Even though Styal prison is, literally, just up the road it’s been well over 12 months since we were last at the Clink restaurant. As always, the lunch menu is common across the charity’s various training restaurants. The prisoners in the kitchen are working towards a Level 2 City & Guilds qualification and, in a change since last time we were here, the menu explains what elements of the course are addressed by each dish. It doesn’t mention exactly what the servers are working towards but it’s certainly successful as it has always been spot-on whenever we’ve visited.
So, one starter had a skills description of “working with lots of different types of tomatoes teaches the learners about flavour and taste but also how to prepare the vegetables for presentation under unit 226. This also includes knife skills under unit 102.” And that translated into slices of heritage tomato (although no better flavoured than bog standard supermarket ones), whipped mozzarella, a basil and pink peppercorn sorbet (which didn’t really taste of either) and black olive “crumb”. Pleasant enough if a little underwhelming. The other starter was sardines escabeche, served at room temperature, along with a celery and kohlrabi slaw. Nice and fresh and a good plate for this time of year.
Confit duck leg was excellent. It came with what the menu described as a “guinea fowl fondant” – almost a mousse, formed into a tight sausage shape and, probably, poached. Other accompaniments were certainly eclectic – and successful – an aubergine and red pepper fricassee, wilted pak choi and a savoury broth which incorporated little nuggets of hazelnut, giving texture and little sweetness. The other plate was also generally successful – slices of grilled (?) beef, leeks, red wine jus and pommes gaufrette (those posh looking crisps which would have been much better had they actually been crisp).
We didn’t have dessert.
It’s probably fair to say that, if this was a commercial restaurant, we probably wouldnt keep it on our list. But this is a really “good cause” which I’d like to hope is giving these women a second chance in life - one that they’ll grab hold of. For that, it’s worth accepting some slips in the food, not least as we only seem to get here once a year