The Latest London Dining Hot Spot: Prison

A U.K. organization that helps former inmates land jobs goes one step further by opening restaurants behind bars.

The Clink restaurant in HM Prison Brixton in London. (Photo: The Clink Charity)

Jan 3, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Tired of experimental street food, pastry mash-ups (thanks, Cronut), and eating foam? The Brits have a new food trend on their hands: dining in prisons.

It sounds like a PR stunt, but the project is for a good cause. The Clink Charity began by helping former prisoners find jobs in the hospitality industry on their release. To train and employ those still incarcerated as chefs and kitchen assistants, the organization opened a restaurant inside a men’s prison in Wales in 2012. It has since set up shop at two others and will launch its first location inside a women’s facility this spring.

The group also operates gardens, where inmates can grow the restaurants’ produce. Recently, the Clink launched an animal husbandry program that teaches inmates how to raise livestock.

The restaurants are open to the public, but making reservations involves precautionary steps.

Diners, who must be at least 18, book their visit online three days in advance. Before entering the facility, they must empty their pockets and turn in their phones and bags. Fingerprints and photographs might be taken. It’s not as easy as walking into a typical restaurant, but gourmet fare that changes daily awaits patrons in an upscale dining room (furnished with seats and tables crafted in prison workshops). So far the menu has featured roasted free-range turkey, pan-seared cod loin, and lemon cheesecake with spiced berry compote. Chris Moore, chief executive of the organization, told the BBC that even the Michelin team has visited.

Only nonviolent offenders are eligible to join the kitchen staff, who work 40 hours a week and receive intensive training. Sharp tools including knives are locked up when not being used.

Besides learning cooking skills, participants receive mentoring focused on minimizing the chances of repeat offenses.

Recidivism rates are dire. A 2005–2010 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics found that three in four former prisoners in 30 states were arrested within five years. Numbers suggest that a strategy like the Clink’s could improve those numbers. Today, on average, nearly half of offenders in the U.K. commit another crime within a year, reported the BBC. In 2012, only 12.5 percent of those who participated in the organization’s programs were estimated to offend again.

According to Moore, one restaurant location has had 12,000 visitors so far.

“When you come out of prison, you need to have a tough skin,” he told the BBC. “It’s difficult to find work, to get a mortgage, to pay bills. Society is against you, and that’s why so many former prisoners reoffend. That’s where the Clink is really making a difference.”