There are hundreds of cafés in the city centre, so which one do you choose when you need refreshment and are keen to take the weight off your feet? My rule of thumb (apart from the obvious one of avoiding the chains) is to seek out quirky or interesting places where I can get some added benefit and, by this measure, the Great Hall Café is terrific value.
It sits inside a very grand building, the Royal Exchange, which is bang in the middle of the main shopping district so, when I’ve had enough of the retail rush, I settle into its serene grandeur with a cup of tea or a glass of beer and contemplate the ornate architecture, then visit the mezzanine gallery, where there is usually a free exhibition to view.
Until 1968, the building was dedicated to trading cotton but nowadays it is home to the Royal Exchange Theatre, a major cultural hub. There is also a craft shop stocked with exquisite artifacts, a restaurant (open ‘til late) and a bar. On a first visit to this café, after learning something about the history of the building, marvelling at the modern theatre ‘pod’ suspended in the central hall, checking the production programme and poking around the craft shop, you may conclude that the refreshments are not the main attraction after all.