Your chef tonight will be Dean. He's a drug dealer

The Clink will be harder to get into than any other restaurant in Britain when it becomes the first to open inside a prison
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The Independent Online

It will be one of the world's most unusual dining experiences. While the biggest hurdle for many diners is to get past a fearsome maître d', visitors to one new restaurant will have to run the gauntlet of security checks, sniffer dogs and barred gates under the watchful eye of prison guards before reaching their table.

The venue, to be called Clink, will be the UK's first restaurant behind bars. When it opens its doors, as it were, paying members of the public will eat gourmet meals, cooked and served by prisoners at Highdown prison in Surrey.

Instead of the unappetising slop and stale bread associated with prison life, diners will feast on langoustines, sautéd guinea fowl and lavender-infused mascarpone. Porridge, alas, will not be on the menu.

The dishes are a far cry from those on the £1.68-a-head budget, which pays for three meals a day for inmates. Meals at Clink will be about £15 for a four-course meal, a figure which the prison's food supremo, Al Crisci, estimates would cost upwards of £70 a head for a comparable meal at a smart eaterie. The aim is to rival the upmarket restaurants of London's West End, as well as highlighting the training given to inmates.

"When people walk in I want them to feel like they have stepped into a trendy restaurant," said Mr Crisci, the prison's catering manager and the driving force behind Clink.

Mr Crisci has already turned around the food regime at the Category B jail, offering the 730-plus inmates four choices for lunch and six in the evening. Jean-Cristophe Novelli has tasted the food and approves. Last week, Mr Crisci received an award from Radio 4's Food Programme as catering manager of the year for the high standards of the food his team of 24 prisoners create. The BBC and independent production companies are interested in the Clink story.

Mr Criscihas seen more than 60 prisoners pass through the training scheme he established and gain National Vocational Qualifications for their cuisine.

Prisoners need security clearance to work in the kitchens and must have a clean bill of health.

Among those working six and a half days for a weekly wage of £11.70 at Highdown is Dean Masters, 36, from south London, who believes the kitchen training is helping to transform prisoners' lives. "If people go out of here with something, I think the rates of re-offending will be reduced," said Masters, who is serving 10 years for drug importation offences.

Another inmate, Francis Martinez, 56, from Lewisham, sentenced to 11 and a half years for drug importation, said: "A lot of education in places like this is just to keep people occupied, but this actually gets people into jobs."

EVERYTHING BUT PORRIDGE

The Clink Menu (£15 per head):

First course: Consommé of tomato with paisanne of spring vegetable or salad of endive, chicory with jamón Serrano, buffalo mozzarella and melon.

Second course: Pan-fried John Dory, marinated in honey and vinegar, or seared scallops with lemon caramel and saffron and orange rice.

Main: Paupiette of chicken with spinach mousseline in a light boursin sauce, or veal escalope en papillote with wild mushrooms and button onions, or marinade of vegetables à l'italienne.

Dessert: Orange and lemon tart with a citrus confit, or figs marinated in Chianti with lavender mascarpone and spun sugar.

Prisoners' Menu (£1.68 per head):

Main course only: Irish stew, or oven-baked liver casserole, or chunky steak pasty, or vegetable curry or tuna and onion jacket potato, or chilli con carne.