Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Cardiff Arts Institute

The Cardiff Arts Institute (CAI) is a bar with a difference. The décor sets this place apart, for a start. One wall is covered in Lego boards, and a plentiful supply of Lego bricks is artfully (or not) modelled up the walls by customers on a daily basis. Another wall is decorated with rubber gloves (I couldn’t actually eat under that). Quirky touches elsewhere include a stuffed magpie on a Roman-style bust, and a glass table containing model cars. Modern art comes and goes.

I went in for lunch this week, before a talk at the National Museum across the road (see Blog for 3rd Feb). On “The Institute Menu” are classic pub meals, burgers, and a range of coffee and cake options. However, I went for a sandwich. The “Daily Bread” selection offers Classic BLT, Herb and Garlic Chicken with salad leaves, Free-range eggs with mayonnaise and cress, and Colliers cheddar with Rev James Chutney (Reverend James is a Brains beer, this being a Brains-owned bar).

I went for the Welsh Cured Ham with Piccalilli, and a latte (£6.60 bill). The sandwiches are served with thick stubby chips (more like wedges) – they stay hot and are filling. There is a choice of white or brown bread. It’s a substantial lunch. Service is slower and the cost higher than the average Cardiff sandwich bar, but this is a good place to meet for a quiet lunch (being away from main shops and offices it avoids the midday crush) or to spread out your notes or newspaper to take stock of the world. It's friendly and has a unique and stimulating ambience.

The Cardiff Arts Institute is, as its name suggests, much more than a bar and café. A room upstairs hosts a range of weekly activities, including Life Drawing, dance lessons, and classes with the Celtic Learners Network. In the evening, the place becomes a lively bar, with local bands and DJs. Music regularly played here ranges from acoustic, folk and world music, to rock and dance.

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