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Thursday, December 13, 2012
»For this review to make any sense I need to explain the Secret Cinema concept, which involves film lovers heading to a completely immersive experience based on a classic film – in this case prisoners in the Shawshank Redemption.
But, as part of the Secret Restaurant, we were special guests of the state governor, and dined in luxury while outside the inmates roamed the prison walls.
We were asked to wear 1940s clobber and bring a gift for our host, and from the moment I trudged up the path towards the remarkably prison-like former school in Hackney, I had a sense of genuine escapism.
We were ushered through the prison into a grand dining room. The setting was a candlelit affair and we tucked into a fantastically rich clam chowder as the champagne flowed.
As we ate, we were regaled by performances from inmates on the prison’s music reform programme – and between each course we took a tour of the prison facilities.
As we stepped from the safety of the dining room, with our hosts advising us to stay close, things got decidedly creepy and we could hear the screams of prisoners.
The place was labyrinthine and we strolled rounds cell, an infirmary, a canteen with a Johnny Cash-style band playing, and more besides.
I suspect you could write an essay on the psychological effects of being a secret diner – the “us and them” mentality was writ large as we sipped champagne and prisoners growled at us as we passed.
Back at the table – the main was a well-cut haunch of venison, tender and full flavoured with a rich gravy and incredibly creamy garlic mashed potato.
Then came the pudding – intriguing clove ice cream and apple pastry both courses washed down with lashings of red wine.
No sooner had we finished eating than a grave warning from the governor about an escaped prisoner put us on edge. The noise outside the dining room increased until finally we were told there was a full scale riot outside.
We then had to make a genuinely quite frightening escape through a gauntlet of angry prisoners, restrained by guards, until we reached the screening room and settled down to watch the film.
The secret restaurant is an amazing experience that has to be seen to be believed. And while Alan Stewart’s menu was both hearty and delicious (quite different, I suspect, from previous chef’s Blanch and Shock’s efforts), it was actually quite hard to concentrate on eating with so much madness going on around you. In some ways the food became a bit incidental.
But, despite this, I would without doubt place this in my top 10 meals out of the year and thoroughly recommend it to anyone – but you’ll have to be quick to get a ticket.