Monday, 16 May 2011

Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay

The Norwegian Church officially re-opens 17th May 2011 (Norwegian Constitution Day) after major renovation work. I visited on Sunday for a coffee and a look around, on the first full day of operations for the new Norsk coffee shop (“Brunch…Lunch…Afternoon Tea”).

The church was founded in 1868 by Herman Lunde of Oslo to serve as a religious meeting place for the Scandinavian community in Cardiff. The church, which was located at the entrance to West Bute Docks, was closed and deconsecrated in 1974, after which it fell into disrepair. During the docklands redevelopment, the Norwegian Church Preservation Society moved the building to its present position on the waterfront and restored it. It re-opened as an Arts Centre and Coffee Shop in 1992.

From the outside the Norwegian Church looks little different, apart from a new raised decking area for al fresco dining and outdoor staged events. However, the interior has been significantly changed. The wall between the old coffee shop and the main hall has been removed, so tables can be arranged continuously through the ground floor. The stained glass, the ship hanging from the ceiling, the pulpit and the quilt are still there, but the open-plan café makes the building feel less quirky. The most striking difference is probably the white paint on the wood panels in the main room (the Grieg Room). It seems a shame to cover the lovely wood panelling, but the redecorated has been done in keeping with the traditional decor of Norwegian churches (after and before photos below).

Norsk offers a mix of Norwegian and Welsh dishes: Welsh Cawl, Norwegian Fisherman’s Lunch, Welsh Rarebit, Welsh Beef Lasagne, and Norwegian & Welsh Cheese Platter. Sandwiches are served with “Real Welsh Crisps” and local eggs and bacon are on the brunch menu. Some of the food I saw coming from the kitchen looked very appetizing and it’s all reasonably priced, with the possible exception of the Afternoon Tea comprising a selection of cakes, scones with clotted cream & jam and finger sandwiches “all served on a 3 tier cake stand” with tea or cake. Classical music is piped in. The previous café was a bit of a greasy spoon in comparison! The new venture has an eye on the tourists as the Bay redevelopment expands beyond the Norwegian Church.

The Norwegian Church hosts an interesting program of concerts and events, as before. The upper-floor gallery has been rechristened the Dahl Gallery (after the author Roald Dahl - the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust’s first president - who was christened in the building). The gallery has been made more accessible, with a lift for disabled access. It provides a valuable exhibition space in Cardiff Bay. The first exhibition is of photos showing stages in the renovation of the Norwegian Church. The old wooden balcony railings have been replaced by glass panels, while a sliding screen can isolate the room from the Grieg Room below. Overall, the renovations have made the church a more versatile space.

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