Such a quiet voice
With so much to say”
These are the words of a prisoner at HMP High Down, published in a collection of art and poetry by students in the education programme there, which I came across at a recent visit to The Clink Restaurant at HMP Brixton, a spinoff of The Clink at HMP High Down.
The Clink is the brainchild of Chef Alberto Crisci MBE and a successful public access restaurant and charitable enterprise, reducing the rate of reoffending prisoners by giving them skills and placing them in hospitality jobs with mentoring once they’re released back into the community.
The training received by prisoners via The Clink’s programme actually contributes towards a City and Guilds NVQ qualification in food preparation and service, and trainees have been employed by recognised names in the industry, like Carluccios, and even Michelin starred restaurants.
And as I read the prisoners’ moving, raw and dark poetry, I couldn’t help but note the contrast with the jovial easy manner of our waiter and the rest of The Clink trainees serving food and deftly pouring drinks around us, smartly turned out in what resembled dark blue chefs jackets; not a bit out of place in the modern fine dining interior of the converted former Governor’s House.
My starter of goats cheese ‘spring roll’ (essentially, a deep fried filo parcel) with pesto and toasted pine nuts was delicious, and beautifully presented. And not one waiter, but two delivered it to me; one to bring the tray stand and our original man to present me with my food. The process was immaculate.
A main course of battered fish and hand cut chips with tartare sauce and ‘pea puree’ (which in my humble opinion was actually more like just ‘pea’) was tasty certainly, if a little in need of seasoning. My lunch date ordered the venison and similarly found the sauce a tad less flavourful than hoped. However, all was forgiven with the arrival of a chocolate and walnut brownie served atop an artful chilled chocolate ‘smear’. Honestly? Gooey, nutty, chocolatey, DELICIOUS. So tasty in fact that my enthusiastic eating of it resulted in two pieces flying off my plate and onto the restaurant floor. I ate them anyway, naturally.
After a decent coffee, I reflected on whether I’d missed the alcohol. The honest answer is that I’d have liked a glass of wine with my meal, but overall it really didn’t detract from the experience not having it. After all, I was given the mocktail of the day; a fruit juice blend named by its creator “Smasher”, and subsequently got to play ‘guess the ingredients’ with our waiter. And who doesn’t want to play that over lunch?
If you want great food in an unusual environment, feeling good in the knowledge that your presence is contributing to the successful rehabilitation of guys that just want to be given another chance, then The Clink Restaurant is for you.
And doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance?
In the honest and beautiful turn of phrase of Bromige:
“Will I see love
Instead of seeing hate?
Destined for a new situation
Only I can create”
The Clink has restaurants in HMP Brixton, HMP Cardiff and HMP High Down, with Styal opening soon, and serves alcohol free lunches (and breakfasts) to anyone willing to go through a basic security check and the ability to pay by cheque. For bookings, click here.