Did you know that St James Priory, just next to the bus station in Bristol city centre, claims to be the oldest building in the city that’s still in daily use?
And did you know that it has a café attached – Cafe Refectoire – which opened in 2011 after receiving National Lottery Heritage Funding?
St James Priory isn’t a parish church – so doesn’t receive regular income from a church congregation. Instead, it relies on fundraising and income from the café – not just to maintain the beautiful historic building, but to raise essential funds for the St James Priory Project Charity.
This charity “provides unique services to support people during difficult periods in their lives”, working with those recovering from drug and alcohol dependence, as well as offering support for mental health issues.
It’s baby-friendly too, with highchairs and spotless changing facilities, and that – combined with the knowledge that the money I spent would go to a fantastic cause – sealed my choice of lunch venue with the 15-month old on a recent trip to Broadmead.
Cafe Refectoire is a little hidden away – entry is either through the Priory, or a separate entrance round the side of the bus station. It’s a bright and airy place, with plenty of tables downstairs and a huge seating area upstairs too, which can be hired out privately. The café offers corporate catering services, and there’s free WiFi too, which is always a bonus.
And there’s plenty of food on display to whet the appetite as soon as you walk in. As well as a chiller cabinet with drinks and sandwiches, there’s a counter laden with freshly made cakes and pastries (including vegan and gluten-free options), as well as various savouries and salads.
A hand-written blackboard above the counter lists out the day’s food options: standard café fare of jacket potatoes, toasties, soups and sandwiches, along with a hot dish of the day (a chorizo and chickpea stew with toasted pitta when we visited).
But it was the savouries that swayed my decision. Priced at £4.50 each or £6 with salads, I had a choice of a sausage roll with an incredible ratio of filling:pastry; a vegan parcel filled with spiced aubergine, almond and coriander; a veggie quiche; or a chorizo tortilla.
And it was the latter I ordered at the counter, along with my can of soft drink – from an incredibly smiley and friendly guy who spotted the baby and offered to bring a highchair over to our table – amazing service, and much appreciated, as juggling the pushchair and my plate of food plus cutlery was struggle enough!
My lunch was delicious. The slab of tortilla was generous, studded with tons of small cubes of rich chorizo which infused the whole thing with their flavour. There was plenty of thickly sliced potato, too – cooked till tender and perfectly layered, which made it look great, and also made it incredibly filling.
I enjoyed the variety in the salads, too: a chunky Greek salad with plenty of cubed feta and added lettuce; a protein-packed lentil affair with thin slivers of almond and plenty of veg and fresh herbs; and a fragrant dairy-free slaw that had the requisite crunch and added a touch of lightness to the plate.
Regular readers will know that uncovered cakes in coffee shops are one of my big bugbears – and that was my major criticism of Cafe Refectoire, where they’re in the open on a low counter. But there was no denying they looked amazing, so I asked for a slice of the Bakewell tart (£2.50) to take away.
It was the last slice left on the counter, which I took to be a good sign that it was amazing…and I was right. The pastry was thin and crumbly, the jam layer nice and thick and the frangipane dense and moist and not over-sweet…it was delicious, and I have a feeling that it won’t be long before I’m back for more cake, if not lunch…
There are plenty of cafés in the Broadmead area – but by the nature of that part of town, the chain coffee shops nearby are inevitably always rammed. So next time you’re in town, consider making your lunch (or coffee and cake break) one with a social conscience and heading to Cafe Refectoire, where you’ll not only enjoy great food and friendly service, but where you’ll know that your money is making a real difference, rather than feeding corporate pockets.