Have you ever been to prison? No, well neither had I until I booked a table at “The Clink”:http://theclinkcharity.org/the-clink-restaurants/brixton-london/, a charity based restaurant, in HMP Brixton designed to cut offending rates.
As you can imagine, the booking process is not simple. You submit an interest by email and once you’re ‘approved’ you have a provisional booking. Once you’ve completed a booking form (with full names and date of birth) and sent a £15 non-refundable deposit, your booking is confirmed. You need to allow plenty of time for this as you may find as I did, that corrections are needed when a good friend you’ve always known as Penny, is actually Joan Patricia on her passport (ID has to be taken with you).
We arrived at Brixton underground station and caught a bus up Brixton Hill feeling slightly embarrassed at asking the driver, ‘do you stop at the prison?’ I felt I needed to add, ‘because of course I’m eating in the restaurant there’.
The Clink was well signposted from the pavement and we found the visitors’ reception centre where we were met by Jonathan, the restaurant manager, who told us quickly but thoroughly what we couldn’t take in. Some were obvious (sharp tools, alcohol, weapons etc.) but some less so – no sunglasses, tube maps, keys, chewing gum or foil (could make impressions) and no liquids. ID was checked and retained in exchange for a visitors’ pass and valuables were left in lockers: the policy had changed recently meaning no handbags could be taken in, but unfortunately the lockers are small so I’d recommend you take only what you need.
Jonathan escorted our group through a huge gate (the only entrance into the prison) and waited until it closed behind us and we were then ‘locked’ in a holding area. Formalities were completed which involved a random few people being selected for a quick pat down and pocket check before another huge gate swung open and let us into the prison.
The restaurant was light and modern inside (unlike the prison which dates back to 1820) and seats 70 people. Andy, our waiter, introduced himself and told Roy he was very lucky to be sat in the seat that Jim Davidson, the comedian, had been in the day before. We all thought Andy had a look of Jim about him and wondered whether it was a true story or an ‘ice breaker’.
The “menu”:http://theclinkcharity.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Spring_Menu_2017.pdf had something to tempt all three of us with two of us choosing the spring pea and Stilton soufflé with a chilled pea and mint soup (£6.25). Both were delicious. Roy decided to save himself for the mains.
For mains, we chose lamb two ways, rack of pork and a vegetarian dish of spinach linguine. All were beautifully presented and had different accompaniments and very tasty: clean plates said it all.
The cutlery was good quality plastic and alcohol isn’t served but there was a tempting array of soft drinks. We stuck with fizzy water and pretended it was wine.
Service was a little haphazard at times, but Andy made up for this in spades with charm and banter.
Brixton is a category C prison and all the prisoners are within 6 or 18 months of being released. The Clink Charity helps graduates find employment within the catering and hospitality industry, and mentors them weekly for 6-12 months to help them reintegrate back into society and not reoffend.
So, all in all, it’s a great project to support whilst enjoying a delicious meal and best of all there was no porridge on the menu, although they do also serve breakfasts too.
There other similar restaurants in Cardiff, High Down and Styal.