The Clink: Brixton prison opens new restaurant run by inmates

Feb 28, 2014

Plastic cutlery and razor wire are 'industrial chic', say food critics as Pizza Express meets Pentonville

THE CLINK, a public restaurant run by prison inmates, opened for business yesterday at HMP Brixton in London and food critics are praising its dishes - despite the plastic cutlery and razor wire.

The 100-seater restaurant, staffed by 30 inmates, was set up by The Clink Charity with the aim of helping prisoners find employment in the catering industry once they are released.

It is situated in the old prison governor's house, surrounded by the jail's six prisoner wings. Alcohol is banned, mobile phones are confiscated and diners are met with stern signs warning of a potential "rub down search on entry and exit". Yeast is also banned for fear that prisoners might smuggle it out to brew beer in their cells.

Visitors have to book online in advance and are security screened to prevent friends, family and enemies of inmates coming in.

"Just as in the Ivy, getting a booking can be a difficult process," says Tom Whipple in The Times. In many of London's trendier restaurants it often comes down to your contacts on the inside - but in this case it comes down to not having any contacts on the inside, he explains.

The project, which has also set up restaurants in HMP High Down and HMP Cardiff, produces "reasonably priced gourmet lunches", and boasts a six per cent reoffending rate among its prisoner staff, compared with around 50 per cent in the first year for released inmates nationally, says Whipple.

"Still, a man cannot lunch on worthy sentiments alone," says Richard Godwin in the Evening Standard. Godwin praises his main course of ravioli as being "cleverly balanced" even if the truffle foam was "more of a cream". But he says it was "not bad considering the chefs had only had two weeks of training".

The chocolate and pear tart, says Godwin, was "a glorious, grown-up sort of pudding" and for £21 for three courses, "it's a bargain".

In the Daily Telegraph, Joe Shute describes the inside of the restaurant as "all bright airy exposed stone and leather chairs, even if there are bars on the windows and panic buttons embedded into the walls". He adds that "the plastic cutlery and bundles of razor wire could be perhaps described as industrial chic - Pizza Express meets Pentonville".

Shute reveals that his waiter was a 30-year-old prisoner who was "serving an eight-month sentence for assault as well as a starter of handmade ravioli with mascarpone and wild mushrooms".

He concludes that "despite opening-day nerves, the food was excellent".

The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch but not dinner, as inmates are in lockdown in the evening, and staff work under head chef Vladimir Seko, formerly of Claridges and Langan's.

The Clink's chief executive Chris Moore, formerly head of catering at Harrods, tells reporters that the restaurant also does an excellent full English and waffles but - disappointingly for some - no porridge.

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