9 Altars cafe reviewed
Culinarily Durham City is often found wanting. There are some really good curries to be had, and Zen and Oldfields can be relied upon to be consistently tasty, but outside of this there is very little.
This is partly because Durham relies heavily on day-trippers: relatively local people having a quick peek at the Castle and Cathedral and admiring the general oldness of the place. Cobbles and all.
This means that Durham is prime café territory, as people rarely stay long enough to make it all the way to dinnertime. As a native of the city of Oxford, which has exactly the same problem, there are very few things a café can serve that I have not had before. Or that will even make me salivate more than usual. A cake or a sandwich hasn’t surprised me since one fateful beetroot related day in 1999.
As such it is not the food that really makes a café. The food has to be fine, good enough that you don’t even really notice it. Instead it’s all the other things that are vital in making a café worthwhile: location, comfort, atmosphere, and most importantly the people.
And happily, 9 Altars has all of these. Located down at river level, just before Silver Street turns into the bridge, it’s pleasingly tucked away and peaceful. It’s also on the smaller end of the Durham café scale, making it quite cosy, although it has a remarkably large selection of sandwiches, paninis, cakes and bagels. Particularly noteworthy were their bountiful selection of cakes and desserts, ranging from a hefty slab of fluffy red velvet cake which was magnificently decadent to an intriguingly unusual yet surprisingly delicious orange crème brûlée cake. Definitely not your average Wednesday afternoon café fare. This does give it a significant edge over the classic choices such as Vennel’s or Café Continental, as you are guaranteed to find something to satisfy you, whereas the sandwich and cake choice is often surprisingly limited elsewhere.
But most importantly the staff are enormously friendly, which means the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming. So when you next feel the need to go to a café, go find 9 Altars. Marked on overall experience, it genuinely is one of the best in Durham.