twist.
Oak Cross – 43% - Mr.Darcy, not pre-possessing – aged with American & French oaks
Spice Tree – 46% - After-dinner sipping - survived a fight with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA)
Peat Monster – 46% - my bedside whisky - was the most peaty whisky in town when it was first released – now it's actually peatier as they have upped the Laphroaig. Look out for the 10th Anniversary edition.
Hedonism – 43% - vanilla cream, toffee, coconut - only produced once or twice a year
On to a few limited editions:
Orangerie – whisky infused with orange peel, cassia bark and cloves, so can't be called Scotch whisky. At Christmas it was injected into mince pies at Whisky Exchange
Flaming Heart – 48.9% - effectively Spice Tree vs Peat Monster - truly awesome if you can find a bottle...
The General – 53.4% - now sold out - two very rare mystery whiskies combined - 2/3 at 40%, 1/3 at 33%
There were many more to try but a 3 hour orchestral rehearsal beckoned. Note to self: I don't improve as a musician after several whiskies. Who'd have thought? I'll have to return to finish them off...
Most companies with this many products lose some quality along the way, but the varied Compass Box range is consistently exciting. It is clear a lot of love and hard work is going in, and the team members I met were an enthusiastic bunch. It's no surprise that they are the house whisky in joints like Peg + Patriot, distillers & mixologists all over London are making use of the superb Compass Box blends.
It's brilliant to have them in London, and they can start to feel like experienced old hands as the likes of London Distillery Co. and East London Liquor Co. start work on their own whiskies in the capital.
Add some to your whisky collection and don't listen to the single malt snobs!