The 120-cover restaurant is staffed by prisoners of HMP Brixton, working towards City & Guilds NVQs in Food Preparation and Food Service. The aim is that such an opportunity towards the end of their prison sentence, will contribute towards rehabilitation and lead to employment in the UK hospitality industry, upon release.
As is to be expected, there are several rules for visitors to follow, ahead of a visit to the prison: no cameras or phones allowed, no sharp objects and there’s a £50 cash limit (debit and credit card payments are accepted). Physical proof of ID must be presented on the day by all visitors. There’s an emphasis to produce actual documents. Unfortunately, visitors in the queue ahead of my friend and I were turned away, as they produced copies of their paperwork.
Visitors are guided through check in, where ID is verified, bags are removed for storage and there’s a security briefing. The visitor intake for the restaurant is allocated by time slot (I assume to make things manageable with visitor bookings), we had around 20 visitors in our timeslot. The checks are very similar to an airport security check.
Following this, we were guided through a further check by prison staff, before being led through the prison grounds to The Clink restaurant. Here, visitors are asked to verify name and booking details, before being shown to the table by a prisoner.
My first impressions of the restaurant were that it’s presented to a high standard. The neat decor, smartly dressed prisoners and well presented tables contribute to setting high expectations of The Clink restaurant. Unfortunately, cameras are not permitted into the restaurant, but I assure you, the quality could compete with any number of fine dining restaurants, that I’ve visited previously.
My friend and I were presented with menus, detailing the options available for the 3-course meal. There’s also a wide selection of drinks available, although no alcohol is served at The Clink. Drinks are served in glasses, however plastic cutlery only, is available on the tables – thankfully it’s fairly solid and doesn’t detract from the dining experience.
Our table was hosted by Josh. During our time at the restaurant, he was polite and friendly, taking food and drink orders and clearing plates. The food at The Clink is all very well presented, the quality is refined and ingredients tasted fresh and of high quality. The price worked out a little more than £30 per head, this felt like a good price for the experience.
I chose to enjoy a starter of fig and gorgonzola tart tatin, with fennel slaw and candied walnuts, followed by a roast dinner with vegetables and a huge Yorkshire pudding, and a trio of cherry Bakewell, cherry and ginger sorbet and cherry mousse for dessert. The menu is creative and well put together. With each course, the food was well presented and the table was promptly cleared, the service was exceptional.
Prisoners seem to take pride in ensuring that the restaurant is run well. I enjoyed a couple of conversations with prisoners, where they explained that they enjoy the programme that’s organised by The Clink Charity. It allows them to get out of their prison cell and instead, enjoy interaction with visitors, gain a qualification and prepare themselves for reintegration to life outside of the prison, all whilst gaining new, hands-on skills, within an industry that they may never have considered.
I also noted the quality of the artwork in the restaurant, which a prisoner explained is also the handiwork of a former prisoner at HMP Brixton.
Today’s visit to The Clink served as an authentic, eye opening experience for me. I’d never set foot inside of a prison and honestly, had little idea of what to expect. The restaurant successfully achieves a unique, fine dining experience, in a category C prison. The prisoners working at HMP Brixton are courteous and professional; prison guards are present, yet unobtrusive, so much so that I forgot that it was a prison until I went to ask for the bill! Payment is taken at the main reception to the restaurant as cash handling is not a part of the job description for inmates.
It’s a dining experience like no other and serves a benefit to the prison and the local community. Most importantly, visitors to the restaurant are supporting the ongoing training, that’s required to continue the rehabilitation of prisoners, associated with The Clink Charity programme.