The Clink, Her Majesty's Prison High Down, High Down Lane, Sutton SM2 5PJ - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 16:00 24 August 2015 | UPDATED: 16:25 24 August 2015
©Nishi Sharma, All Rights Reserved
When opened in 2009, The Clink at HMP High Down could claim to be unique in the culinary world. The first public restaurant to operate inside a prison, it proved such a success that it now has a number of imitators. Matthew Williams runs the rule...
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2015
Her Majesty’s Prison High Down, High Down Lane, Sutton SM2 5PJ
Tel: 0207 147 6724
REVIEW: Before being greeted by an ominous looking brick wall and stout door, my accomplices and I have already handed over our passports, sharp objects and mobile phones, and passed through airport-style security, barbed wire fences and ‘neutral zones’.
It’s fair to say that The Clink isn’t your average restaurant – and that anyone who happens to read books by their covers would be struggling along punch-drunk by the time the prison officer opens the hole in the wall that leads to the eatery within.
Because then something magical occurs. If Porridge did Harry Potter, The Clink would be Diagon Alley. As the hinges creak, the view creeps up on you and then, suddenly, here’s a venue packed with cool designs and sharp lines that wouldn’t look out of place in the City.
It’s easy to forget that you’re currently standing in HMP High Down, a category B prison for over 1,000 male offenders.
Opened in 2009, The Clink was the first public restaurant to operate inside a prison and has proved such a success in reducing reoffending that a further three restaurants have launched around the country, with more to come.
The restaurant is staffed, both in the kitchen and service, by prisoners working towards City & Guilds NVQs in Hospitality & Catering and Customer Service. The ultimate goal: employment in the UK hospitality industry upon release. You’ll find plenty more about that though on the previous pages. So what about the food?
Best local menu
Opening to the public for breakfast and lunches, with a menu that would have had Norman Stanley Fletcher plotting peace with Mackay for a dinner date, this is the second time I’d visited in a year – the first having been for the Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards, where it won Best Local Menu for the provenance of its produce.
Hugely impressed first time round, this time the plastic cutlery and lack of wine list (the reasons why are obvious when you think about it) come as less of a surprise.
Dining today with the chief executive of The Clink, Chris Moore, he picks our three-course journey – as a former restaurants general manager at Harrods, he’s the kind of man whose taste is easy to defer to.
First from the kitchen, which is led by head chef Adam Venn (the professional chef who oversees the trainees), is a vibrant citrus gravalax with dill mayonnaise, burnt lemon gel and micro-herbs. All at our table are immediately won over by presentation and flavours, which far surpass expectations.
Next comes a succulent and earthy roast chicken breast with a sage crust, accompanied by onion purée, onion rings, creamy mashed potato, radish and green beans. Certainly no complaints here.
To finish, a creative lemon meringue with a twist: lemon posset, mini meringues, shortbread crumb and a teasing basil sorbet explode together on the palate.
Suffice to say, what’s on offer at The Clink is far more than some mere gimmick to spark idle chatter. The service is immaculately friendly, the cooking superb and the setting is far more relaxing than some might imagine.
Initially, The Clink may have been a hard sell to some, but privately-funded and with an increasing number of high-profile chefs keen to get involved, it’s very much looking like the future of a service that needed a spark of ingenuity. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.