A charity which works in partnership with Her Majesty’s Prison Service to run restaurants in prisons has now opened its first café off prison grounds in Manchester.

The Clink Charity launched its first restaurant in 2009 at HMP High Down in Surrey as a trial scheme to train prisoners in catering to help them find work after release. The rehabilitation programme has been a huge success, with three more restaurants opened in Brixton, Cardiff, and Styal and a reported 41% reduction in reoffending rates by those who have completed the scheme.

HMP Styal in Cheshire was the first restaurant to be set up in a women’s prison. Another first for our region was the opening of the charity’s Clink Café in May to build on the charity’s work inside the prisons and offer employment to the scheme’s graduates on release. So what’s it like?

Set in the glorious Grade II listed Canada House, an art nouveau building dating back to 1909 designed by local architect William G. Higginbottom, entry is through the elaborately-gated main foyer on Chepstow Street.

The café is impressively spacious and airy with high ceilings, a subtle palette of pastels, and no unnecessary clutter. Modern bespoke light fittings and fixtures are sparsely dotted throughout. The large communal tables are almost too wide as you raise your voice one octave higher conversing with your colleague on the other side.

As well as the ex-offenders from across the UK who have graduated from the scheme whilst inside prison, the café is also staffed by homeless young adults from partner charity, Centrepoint – again in an attempt to prevent them heading into a life of crime and offending. The two girls who look after us today are friendly, professional and accommodating of our pescatarian guest requesting a couple of changes.

Eggs Benedict £6

Beautifully and simply presented, this classic brunch dish was almost spot on, had it not been served on yesterday’s slightly stale muffins. Eggs were perfectly poached and served over thick ham, topped with hollandaise sauce of the right consistency and seasoning. Smoked salmon was substituted for the ham for an additional £1.50.

Sweet potato, chickpeas, crispy kale, red onion, flaked almonds & balsamic £5.50

We grabbed this from the already-prepped take-away fridge as it looked so colourful and tempting. The kale was crispy with an almost burnt smoky flavour that was fantastic with the soft sweet potato. Pomegranate added bursts of zing, with the chick peas filling out this very well-balanced lunch salad, and my favourite thing I ate here today.

Cappuccino £2.50

A soft and smooth blend from Redemption Roasters based at Aylesbury Prison, and another initiative aimed at reducing the risk of reoffending through their roasting, brewing and barista training scheme.

Clink Brownie £2

Does what it says on the tin. Nothing more, nothing less. Decent enough rich chocolate brownie, could have been a bit gooier in the middle and taken out of the oven a couple of minutes earlier. But kept my twelve year-old happy.

The menu is limited – disappointingly so – with only a handful of choices from recipes developed at HMP Styal to eat in and take away. With the training and menus offered within the prison restaurants, I would have hoped to see more variety and skill on display. Surely the staff are more than capable of producing the handful of cakes, sandwich and salad dishes we see today?

But these are early days, so hopefully more will be introduced as the brand develops and the café finds its feet.

We love what this place is doing. We just want more of it.

Canada House, 3 Chepstow Street, Manchester, M1 5FW. Open Mon-Fri 7.30am-5.30pm.

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