Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Sherman Cymru, Cardiff

Sherman Cymru theatre reopened its doors last month, after a major redevelopment that took around two years to complete.

The main differences are the metal-clad exterior, which extends the building, and the completely transformed lobby. Instead of a stepped and cramped area between the two theatres, the new lobby is one big open space; even creating room for additional informal performance (as at the open day and the Elektro Kif street dance show). A long and shiny new bar replaces the inadequate old wooden (bottles only) one. In the main auditorium, the seats have been reupholstered and are much more comfortable.

However, the café has disappeared. Previously, the Sherman had a cosy (albeit narrow) café area in the window. This was a welcoming space, off to the right of the entrance, which functioned as a local community café; a homely meeting place in an arts centre environment. The big echoing expanse of the new lobby is nowhere near as inviting as a place to eat. Sherman Cymru may find it harder to attract people in for coffee in the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the food itself; although the choice appears to be more limited now the café is part of the café bar. There is still a focus on freshly-made, locally-sourced vegetarian food.

The lunchtime menu (12-3pm) features soup (two attractive options the lunchtime I visited) and multi-seeded baguettes, characterized as Vegan (e.g., Hummus, red onion and tomato), Vegetarian (e.g., Goat cheese, tomato and basil), and Omnivore (e.g., combinations of salami, chorizo, or ham with cheddar, brie or goat’s cheese). I went for a Tomato, Olive and Fresh Basil Baguette with a coffee (£5.25 total). The baguette was made to order, came promptly, and was one of the freshest and most enjoyable baguettes I’ve had in Cardiff for a while. Good bread and simple quality ingredients; served with coleslaw and salad (a fork but no knife). Prices for baguettes start at a very reasonable £2.95.

In the evening (5-9pm), the only thing on the menu is tapas. The onus is on food that accompanies drink. There may also be some cake to have with coffee. On the evening we ate, a group at a table were looking at the only copy of the menu; so we waited a good few minutes before it was returned before starting to order. They advise ordering food 45 minutes before a show starts.

We went for the three tapas dishes for £9.95. These were served with sliced baguette. The best of the three was the Champinones Ajulo, small button mushrooms in olive oil with lemon, garlic and sherry sauce. We could happily have used more bread to mop this all up. The Albondigas con Salsa Rojo were grainy-textured lamb, beef and coriander meatballs in a tomato, bay, basil and red wine sauce; the lamb flavour cut through and they were pretty good. Patatas Ali-Oli, new potatoes in parsley and garlic mayonnaise were fine, if a little ordinary in a Hellman’s sort of way.

The tables in the lobby seem drinks-sized rather than food-sized, which is underlined by the disproportionately large plates used for the lunchtime baguettes (tapas plates sit just fine). Seating is spread out, in contrast to the previous communal café experience. I wonder if the brand new space, despite its fine architecture, wouldn’t benefit from more clutter at lunchtimes! Notice boards, acoustic screens or room dividers, for example, could help create more intimate areas.

I’ll be making frequent trips to Sherman Cymru (as I did before the redevelopment) for the outstanding programme of plays and shows, but I probably won’t be eating there as often.

Sherman Cymru:

My review of Electro Kif at Sherman Cymru for Buzz (24 Feb 2012):

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