I don’t know if it’s weird, but I’ve always had a desire to go to prison. No, wait! I don’t mean in the handcuffed and locked up sense! I mean for a visit, to see what it’s really like behind those walls. Don’t you ever wonder what it’s like?
Fast forward many years of me wondering about all these prison related questions to a few months ago, when for no reason at all, a thought popped into my head. Hadn’t I read somewhere that there are prisons in the UK that train their prisoners to work in a restaurant, some becoming chefs, others running the restaurant? I jumped on Google, did a search, and sure enough I was right.
A charity called The Clink have a training scheme for offenders that aims to reduce reoffending rates. They train the prisoners, teaching them practical skills to aid their rehabilitation. The Clink Restaurants are a part of the scheme, allowing prisoners to learn new skills, engage with the public, all with the aim of helping them create a better life upon their release.
A few emails back and forth, some forms filled out, and I had made my reservation.
The only methods of payment when you visit The Clink is by cash or cheque. And seeing as I cannot for the life of me understand why chequebooks still exist, I therefore do not own one and would have to rely on cash. This also meant deciding what to choose from the menu, before we arrived, so we’d have enough money with us. The menu was emailed to me, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened the attachment. I panicked a bit. Why? Because I wanted EVERYTHING! All the starters. All the mains. And all the desserts. I made my decision the evening before our reservation, and then turned my thoughts to what one should wear! The dress code was ‘conservative’, so I made sure I picked out a dress, a cardigan and some understated ankle boots.
I woke up the following morning with a sort of nervous anticipation. I literally had no idea what to expect from this experience. I got ready and jumped on the tube towards Brixton, withdrawing some cash from the ATM to pay for our lunch. A bus ride later, we arrived at HM Prison Brixton, and made our way down to the reservation office to check-in. We were instructed as to what we could and couldn’t take into The Clink restaurant. No chewing gum, no phones, no coins, the list went on and it came with a warning that if we did take anything from the prohibited list inside, we could find ourselves behind bars. With that, I just handed over my entire handbag, I wasn’t taking any chances!
Once all the guests had arrived and checked-in we were escorted inside the prison gates, having to stop every so often, waiting for one gate to close behind us, before another could open in front of us. We handed in our passports, and then finally walked through The Clink’s restaurant doors.
The restaurant manager greeted us and asked one of the trainees to escort us to our table. He was friendly, and very funny too, explaining with tongue in cheek that he was the ‘official mocktail maker’ and how much effort he puts into squeezing the pomegranates. Funny and approachable were my first impressions of this man. However, he was not our waiter as he had mocktails to make back over at the bar. Our waiter, who I will refer to as ‘J’ wandered over, introduced himself and left us looking at each other with wide eyes because he was just so polite, so informative and seemed to be an all-round friendly guy.
J left us to look at the menu, assuring us he’d be back shortly to check on us and answer any questions. We perused the menu, deciding on whether any last minute changes were necessary, before J swiftly returned to take our order. With a smile. Everything he did was with a smile and ended with ‘if you have any questions at all just let me know!’. The only place I’ve received such attentive service from a waiter before was a Nobu restaurant in London, where you’re paying through the nose for them to be nice to you.
Our drinks arrived, another smile from J, another ‘everything alright?’ offered our way. And then our starter was served. We settled on starting with Whipped Brie with Black Pepper, Cranberries, Ruby Chard and a Balsamic Dressing. The presentation of the food is the type you’d expect from a top notch restaurant, and it tasted superb. We cleared the plate in no time, and waited with anticipation for our mains to arrive. J was back with a smile, serving us Pan Fried Fillet of Cod, Leek and Potato Rosti, Sauté Savoy Cabbage and a Vanilla Butter Sauce and Lamb Rump, Pancetta and Butter Bean Cassoulet, Lamb Shoulder and Rosemary Dumplings with Kale. Mine was the lamb, and again it was presented beautifully and every morsel was delicious. Chatting as we ate, our ever dedicated waiter J swung by a few times to check on us.
We were full by this stage, but we couldn’t stop there. I’d knew what the dessert options were and I wasn’t leaving without tasting the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Tart with Marshmallows and Toffee Dust! That sounds like something that’s worth getting fat for. We placed our order with J, and he assured us this was a really good choice. When I ate my first mouthful of the tart, I was glad we’d decided to share the dessert, it was extremely rich, but oh so good. The chef’s had done themselves proud from starter right through to dessert.
Our plates were cleared away, and J asked us if we’d like a tour of the restaurant. We didn’t need to be asked twice. Of course we did! He was a seriously entertaining tour guide, and very open to questions about prison life, and their daily routine. We were also taken into the kitchen to meet the chefs and their trainer, and see where all the culinary magic occurred. J walked us over to the entrance so we could settle our bill. We said our goodbyes and a million thank you’s because he truly deserved every one of them.
We left The Clink and made our way out of Brixton Prison. It was an eye-opening experience, but confirmed to me that some people just slip off the rails sometimes. They are essentially good people, caught up in bad situations. I knew this already. I can think of good people in my life that slipped off the rails and did their time, they just made some very bad choices at one stage. The brilliant thing is that with a training scheme like The Clink, these people are rehabilitated, retrained, and armed with more opportunities upon their release. That can only be a good thing.
I highly recommend this experience, and if you would like to find out more about a reservation at The Clink, click here.