You could be forgiven, for thinking that I only eat in amazing restaurants, as I seem to do so, on a regular basis. Actually, it could be a burger bar, or street food as in Bangkok or Mexico City, or a noodle bar in a remote village in Japan,or freshly cooked egg fried rice, as in a bus station , somewhere in Yunnan, as long as the food is good, then I am happy. But if they put themselves out there as being High End or todays by word”Fine Dining”, then they had better be.
So it might be a surprise to you, that we recently ate in one of Her Majesties Prisons, and we were very pleasantly surprised .
There are indeed several of theses establishments, well 4 to be precise, one in Surrey, one in Cardiff, one in Brixton ( London) and Styal in Cheshire, as well as a farm that serves the Surrey restaurant in a village called Send.
The idea of having a restaurant within a prison was the brain child of Alberto Crisci in 2009, and is now run as a charity . The aim is to give prisoners during their final months of incarceration professional job and life skills. It has been so successful that the re-offending rate has dropped right down, with 87% of graduates, managing to not re offend, but hold down a regular job.
Nowadays, inmates can apply to go on any of the courses that the Clink offer and they are always oversubscribed.
They learn professional skills, either in the kitchen, or the restaurant itself as wait staff, bar staff or as receptionist/hostess skills, they follow the GNVQ, NVQ and City and Guilds courses, so it is a recognised skill. However, it is a prison, rules and regulations apply. One has to register beforehand, then check in with a photo ID, along with having finger print taken, photo checked ( a bit like going though US immigration), diners have to arrive at an allocated time, no stragglers allowed. When every one has been checked, then we were allowed to go though security doors, etc into the restaurant itself. However all mobile phones, tablets, most of your money has to be checked beforehand, not allowed! The restaurant itself is very smart, nice tables and comfortable chairs.
We went with a group of people and the restaurant was almost full. There were separate tables for staff and as it was a Friday apparently Friday is extremely popular, Fish and Chips Friday!
Two very smart young men came to take ur drinks order, they all had spoof names, which made you believe you were really drinking something alcoholic, but no, no alcohol allowed, but at least the pretence means that staff learn the race, albeit, pretending to serve cocktails!
We had preordered our lunch, not sure if this is the normal process or not, but we had a very enjoyable three course lunch.
Our waiters were very professional, smartly dressed and very polite. I could not bring myself to believe that these young men were criminals, they could have been my son! The feeling left me deeply shocked.
Our menu was for a three course lunch, all of it beautifully cooked and served. I can thoroughly recommend a day trip to one of these restaurants. Not only will you have an excellent lunch but you will be helping an extremely worthwhile charity.
The graduates, are supported upon release by an extension of the charity, with help towards finding a placement as well as accommodation and setting up bank accounts. Many notable establishments give their support to this endeavour including The Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall, where they have even given kitchen equipment to help get the charity up and running.