World's Weird News

The Clink: The posh restaurant inside a prison

Posted on: July 3, 2009

By Nick Harding 3/07/2009

It’s the only restaurant in the world where the maitre d’ asks to take your coat… and your mobile phone. And any sharp objects, please sir.

Not only that – you need to book well in advance and require Home Office approval and security clearance. Welcome to The Clink – Britain’s newest upmarket restaurant and the first inside a prison.

Diners are buzzed through the solid steel  doors of HMP High Down in Surrey and escorted to their tables past 30-foot razor wire-topped walls. Inside the decor is more West End than C Wing and the attentive staff are all time-serving offenders.

The chef may be locked away for manslaughter and a convicted fraudster could be taking your order.

The head chef and maitre d’ are both former inmates, jailed for drug smuggling. But every dish prepared in The Clink is made to order from the finest ingredients, many from the prison gardens.

It’s all part of a revolutionary scheme aimed at rehabilitating prisoners and securing them jobs on their release.

The project is the brainchild of Alberto Crisci, a former chef at posh Mirabelle in Mayfair – now High Down’s catering manager.

He helped raise the money to get the project off the ground and admits: “It was an ambitious idea. I wanted a West End restaurant in the prison.”

Once locked inside, the only giveaways that you are dining at her Majesty’s pleasure are the panic alarms and the plastic cutlery.

While you can eat from china plates and drink from glass tumblers, prison rules state that no metal cutlery is allowed. For inmates on the scheme it is no easy ride. Alberto says: “I take into account the crimes they committed, their behaviour, health and risk of violence or escape.

“Prisoners only have to step out of line once and they are out. This is a real restaurant. I expect them to do exactly what I ask them to do.”

Anthony Ashford, a prisoner who works in the kitchen, loves the project. He says: “When you are rushing orders out, you forget where you are. When I go back to the wing, people ask about it. It’s created a buzz around the prison.”

There are certainly some unique chal- lenges. Wine is only ordered in for special occasions and carefully monitored. Even baking bread can be a bit of a problem. “It’s the yeast,” says Alberto.

“If you have yeast, you can produce alcohol.  

“Prisoners working here are not the problem but if it finds its way into the prison you have an issue.”  

The Clink takes bookings from individuals, companies and organisations, as well as prison staff and their families. My griddled minute steak with sauce bearnaise (£4.50) came with piping hot fresh chips and a herb salad.

It was medium rare, as ordered, with just enough chargilled flavour to add bite but not overpower the meat. The sauce was light and frothy.  

Other dishes include breast of chicken with pepperonata served with radicchio risotto and grilled plaice fillets, with spinach, broccoli and potato Salad, both for £4.50.  

The only criticism would be that the plastic knife rendered sinew a bit of a challenge.  

On the recommendation of a lady prison worker in a stab-proof vest on the next table I then pick the Bakewell tart and vanilla custard  (£1.50) and was not disappointed.  

For £6 a head I’ll definitely be dining here again… if I can get security clearance.

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