Salford is a real tale of two cities: the old one we all know from those Lowry prints when it was mills and smoke with bent-over workers; and the new media city, with its 21st century architecture and racy lifestyle.
The Catholic Cathedral in Salford is slap bang in the middle of the old city. It’s surrounded by large tracts of wasteland and tower blocks of flats where presumably there used to be row after row of Coronation Street-style housing.
I wasn’t sure we’d find a coffee or tea venue worth reviewing around this part of town.
But I was delighted to wander into the Salford Museum and Art Gallery, clamber over the hoards of schoolkids visiting the Victorian mock-up of old Salford, and discover a little gem of a tea room upstairs next to one of the galleries.
Actually, the Lark Hill Tea Shop is about to move downstairs, but it’ll still be in this wonderful building that was once a mansion house and later the world’s first free public library.
A nice sense of history as you sip your organic tea, made by a company I’d not come across before: Storm Tea.
And there’s a very friendly team serving in there. Amy is the manager with lots of ideas on where to go next with this tea room, which will shortly have wifi when it moves downstairs, so hoping to tap into the big student population just up the road.
It’s a bit of a long hike to get to the 21st century Salford Quays and Media City from old Salford. In fact, far better idea to drive or hop on one of the shuttle buses that go between the two.
It’s an extraordinary sight, sitting alongside the Manchester Ship Canal, with all glass and steel buildings; can’t help wondering what Lowry would have made of it all (he’d actually probably have loved it, but what on earth would he have painted???).
It also has an enormous indoor shopping mall and as with all such places, it’s a hard job to find any independent coffee shops or tea rooms in those malls.
And there’s no real high street for independent shops to occupy, either.
So, we opted for the next best thing: a charity working to promote Lowry himself and his work.
The Tower Coffee Shop is part of The Lowry complex, which includes the big Lyric Theatre and has lots of eating places dotted around.
They’ll do you a nice cup of coffee (Grumpy Mule roaster in Holmfirth, Yorkshire) and there are nice cakes to choose from, all baked in-house.
I met the cheerful Lola, who’s a big coffee fan from France and serves up the cappuccino here, and then the boss, Mike Lee (shame it’s different spelling from his film director namesake, who has Salford connections too). Mike told me you can get the same coffee WITH waterfront views round in the Terrace Bar, but that place felt too like a restaurant for the Fancy a Cuppa? mould, so we’d still recommend the Tower Coffee Shop.
After all, you can always go for a saunter along the canalside after your cuppa.
Salford was unlike any other cathedral city I’ve visited this year (and that’s 84 done now – just 5 left!).
There have been places like Aberdeen, where the original centre and the cathedral are mediaeval and the new city a 20th century grey mass or granite; there’s Coventry, where the war did for most of the old city centre.
But nowhere else that has built quite such a totally new city in the 21st century and razed to the ground much of the old city. It was good to see loads of school kids running about both parts, though, so that some connections can be made.
But I’m not sure how many of the people wandering around Salford’s old market and tired-looking shopping mall ever make it into the new city. These are two worlds apart.
At least we found a place for a cuppa in both!