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Café Ark review

Sarah Tierney finds a vegetarian café in a corrugated shed in the far flung Forests of...er...Sale

Published on October 21st 2009.

Café Ark review

Walkers in Sale Water Park or Chorlton Meadows, used to have only one option for mid-route refreshment. Jackson's Boat – a rough-edged boozer disguised as a quaint country pub. It's got a lot better in recent years, though the last time I went (about a year and a half ago) the food still wasn't up to much.

Tangy slices of dried apricots were scattered throughout the almondy sponge, and it came warmed with a spoonful of Chantilly cream. The thought of this and a pot of tea should be enough to tempt anyone out for a stroll, in any kind of weather.

Keep walking from there through the woods towards Sale Water Park and you'll find Café Ark. It's next to the Mersey Valley Visitor Centre which drivers can reach by leaving the M60 at junction 6 and following the signs for Trafford Water Sports Centre.

Specific directions are necessary for this place – it must be as isolated a spot as you can find within the M60 ring road. A countryside café in the shadow of the big city: turn one way and you'll see marshland and meadows, turn the other and the motorway is scarcely hidden by trees. Whichever way you're facing, you won't escape the drone of traffic. Close your eyes and try to imagine it's a fast-flowing river you can hear, rather than a west-bound HGV.

There are as many tables outside Café Ark as inside, and when we visited, the double doors were open, letting in the low October sun. There was recycled art dangling from the ceiling, a singer-songwriter on the stereo, and books about allotment cooking on the window sills. Chorlton might be a four mile car journey away but it's very close by foot.

The food is vegetarian, homemade, and good. They attempt to use organic, locally grown, fair trade ingredients and the breads and cookies are baked in the café. There's none of those factory-made flapjacks with a use-by date of sometime after the apocalypse. This place would feel fresh and healthy even without the wide open doors.

After ordering at the counter, I began to see why this out-of-the-way café was busy on a weekday afternoon. I was served a flavour-packed cheese and onion pie (£5.50) with a paper thin pastry base, halves of new potato tumbling out of the sides and a latticed, golden top. It was delightful: not stodgy, not runny, just right.

It came with a salad made exciting by homemade hummous, olives and nasturtiums. “Yes, you can eat the flowers,” said the chefs behind the counter. They tasted peppery – like a very delicate watercress. Research on Wikipedia later revealed that this is because nasturtiums are watercress. Further research revealed that they're not – they just share the same Latin name. Either way, they tasted similar, and looked very wild and natural amongst those locally-sourced leaves and ripe tomato.

My friend had halloumi kebabs in pitta bread with salad (£5.50). The thin slices of cheese meant you didn't get the satisfying, squeaky texture, but the fried onions, button mushrooms and herbs made up for anything lost. “Pretty tasty,” was his verdict.

Other options on the chalkboard included lasagne and salad (£5.50), sandwiches on homemade bread rolls (£2.50-£3.50), all day veggie breakfast (£4.95), and a walkers' special of soup and a sarnie for £4.99. The no-frills drinks selection included hot chocolate, coffee (instant, milky or cafetiere), teas, juices, milk and water. So no coffee bar for cappuccinos, espressos and the like, but also no noisy slamming of ground coffee on the counter, or baristas yelling out your order to someone standing right beside them.

The selection of cakes included a decent carrot cake (£2) with a slight coconut and lemon taste to the icing, and an apricot tart (£2.50) which used that same, almost translucent pastry base as the pie. Tangy slices of dried apricots were scattered throughout the almondy sponge, and it came warmed with a spoonful of Chantilly cream. The thought of this and a pot of tea should be enough to tempt anyone out for a stroll, in any kind of weather.

After eating, we set off through the marshes towards the River Mersey. The sun was shining and the leaves were turning. I've always thought of this area as somewhere to go for a walk if you haven't time to travel anywhere prettier. But combined with a meal at Café Ark, it starts to look like a much more appealing trip out.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Anne DixonOctober 21st 2009.

Deserves 20/20 for food and Sarah please take into consideration this is a cafe not a restaurant and everyone loves the ambience and simple decor and the lovely "chefs"

deli llamaOctober 21st 2009.

seems like a good idea ....if only the asbo would let me go outside Chorlton..

Charlotte MCROctober 21st 2009.

Sounds fab, I'm planning a Sunday afternoon trip out there already!Have to say 14/20 sounds a little harsh, I agree with Anne, it should be judged againt similar establishments, and not restaurants.

deli llamaOctober 21st 2009.

seems like a good idea ....if only the asbo would let me go outside Chorlton..

Food FanMarch 27th 2013.

This cafe is still going strong, and still serves excellent grub! I love the friendly atmosphere and I am a frequent visitor..
It is now open Wednesdays to Sundays, 11.00am-4.00pm

Adjacent to Mersey Valley Visitor Centre, Sale Water Park (Rifle Road), Manchester M33 2LX

2 Responses: Reply To This...
IanMarch 27th 2013.

And you are the owner as well, right?

Food FanJune 2nd 2013.

I have no connection to the place other than my stomach!

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Latest Rants


The staff should wear clothes made out of corn flakes.

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