Eating inside takes on new meaning at The Clink at HM Prison Brixton. The gastro challenge of eating at Her Majesty’s Pleasure is to ensure the dining isn’t just an accompaniment to an offbeat venue and worthwhile rehabilitation project.
There are some obvious upsides. The bane of modern dining is having your meal interrupted by a fellow diner loudly taking a call or a social media obsessive tweeting every plate but there’s no chance of that happening at The Clink – a visit begins with a security check at which you place all your all electronic devices (and other banned items) in a locker.
Once through an airlock gate, you’re escorted to the restaurant in an octagonal building that was built as the Governor’s House in 1819, now styled as a modern “city hotel” dining room. It sits in the centre of the prison with the tall cell blocks and barbed-wire-topped walls clearly visible through the large windows. Where possible prisoners have contributed – chairs and banquettes have all been made by prisoners at other training institutions and the art on the walls comes from inmate artists.
It was my first visit to a prison and it’s certainly a sobering experience, and not only because the restaurant is (necessarily) alcohol free.
Starters kick off at £6.25, main courses around £15 and desserts £6.50. Of our starters, pork and apricot terrine was high quality cuts of meat served with a delicate smear of shallot puree and finely sliced radishes. A baked savoury cheesecake had its creaminess offset with a sharp cranberry sauce and herby shortbread biscuits (had they done thyme, we wondered?).
A main course of slowly braised ox cheek on a bed of leek and potato gratin came with deliciously rich gravy, the result of two days of simmering down, we are told. A side order of (now industry standard) triple-cooked chips had the desired balance of crisp shell and soft interior. If we were forced to nit-pick … while the loin of cod was perfectly cooked, the Thai inspired cockle broth could have done with a little more seasoning to accompany the sharp hit of chilli.
Desserts again demonstrated the variety of techniques the chefs are trained in, with home-made white chocolate and cherry ice cream accompanying a classic chocolate mouse and slithers of walnut praline. I took our waiter’s recommended of cardamom spiced rice pudding. Both were a comfortingly indulgent end to proceedings.
The aim of The Clink project is to provide prisoners with training and mentor them into work. It succeeds on that front with research showing an impressive 41% drop in reoffending rates. With inmates rotating through front and back of house roles during their training, we had been “warned” that some elements could be rough around the edges. But that wasn’t our experience. The service was attentive, friendly and unpretentious, the food well-cooked and well-presented.
The Clink succeeds as a restaurant in its own right and is well worth a visit.
Clink Restaurant at HM Prison Brixton is open for breakfast (8.15 – 10.30am), lunch (12 – 3pm) and afternoon tea (2 – 4pm) Mon-Fri.
HM Prison Brixton, Jebb Avenue, SW2 5XF | 020 8678 9007 | theclinkcharity.org