Prison might not be the first place you consider going for lunch but it’s actually an option. The Clink restaurant first opened to the public in 2009, within the walls of HMP Highdown in Sutton. Anyone can apply to go, you simply fill in the form on their website.
The Clink is a marvelously named charity that trains prisoners in cooking, baking, waitering, industrial cleaning, recycling and horticulture, so the prisoners have a skill when they’re released.
Much of the produce used is grown on site, where is it maintained and harvested by prisoners training in horticulture.
They work 40 hours a week in an environment simulating a 4-5 star hotel and gain City & Guild NVQ qualifications. Prisoners trained at The Clink are mentored for 6-12 months after their release.
And what a difference it’s making. For graduates of The Clink, the reoffending rate is under 14% and is falling with each year the charity has been running. In 2012 (the most recent year there are statistics for), only 1 of the 88 prisoners released has reoffended. National average reoffending rates of prisoners is a tragic 47%.
When you drive into the prison area there’s lots of high fences and barbed wire. Follow signs to The Clink reception at the conference centre (right at the roundabout.) All electronics and liquids must be left in a locker. No cameras allowed, which hurt me deeply (all images courtesy of The Clink Charity.) Swap your photo ID for a lanyard and you’re ready to go.
Which is a strange, daunting feeling for a person that has never been in a prison before. We went through several locked doors and finally into the restaurant, where we were instantly back in our comfort zone.
Despite only serving breakfast and lunch, it’s a very evening décor. Copper stonework lines one wall, substantial tables with comfortable seats nicely fill the room with a view into the kitchen. It’s a calm environment, perhaps thanks to the chromotherapy lighting. A glass wall is frosted with poetry written by prisoners.
There are some signs that remind you where you are. Plastic cutlery, glass tables (no hiding anything) and only soft drinks available.
There’s a display cabinet of the awards they have won, and there are plenty, including most recently the Surrey Life Food and Drinks Award ‘best local menu 2015’.
You can’t help but feeling you’re in a positive place that a) makes a difference and b) is a nice place to eat.
We were met and seated by our waiter, who was professional and unobtrusive (and not at all intimidating.)
On our visit, they were serving the Christmas three course set menu £24.95. It was not adventurous sounding but each dish was very well executed and had elements that really made it stand out.
Firstly, I have to say that all our plates were beautifully presented, even John Torode would be pleased.
For starters Bella had the ‘Citrus cured salmon gravlax, compressed cucumber and lemon mayonnaise.’ It was a dense filet, more enjoyable than your standard smoked salmon. Compressed cucumber was interesting, a hint of vinegar and a nice complement to the salmon.
I, obviously, chose the ‘Goats’ cheese and red onion tartlet with pesto dressing and micro herbs.’ It wasn’t huge but had lots of yummy layers of flavours and textures.
All main courses are ‘served with saute Brussel sprouts and chestnuts, spiced red cabbage, maple syrup glazed parsnips and crisp roast potatoes.’
Bella had the ‘Roast English beef and Yorkshire pudding.’ What a treat, it was pink, beautifully cooked. The onion chutney had a grabbing spice and made the dish. It must be their signature as you can purchase jars of it. Everything was superb save perhaps the Yorkshire pudding, which could have been more moist.
I went for the ‘Traditional roast free-range Norfolk Bronze Turkey.’ It was tender and moist, which is pretty impressive for turkey. The roast potatoes were top notch, extra crispy outside and an inside that disolved on my tongue. I even ate the Brussel sprouts, for the first time ever. The parsnips were excellent. Everything was excellent.
Our mains were good sizes and easily comparable (perhaps even better) to any Surrey gastropub Sunday roast I’ve had.
For dessert Bella had a ‘Selection of local cheese with celery, grapes, fruit chutney and biscuits.’ It was impressively presented on a marble slab with all the trimmings. Heavenly.
I, despite eating my daughter’s HE version all week, chose the ‘Lemon cheesecake with spiced berry compote.’ Delicious, with an unidentifiable spice that was intriguing and added a nice depth of flavour. Could have used some more compote. I won’t comment on if it was better than my daughter’s.
They also sell merchandise, naturally I bought a mug. The amazing onion chutney is also for sale. Items can also be ordered via their website.
There are now also The Clink restaurants in HMP Brixton and HMP Cardiff with hopes of opening 7 more plus they’ve just launched an event catering service, based out of Highdown.
It’s an interesting experience, a positive experience and excellent food. Go!
HMP High Down, High Down Lane, Sutton, Surrey, United Kingdom, SM2 5PJ
Plenty of parking