There are plenty of reasons to visit Britain’s cathedrals, including faith, history and spectacular architecture. Formerly, food may not have been one of them. However, along with other improvements in British cuisine, my research suggests that it is now possible to find good cathedral food – if not in the same building, then in a suitably Christian location not far away.
If visiting Hereford Cathedral, try Café @ All Saint’s, a short walk north of the cathedral itself. This is a working church in which some space has been given over to a free-standing kitchen with a seating deck on top – it was opened in 1997 as a way to support the church financially. The food is wholesome and tasty, such as pork and cider casserole with mash for £8.65, and you can admire the church and its stained glass windows while eating. (The cathedral itself has a basic café, but it is somewhat crammed into the walking route to the Mappa Mundi.)
Visitors to Brecon Cathedral have even less distance to go to find good cathedral food: Pilgrims Tea Room and Restaurant is within the cathedral close, and is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. It offers traditional home cooking, with its daily main courses costing £7.95, and hearty Sunday roasts. It is also serving dinner on Christmas Day. (It also has a catering business. This is called Pilgrims Progress.)
The refectory café in Chester Cathedral lets you drink fair trade tea, snacks and light lunches in the place where 13th century Benedictine monks ate their meals. It’s a lovely room, which helps visitors appreciate the fact that the cathedral was originally a monastery – King Henry VIII allowed the building to change its use, rather than insisting on its demolition. (Only had time for tea and a bun when visiting, so can’t comment as to lunches.)
St Paul’s Cathedral in London has both a café and a restaurant in its crypt (outside the ticketed area – although the £15 adult entrance is valid for a year if you turn it into a Gift Aid charitable donation). However, these tend to be crowded with tourists. There is a better option just a few minutes’ walk south, on the route to the Millennium Bridge and within another kind of religious house: the glass-walled global headquarters of the Salvation Army. Its basement 101 Café, open weekdays only, is excellent value for the capital (such as large bowls of tasty soup for £3.05), and unlike nearly everywhere else to eat in the City of London it has lots of space and light. You might see the odd uniform and there’s a low-key exhibition of the army’s work around the world, but it feels more like an art gallery’s canteen – just a lot nicer and more spacious.