Food behind bars, but beyond expectations

In an update to our previous story about the Clink Restaurant at HMP Brixton, Lucinda Richardson was invited to the newly opened venue for lunch and was impressed with what she saw (and tasted)

Following Jim Banks’ article detailing the launch of The Clink Restaurant in Brixton Prison in the February edition of Foodservice Consultant magazine, I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to experience the fine-dining venue first-hand at a thank you lunch organised in recognition of the support FCSI members have given to the project.

As a charitable initiative seeking to reduce the reoffending rate of prisoners by the providing a high-quality training programme, The Clink is reliant upon support and donations from foodservice manufacturers – the extent of which was apparent in the fifty-strong group.

On arrival, a list of forbidden items was read out to us, which we were encouraged to hand over to avoid the possibility of a two to 10-year jail sentence in the event any of the items was found on our person. Since these included aerosols, phones and anything electronic, I found a free locker to hastily abandon my entire bag. I didn’t fancy going down for the sake of my dry shampoo.

We were then issued with visitor passes and escorted over to the restaurant via a series of locked holding areas. After being greeted by front-of-house staff we were handed a glass of bucks fizz and courteously shown through to our tables. You could be forgiven, amid the lavish surroundings, for forgetting you were in prison, bar a few small discrepancies: the metal key chains just visible in the overseers’ pockets, the plastic cutlery and the absence of alcohol in the bucks fizz.

Recently awarded three stars by The Sustainable Restaurant Association, it is not surprising that the menu at The Clink reflects an emphasis on seasonal, local produce. In line with the prisoners training programme, we were served ajo blanco with sour dough bread, rump of lamb with roast garlic rosti and a bitter chocolate tart with pistachio ice cream.

Everything was beautifully presented and served, the prisoners taking the time to interact with us and ensure we were happy with everything throughout the meal. These personable skills are marked out by Chris Moore, Chief Executive of The Clink Charity as important, even above the academic qualifications graduates receive from the programme.

Once lunch had been cleared, we were given a short tour of the kitchen, designed by Tony Galvin FCSI and facilitated through the generosity of some 43 suppliers, responsible for a saving of over £100,000 in equipment alone. I was also able to catch up with Daniel, one of the prisoners involved on the programme, who discussed his aspiration to set up his own restaurant and how witnessing the start up of The Clink Brixton would help him with that.

For other prisoners, the charity is very supportive following their release, meeting them at the gate and introducing them to one of 200 employers who will employ Clink graduates subject to satisfactory interview. Mentoring continues for 12 months following release and undoubtedly contributes to the considerably low reoffending rate of the graduates (6% compared to the national average of 47%).

Looking ahead, HMP Styal has already been marked out as the fourth Clink venue following HMP Brixton, The Clink Restaurant at HMP High Down and at The Clink Cymru at HMP Cardiff.

Chris Moore is confident about future plans, “Over the past five years we have achieved so much and we will continue to expand The Clink training concept across the UK with our next two projects already on the horizon. By the end of 2017 we will have 10 projects in operation allowing us to train and release more than 500 qualified prisoners into employment each year. It’s thanks to the hospitality industry, philanthropic individuals and generous organisations that we are able to grow our training efforts so successfully, so thank you to all those who have shown their support.”

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