Bristol’s oldest building is now home to Bristol’s newest cafe. The twelfth-century St James’ Priory, tucked away behind the bus station, recently reopened after a £3.5 million renovation and repair project. Last week, Cafe Refectoire opened its doors for the first time, a lovely little cafe and a much-needed new revenue scheme for the continued maintenance of St James’.
Situated in the east entrance of the priory – in medieval times home to Benedictine monks, now an addiction centre – Cafe Refectoire is situated in a new addition next to the 1129 building. Inside, there are a couple of tables next to a glass screen through which you can see the church where mass is still celebrated every Sunday.
I stumbled across Cafe Refectoire accidentally on its first day of opening, after walking to Stokes Croft in my lunch break and for some reason deciding to take a shortcut back to the city centre through the bus station.
I knew that a Greggs had opened in the footpath that was once the continuation of Cannon Street, and was delighted to discover that opposite was a cafe for those with more discerning tastes.
Cafe Refectoire is a smart set-up, light and airy with laminated wooden floors, bold blue seating including a couple of sofas, and the ancient stone walls and alcoves incorporated into this modern extension.
Lively chatter inside Cafe Refectoire contrasted with the peaceful serenity of the church, as the staff were still getting briefed by the boss when I wandered in.
My cappuccino took a while to arrive after one barrista had trouble turning off the steam on the coffee machine. First day nerves aside, however, it was a very pleasant experience, and once my cappuccino did arrive, it came with a thimble-sized piece of flapjack with a hint of ginger. A lovely touch.
In the future, buffet and takeaway lunches will be offered to local businesses. For now, the food on offer is pretty standard fare. Breakfast is served from 8am, while lunch features light bites (soup of the day with crusty bread, £2.95; sandwiches from £3.30; paninis, £3.60; jacket potatoes, £3.50) and daily specials, which when I visited was chilli and coriander beef with couscous (£4.90).
Sweet selections include cakes, muffins and flapjacks all made on the premises, in kitchens that have been feeding Bristolians in need for almost 900 years.
Cafe Refectoire, East Entrance, St James’ Priory, Cannon Street, Bristol.