In a nutshell
The Classroom trains current hospitality and catering students ‘on the job’ alongside experienced chefs and front of house staff in a fine-dining restaurant.
Chef Alex Smith oversees this project. He has an impressive CV: before arriving here, he worked alongside Michelin-starred chefs Anton Edelmann, Paul Heathcote and Chris Galvin. In Cardiff, he was also the executive sous chef at the prestigious St David’s Hotel.
It’s modern European but with a commitment to showcasing the best local Welsh produce.
What’s the room like?
Arriving for dinner at The Classroom feels faintly surreal, as you navigate through the empty cafeterias and shops of the Cardiff and Vale College campus. You half expect tumbleweed to roll gently across your path as you walk through rooms that hours earlier were full of the thrum of college life.
But make it up to the top floor and it all slots into place, in an elegantly light and airy room whose high windows allow views across the city.
Menu must-haves and misfires
Every now and then you see a dish that might have been tailored specifically for you, and here it was: bonbons of fried belly pork, with a sweetcorn purée and chorizo oil, a delicate shell giving way to a dense tangle of meat. The addition of chilli popcorn was a playful touch. My sole criticism is that these don’t come in a portion marked ‘nosebag’ – I could have eaten that twice.
A starter of fried squid was superb. A barely-there batter, teamed with tiny dice of chilli and mango, balanced sweet and hot without dominating the delicate squid. That attention to fine detail leaves you in no doubt of The Classroom’s credentials.
A main of chicken breast was admirably tender, the jus adding a rare depth of flavour. Dauphinoise potatoes had a reassuring bite, and were gently seasoned. Bite size pieces of asparagus and shallots were also a welcome addition.
My sirloin steak, which arrived the reqested medium-rare, was an object lesson in doing simple things well: a good piece of locally-sourced meat treated with skill and respect. The peppercorn sauce was a lovely thing, with a real punch so often missing.
The chips were the sole misstep: the oil on their third visit wasn’t quite hot enough, so they lacked the expected crispness. It’s a small issue though, and easily remedied in future: the difference between good and great in a chip can be mere moments, after all.
Cocktails are a strength here, although there’s a select wine list. The Mojitos we drank while reading the menu were expertly done and crisply refreshing; restaurant manager Thomas Bentkowski knows his way around a cocktail, as you’d expect from someone who has spent time at Cardiff’s The Park House.
What else did you like/dislike?
Service is accomplished, both from students and experienced restaurant manager Thomas Bentkowski. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with hints of formal fine dining, but it’s never stuffy or stifling.
The Classroom is an attractive place to eat, with polished food and service. The fact that it’s training young professionals of the future to excel in their chosen field, just makes it even more of a fascinating and inspiring project.
Written by Jonathan Swain (theplatelickedclean.blogspot.com, @cleanplateblog), July 2016
Photos courtesy of Owen Mathias Photography
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