The prison where people queue to get in


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The Independent Online

Its ambitious menu includes crispy Stilton quenelles, slow-cooked spice pork cheeks and home-made crab ravioli. But you have to be patient to get a table at The Clink, which has become so popular that it is fully booked until January.

What makes it unique among fashionable eateries is that it is the first, and so far only, commercial restaurant operating out of a British prison.

Before being shown to tables, diners have to go through security checks, and hand over valuables and mobile phones. Most of the chefs, waiters and cleaners are inmates at High Down prison in Banstead, Surrey, hoping for a new start in life after their release. So far the results have been impressive, with most "graduates" of The Clink landing prestigious catering jobs on the outside. It has been such a success that the concept is to be rolled out to other jails.

For its innovative and effective work with offenders, The Clink last night received the Longford Prize.

The award is sponsored by i's sister paper The Independent and named after Lord Longford, the penal and social reformer who died in 2001. It recognises "outstanding qualities of humanity, courage, persistence and originality" in penal or social reform.

The Clink was the brainchild of Alberto Crisci, the jail's catering manager, who was already training inmates in cooking and food preparation when the idea of setting up a restaurant came to him. He hoped offenders would receive experience of a real work place and gain qualifications to prepare them for well-paid jobs in catering.

A storeroom was converted into an 85-seat restaurant, and it opened in May 2009. This year it has served 25,000 meals – 12,000 to the public.