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Roland Martin - Issue #66

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Time and nourishment
 

Roland Martin

January 12 · Issue #66 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Time and nourishment

The plan
I don’t tend to write restaurant reviews. It’s not my normal topic. However, a restaurant visit I enjoyed recently was not the norm either.
When we were planning an event in Guildhall around the topic of social mobility, the City of London supplied us with a list of approved caterers. One new addition for 2018 immediately jumped off the page - The Clink Events. So we got in touch. More than feeling like the right thing to do and the right kind of organisation to be engaging - of primary importance for our event - it was good to find that the operation itself is welcoming and slick. Perhaps because industry professionals have moved over from catering/chef backgrounds not only in order to train prisoners and mentor recently released offenders to cook and host diners in their onsite restaurants, to wait tables and so on, but also - importantly - to discourage reoffending. Indeed, there is a huge reduction in reoffending for the men who have gone through this programme.  
As part of the planning, we managed to visit The Clink team at work in one of their prisons, HMP High Down, a local category B men’s prison. 
The Visit
Taken from HMP High Down’s ‘regime information’ page online:
The Clink:
The restaurant opened in 2009, it provides a more varied training programme for up to 28 prisoners and includes Food Service NVQ Level 2 as well as a diploma in professional cookery and also encourages the employment of ex-offenders into the hospitality industry. The Clink also offers prisoners mentoring upon release and this includes support with employment and accommodation. The re offending rate for 2012 for Clink graduates was down to 5% against a national average of 47% within the first year.
The Clink is a multi award winning restaurant and in 2010 won a coveted Catey award for training and also won the Longford prize in 2011.
We are currently the holders of Best Overall Restaurant In Time & Leisure Magazine.
And from The Clink’s own webpage:
The sole aim of The Clink Charity is to reduce reoffending rates of ex-offenders by training prisoners and placing graduates into employment in the hospitality and horticulture industries upon release. Since launching, the charity has achieved incredible results. The latest statistics are currently being independently examined and will be published later this year.
Anyone over 16 can visit the restaurant for breakfast/lunch/tea, within a working day’s hours, essentially (although HMP Brixton’s restaurant has recently acquired permission for Thursday evening gourmet dining and also operates a Sunday lunch). You just need to book in advance, allow time to get through security checks on arrival and remember your passport or driving licence.
We were checked in and out by our host along with various keys, through gates, electronic doors, across a drizzly concrete ballasted yard, replete with razor wire atop high fences. It’s sobering to say the least. It’s a disorientating experience: once you are in to the restaurant space, the moment you are greeted by smiling young men, smart in checked waistcoats, genuinely seeming glad to see you and look after your needs, taking coats, offering drinks and menus; you could be in any smart restaurant. The initial greeting, the decor, the lighting, the loos, the open kitchen, the slate walls, the general feel, all manages to dissuade you of any awareness that you are within prison walls; it’s quite remarkable.
Kerri remarked afterwards to the creator/founder of The Clink, and former west end chef, Al, upon how warm the greeting was. 'They are genuinely glad to see you,’ he replied, 'they are, they are really are happy to meet people who they don’t see every day.’ It was evident. One thing to note though, you can’t tip. You’ll find envelopes on your table to donate to the charity should you wish, but the prisoners can’t accept tips on top of the small wage they are paid as they train and work towards rehabilitation and employment beyond the gates.
Jonny, events’ manager and trainer, told us of one man, late 50s, who’d been in prison for ten years; on release, he was working at a party for the Events arm. He told us how much he enjoyed working the event having not been at a party for a decade; even though he wasn’t a party guest, he got such pleasure from delivering the hospitality side of things and making others happy. 
Not surprisingly, The Guardian sent a reviewer along in its early days, there are some engaging stories from then too.
The food
We were really lucky. We got to try out a variety of canapés and bowl dishes for our event. We were spoiled for choice.
Presentation was beautiful; food was delicious. 
One of the dishes we landed on was a spin on fish and chips (for our Friday event). The chips rivalled Heston’s thrice-cooked, perfectly crisp offerings. I can’t say we’ve managed The Fat Duck yet, but we did eat in his next door gastro-pub The Crown a good number of years ago, and ever since, those chips have been the ones to beat. They’ve got a serious contender with The Clink’s!
Our guests up in the Guildhall in a couple of weeks’ time are in for quite a treat. I’m not going to reveal all of the details here, but suffice it to say, we are already thinking of opportunities to use The Clink events in the future, or use their meeting space hanging above the restaurant. And we are definitely going to take friends and family up there for lunches when we can.
I’ve written before about my own love of cooking, I can’t quite put into words how this experience made me feel inside. Nourished on so many levels is perhaps as close as I can get. Here’s the number if you haven’t already been and fancy a visit: 020 8678 9007.
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