Norwich: Narthex Refectory

Narthex Refectory

Narthex Refectory - Credit: Simon Finlay

Hidden behind St John the Baptist is the cathedral's modern extension housing the Narthex Refectory. Light, friendly and offering home cooked meals, SIMON PARKIN was pleased to discover a new lunch destination.

Hidden away at the back of St John the Baptist Roman Catholic Cathedral, out of sight of the main entrance off Earlham Road, is the Narthex.

Opened in 2010, in cathedral's modern extension was the culmination of a 10-year project to provide new education and interpretation galleries, a shop, a function hall and a garden. Spectacular as the great cathedral building is, this is a modern and welcoming new face of the cathedral, open to the community.

It's position, tucked away around the back of the imposing cathedral structure, means many people may not realise it is also the location of the Narthex Refectory, a light and airy café that serves a pleasing selection of snacks and light lunches five days a week.

First perhaps I should explain the name. A narthex is a transition space, a preparation between the outside world and the House of God. Many churches have a narthex — most usually in the form of a large porch.

The Narthex is rather grander than that. But far from imposing the refectory on our visit was friendly and welcoming and we were pleased we'd popped in for a bite to eat.

It helped that it was a glorious spring day, perhaps the first of the year to make the most of the lovely little south-facing and tree shaded garden that the café looks out on to.

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Inside the café isn't large but it has floor to ceiling windows which give a light, airy feel.

It staffed by volunteers but, under the supervision, the result is far from amateur. They were a menu that ranges from bacon rolls and made-to-order sandwiches and paninis to cream teas and some truly tempting homemade cakes and scones.

There is also a daily homemade hot meal and usually two desserts.

This week's menu, for example, has included Spanish pork and sausage casserole with peppers, Coq au vin with mash and seasonal vegetables, roast pork with parsnips and seasonal vegetables and, today should you fancy it, lasagne using locally sourced high-quality beef.

Desserts have included mixed berry cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate and raspberry roulade and apple pie with cream.

It's an impressive selection for volunteers to be serving up. On out visit the main meal was pan-fried wild sea bass fillet with herb sauce with crushed new potato cakes and a mixed salad with vinaigrette. For a bank balance friendly £7.

Cooked to order it came well presented and the fish was piping hot and cooked perfectly. The skin was crispy, the flesh moist and tender. The herby sauce added a tomato tang and helped to mop up the potato cake.

We truly couldn't fault it and we were pleased we'd made the short walk over the Grape's Hill footbridge to try somewhere different for lunch. For families a great way to make the most of it would be to time a visit to coincide with one of the regular tours around the cathedral, including up the tower to take in the magnificent views. And you could also visit the next door Plantation Gardens too.


St John Cathedral

Earlham Road


01603 724381

Open: Tues-Sat 10.30am-4pm, Sun-Mon closed

Prices: Home made soups £3/£4.50, sandwiches about £2.75, mains £7

Vegetarian options: Some. Tries to accommodate different dietary requirements including gluten-free

Wheelchair access: Yes