This week I traveled to the Hampshire town of Stockbridge, exploring the boutique high street, visiting local historical landmarks and embracing the countryside scenes.
After a long walk over Stockbridge Down and more time than I care to admit browsing in the local shops, I had worked up an appetite. So what better place to visit than the number one rated café in Stockbridge (according to the site TripAdvisor).
Located about three miles away from the high street, the Longstock Park Farm Shop Café is somewhat off the beaten track, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a popular haunt at lunchtime. After a pleasant drive down a winding avenue of trees, I arrived at the garden center where a crowd was already gathering for the café.
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Lunchtime service lasts from 12-3pm, and despite it only being a quarter past noon there was an impressive queue at the counter and plenty of seats taken in the courtyard section. Whilst breakfast is also served at Longstock (from 9am to midday), it was clear most people have rocked up for a light lunch in the afternoon sunshine.
The menu includes many of the typical options you’d expect from a garden center café, with sandwiches, toasties, soups and baked potatoes on offer. The variety of fillings provides great options for all types of diets, from coronation chicken to roast beef and horseradish to Leckford mushroom and stilton.
But there are also more ambitious items on the menu, such as a cheese soufflé served with sourdough bread and a garlic and olive oil flatbread served with mozzarella, sun blushed tomatoes, artichokes and black olives.
I decided to go for the soup of the day (tomato), which was served with a warm roll and an Americano coffee. But, once I reached the counter and saw the array of freshly baked products, I was tempted.
As I have more of a savory than a sweet tooth, I added a cheese scone to my bill to save for a treat later on. The total bill came to £9.95.
It would be hard to go wrong with a soup and roll, but nevertheless, I was still impressed with the speedy service considering how busy the café was. The friendly staff and piping hot rich tomato soup made it easy to see why the establishment is popular, and from the empty plates at every table, it was obvious the variety of food served is enjoyable.
The freshly baked scone that I reheated at home was just as delicious. The baked product was light on the inside and a beautiful golden brown on top – the perfect combination in my mind. The additional chives enhanced the flavor making each mouthful as moreish as the last.
Inside the café is a farm shop selling items like chutneys, fresh fruit and veg and kitchenware. Whilst perhaps more expensive than a trip to a supermarket, the high-quality products are sourced from the Leckford Estate Farm and local Hampshire farmers.
Meanwhile, if you choose to dine outside you are greeted with views of the plant nursery where an abundance of horticulture is on display. From exotic cacti to pretty pansies, the nursery is full of plants for your garden.
It’s a beautiful place to walk after your lunch, with the walled garden just off the nursery, a quiet sanctuary of climbing plants, national collections and an 80-meter herbaceous border. I’m no gardener, but even I was enchanted by the vibrant displays (and was even inspired to splash the cash on some garden pots).
For those wanting to spend more time amongst the wildlife, there is the chance to visit Longstock Park Water Garden. For £10 you can tour the six acres of water garden that hosts an array of plants from around the world, including over forty different waterlilies.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a place that serves uncomplicated staple lunches, a garden center is always going to be a popular choice. But the beautiful surroundings, array of options and quite simply delicious foods make the Longstock Park Farm Shop Café a new firm favourite.
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