Whatever you views on prison, crime, rehabilitation and post-prison opportunities, I think it’s probably best to just leave them at the door. I’m not in any real position (or am particularly motivated) to get into all of the politics of the UK criminal system. Nor is this the platform.
But there’s no real way of avoiding such issues when talking about The Clink at HMP Styal – a restaurant in a converted chapel where your food is cooked and served by the prisoners in training who are working towards gaining their City & Guilds NVQs in Food & Beverage Service, Professional Cookery and Food Hygiene.
Knowing this, one’s mind can tend to drift off and think of all manner of scenarios that await you at The Clink – and as our writer Ian proclaimed when he visited; “we wondered about the inmates we’d encounter. Would they seem to us like prisoners, dejected & sullen or otherwise sort of grim?”
Well, fear not. Any comparisons of your experience with anything you’ve seen in Hollywood is quickly diminished – as you’re welcomed by a huge, stunning chapel interior and friendly, approachable staff.
The restaurant itself operates as a registered charity and is the perfect training ground for volunteer inmates who are looking to gain qualifications and experience in the lead-up to their release.
Apart from the odd civilian managers in the kitchen and front-of-house the restaurant allows prisoners to learn, engage with the public and take their first steps towards a new life.
In addition, all the leather upholstery and boardroom tables in the restaurant are made by prisoners at HMP Frankland and poetry is from former Clink trainees.
Most importantly though, what is the food like? What do they serve and is it any good?
Well, Ian visited on a Sunday for a Roast and was certainly impressed with their “careful and considered approach to the classics“, with Yorkshire Puddings that were even better than his mum’s. High praise indeed and surely something he shouldn’t go shouting about.
When it’s not a Sunday, The Clink offers a carefully considered menu featuring dishes that tick off not just those hunger pangs but also many of the units of the NVQs that the students are learning.
So you’ll encounter Tea-cured Duck Breast (£8.25) with charred plim and walnut salad , a dish that hits units 223 and 230 – ‘How to prepare and cook meat’, while the Goats Cheese and Walnut Tortellini (£15) hits unit 240 – ‘The making of pasta’.
As a result, The Clink is not just a restaurant – it’s an experience – something you can tell your mates about when you get home. Not just about the fact that your food was made by prisoners, but also how bloody good it was – something nobody ever thought to ever say about ‘prison food’.
So regardless of your opinions on the politics of the criminal justice system, it’s hard to find fault with what The Clink are doing. They’re providing a valuable service to people who want to learn new skills and get back into society, while also serving up some fantastic dishes and a truly unique experience.
As well as The Clink Restaurant at HMP Styal, there’s also The Clink Cafe right here in the city centre. Located on the ground floor of Canada House, the cafe is staffed by The Clink graduates as well as clients of local homeless charities looking to receive their accredited NVQs.
The Clink at HMP Styal
The Clink, HMP Styal, Wilmslow SK9 4HR