The Best Café in Manchester (that you’ve never heard of)

There's plenty of things that can be said about this place...

…but the most important one is that this is easily the best café that you’ve never even heard of – but that’s for a reason. Well, sort of. We’ll get on to that.

So what is this café and where the hell is it?!

Okay, easy – it’s the Longford Café and surprisingly it’s slap-bang in the middle of Longford Park (between Stretford and Chorlton) – holed up in one of the park’s original buildings; a rather striking Edwardian bungalow.

The park is particularly famous as once being home to John Rylands (that library guy), but his former home, the Hall, was unfortunately demolished back in 1995, with just the front porch, coach house and stables remaining. The park was also the site of a Royal Garden Party back in 1977, celebrating the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II.

Since then though, the park has seemingly been forgotten by most people, including Trafford Council who have barely even bothered to venture down there in about a decade. Instead, the people who regularly use the park, take their children there to play and walk their dogs there have, over the years, helped to create a close-knit welcoming community hub.

Pet’s Corner – home to Gandalf the Goat

Groups such as the Friends of Longford Park have fought tooth and nail over the years to halt the decline of the park, and they’re certainly getting there. There’s now a Pet’s Corner run by volunteers (and featuring a top goat called Gandalf), a wildlife garden, bowling greens, tennis courts, kids play area and a rather odd addition – a Disc Golf course.

Also included in this long list of reasons to visit the park is the bungalow in the centre, more specifically – Longford Café – which has almost become the community centre of the park – as there’s always people milling about here, chatting and catching up over a Flat White and a Bacon Butty.

The café is a firmly established addition to the park, one which came about through a series of mishaps and general occurrences, resulting in owners Phil and Claire Howells taking sole charge of the place.

They’d been running Caffeine & Co in the city centre for a couple of years – to considerable success with a simple ethos – “great food, plain and simple” – using the best quality ingredients, with as much as possible being created from scratch on a daily basis.

Sourdough runs deep at Longford!

Inspired by visits to Melbourne and the burgeoning café scene in London, Phil & Claire quickly expanded to help take over Longford Park’s café – assisting with a community co-op project tasked with running the space.

It was by this point that Phil & Claire introduced the people of Manchester to something called Sourdough bread – a revelation at the time – and they began baking it in the tiny Edwardian bungalow, and leaving it to prove right there under a tree in the middle of the park.

Phil & Claire at Longford Cafe

It wasn’t long until the duo decided to open up a new café, this time in Altrincham called Blanchflower, which has seen considerable success over the years – most of it anchored on their experiences, trials and tribulations of running Longford Café.

They continue to run the café today, and it’s clear straight away that their 10 years in the business has paid off in spades. The whole operation is slick, even during these difficult times of social distancing, and the quality of coffee and food is exceptional – especially considering they’re right in the middle of a bloody park.

Cheese & Caramelised Onion Toastie

Toastie and Tomato Soup – what a combo!

With daily breakfast offerings, plus lunch time sandwiches, toasties, homemade soups and curries – Longford Café is easily the best café that you’ve never heard of – unless of course you live in the area which, in that case – you probably come here ALL THE TIME.

The classic Hummus Salad sandwich

Trade throughout lockdown has been very promising, as people pop out from staring at the wallpaper in their at-home offices, and this year will see further expansion plans hopefully put into place. They want to increase the size of the (tiny) kitchen, as well as provide more under cover seating for visitors to the park – fighting back against that signature Manchester drizzle.

So what’s the reason why you’ve never heard of Longford Café (if it really is SO good)? Well, it’s simple – Phil & Claire have just never really shouted about the place – happy for it to be the local’s “little secret” – that I’ve just completely ruined! Sorry about that.

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