As it was at my suggestion that a party of seven Dartford NWR ladies reserved a table at the ‘Clink’ restaurant in Brixton Prison, I was a little nervous concerning the success of the excursion. The information regarding security was daunting. Everyone remembered to bring some sort of identification but when I reminded them that we were not to have in excess of £50 in cash, a kerfuffle ensued as purses were turned out and bank notes locked away in cars.
On arrival at the reception centre, a charming young man went through procedures. We did not have to submit to having our photos and fingerprints taken, but there was a lot of delving into handbags to ensure that all prohibited items were left in the lockers provided. Mobile phones were abandoned along with keys, maps (my A – Z) and items of make-up – only one of our number was so beautiful as to not need to carry a lipstick or a compact! Passports and driving licences were swapped for numbered security passes and we were finally led into the prison proper.
The Clink restaurant at Brixton is situated in a hexagonal building surrounding a tower, once the Governor’s residence – this layout enabling him to see all areas of the prison. The interior now has a modern, neutral décor including a wall decorated with slates sliced sideways giving an interesting texture. Impressive examples of prisoners’ art hung on the walls.
Our waiter persuaded us to try a ‘mocktail’, a pretty and refreshing concoction of lime and strawberries, (alcohol not allowed). Dishes chosen from the seasonal menu included the lamb (tender enough to yield to the plastic cutlery!) with roast tomato gnocchi, olive puree, braised baby gem lettuce and artichoke, the roast quail with quail scotch eggs, savoy cabbage and white onion puree and grilled bream accompanied by a fricassee of beans and radish with tarragon and mustard sauce. Sides of hand cut chips and beautifully cooked seasonal veg were shared.
Desserts ordered included chocolate mousse with salted caramel sauce and peanut brittle crunch, a ‘raspberry collection’ and peach parfait with orange infused crème anglaise plus salad of peach and mint, all artistically presented. It was generally agreed that the food was delicious but definitely for the discerning palate rather than the hearty appetite.
In between courses we chatted with our waiter who was candid regarding the reasons for his incarceration. Determined not to get into further trouble, he planned to return to his previous trade rather than pursue a career in the catering industry on his imminent release.
The bill came in at under £30 each. We all found the experience enjoyable and interesting.
The Clink Charity is achieving great results in reducing reoffending. Prisoners learn new skills enabling them to find employment, particularly in the hospitality industry. As well as Brixton there are restaurants at HMP Sutton, HMP Styal and HMP Cardiff. In addition the Clink Gardens at HMP High Down and HMP Send, provide fresh produce for the restaurants and allow prisoners to gain City & Guilds qualifications in horticulture.
Carol Hadley | NWR Dartford