REVIEW: Undercroft Cafe, Durham Cathedral

The Undercroft Restaurant in Durham Cathedral.
The Undercroft Restaurant in Durham Cathedral.
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Simply awe-inspiring architecture encases Durham’s latest dining venture.

A refuge for the wanderer, home of early Christianity and the resting place of a revered saint, Durham Cathedral entrances more than 600,000 visitors a year.

 The World Heritage site has always trod a careful path between being a focal point for tourists to the region and still a living place of worship.

 Exploring its calming and resplendent interior can work up quite an appetite, with centuries of history gathered under its towering Norman arches.

 Feeding of the flock takes place in the Cathedral’s Undercroft restaurant, which has just undergone a £120,000 refurbishment.

 The Open Treasures project saw the transformation of the unique Claustral buildings, as part of a programme to reveal hidden parts of the monument.

 The medieval underbelly is every bit as spectacular as the Cathedral’s showpieces and for the first time in a century, all 13 bays of the medieval West Undercroft are visible, thanks to some clever work with glass frontage.

 Its hard to imagine a more unique setting, with the arches the most intact of their kind in the UK.

 Even the rustic tables we sat at were that little bit special – the handiwork of the Cathedral yard staff who have showcased their wealth of skills by hand-crafting them.

 Come for the architecture, but stay for the food, as the Undercroft serves up a comforting array of home-made grub.

 Dinner is served up between noon and 2pm, followed by a traditional afternoon tea.

 There’s a tempting array of fat scones and sticky cakes, with more substantial main courses which draw from all parts of the world, just like the Cathedral’s visitors.

 Patron saint of the kitchen is local lass Julie Barlow, 42, from Thornley, who joined the kitchen 15 years ago as an assistant and now bakes up eight different varieties of cakes every day.

 My brother pounced on one of her cherry and almond scones, which were packed with fruit and baked to golden perfection.

I chose beef in red wine with a dumpling with roast potatoes and my boyfriend went for a beef and spinach curry with rice – both £6.35.

 The food isn’t as grand as the surroundings, but my beef was chunky, with a definite kick of booze and the dumpling had a satisfyingly crispy top – nothing worse than a flabby dumpling top.

 His curry wasn’t quite miraculous and could have done with more spinach, but it was a pleasant blend of spices which was easy on the taste buds.

 Most praiseworthy of all – two main courses, drinks and a scone left us with change from £20.

Jane O’Neill