Chris Wood savours the sweet taste of prisoner rehabilitation at the Clink restaurant at High Down prison in Banstead
It is a forbidding sight on a steel-grey winter’s day, but behind the grim walls of High Down prison at Banstead is an undimming ray of sunshine – one that will shine brightly for years to come. High Down is where chef Al Crisci’s vision of training prisoners for a career in the catering industry first manifested itself into a restaurant within the prison walls – a fully operational eatery where members of the public could go to savour the dishes produced by men planning for a better life on release, with the skills and qualifications to find work in the catering industry and with no wish to re-offend.
I was visiting with a colleague and was greeted along with other lunchtime visitors, by Al himself. He is, as ever, a busy man. The Clink Charity now has restaurants at Cardiff, Brixton and Styal prisons and a dedicated Clink Gardens at Send in Surrey, where women prisoners supply much of the restaurants’ fruit, vegetables, herbs, eggs and honey. Beyond that, he is now working with Centrepoint, the leading charity for homeless young people, in London, under the label of Clink Events, an event catering service where the youngsters get to train for a qualification in hospitality.
Al bid us goodbye, as he was hours away from the next high-profile Clink Event. We were left to enjoy an à la carte lunch, waited on by a young man eager to please and with one eye firmly set on a new life only weeks away. We savoured the hope and joy in his smile, enjoying it every bit as much as we did the food itself – which on this occasion was sesame-coated duck breast and pan-fried chicken bourguignon mains, preceded by ham hock ploughmans and smoked salmon terrine starters. We commented on the thought that had gone into combining usual tastes into unusual creations and the skill lavished on the presentation of the dishes. A fulsome lunch was completed with desserts of steamed pecan pudding with ice cream and a Granny Smith apple mousse.
For more information about The Clink Charity, to make a reservation at one of The Clink Restaurants or to find out how you can support the charity visit www.theclinkcharity.org