The aim is to teach offenders skill and give them work experience to hopefully reduce re-offending rates when they leave the prison system, and so far they've had a lot of success. In the UK the 46.9% of adults who leave prison re-offend within the first year, but for those who have worked in The Clink only 6% have re-offended (statistic from here).
As Brixton prison is home to approximately 789 convicted men, we had to go through a couple of safety procedures first. Us and the other diners, were met outside by a prison officer who instructed to place our personal items in lockers, there's a whole list of items that are forbidden, including money, phones, cameras and even chewing gum. Before our visit we received an email which detailed what we could and couldn't bring, so we were prepared. We were also told that if we were caught smuggling in contraband we could be arrested, so it taken very seriously. We also had to handover ID that was kept until we left.
We entered through the main gate, and then we were kept in a sort of holding pen before the interior doors were opened. A prison officer escorted us across the courtyard and to the restaurant, once we were all inside we were locked in. I didn't really feel nervous about entering the prison, more curious. Before I went, I was concerned that it could be seen as gawking at the offenders, you know how people used to tour mental hospitals to stare at the inmates, but because we were going there to eat, like any other restaurant, it didn't feel exploitative.
The Clink has been decorated in a minimalist, modern way and on the walls there are pictures of famous people drawn by prisoners. Our waiter was very friendly, and attentive. I do think though, he may have benefited from some extra training about the menu, so he could advise more on what the dishes taste of.
The menu isn't extensive, only one vegetarian starter and one main and no gluten-free options. I kind of expected that though, so I wasn't bothered. Of course alcohol isn't served, but there are fruit cocktails and juice. I went for the soup of the day, which was cream of mushroom and then a mushroom and potato ravioli (good job I like mushrooms). Mini sis didn't go for a starter, and ordered a salmon with cauliflower couscous. Sis' boyf went for a ham hock terrine and then duck and orange.
My soup was lovely, full of flavour, though it could have done with more bread. Sis' boyf liked the terrine but thought it was too tiny, and it really was. Barely a mouthful. We had a long wait for our main course, and when they did arrive they were lukewarm and sis' boyf''s was the wrong thing. Of course he sent it back, and by the time he got the right food, me and sis had finished eating. My main wasn't that nice, bland and the texture was slightly congealed. Sis liked the flavour of hers, but it was far too cold. We all agreed that the portions were too small.
Pudding was similarly disappointing. I had a chocolate tart with pistachio ice cream, it was minuscule! Sis has a 'celebration of rhubarb' she described it as 3 different textures, none of which actually tasted of rhubarb. I sound really harsh, but the food really wasn't up to much. Personally, I think I can cook to a better standard. Plus we were starving, all cracked open a bag of crisps each when we got home. I know the food is prepared by people who are still learning, and I think perhaps the menu was too ambitious. They're aiming for fine dinning, but are not of that standard. Proper home-cooked, pub type of food would have been better. Also, as the food is been made by chefs that aren't fully qualified, it should have been reflected in the price. The meal wasn't cheap, it came to £79.00 for the three of us.
Also there was a complete farce when the fire alarm went off. Luckily, we'd already finished eating, otherwise our meal would have been even colder. We were told to go outside, but of course we were locked in, so first had to wait for someone with keys to let us out. They also kept those working in the restaurant locked inside, which I didn't agree with. Then because other inmates from different parts of the prison had also evacuated to the courtyard where we were waiting, we were told to go back inside. We refused, I'd rather take my chances with the prisoners than go into a burning building. Of course, it turned out to be a false alarm, but the whole thing was so poorly organised. I think they need to sort out a plan of action in case a fire does actually happen. Then we trapped in the prison for about half hour as the main gate wouldn't open as it had been tripped by the fire alarm. It just topped the whole experience off really.
TLDR: If you do go to The Clink, go to support the charity and for the experience, not for the food.