Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Anyone for tennis (Eaton Park Cafe, Norwich)

Eaton Park Cafe,
Opening times Mon-Fri 09:00-17:00,
Sat-Sun 8:30-6:00
You may recall that regular cycling guests Barry and Helen had recently got a new tandem (see So long old friend) so I had arranged a short ride so that I could see it in action. We had arranged to meet up at the Casitor St Edmunds crossroads with Chris (Mrs Crusader) as my other cycling guest for the day. I made sure we got there early so that I could take a picture of them arriving on their new machine.

As I saw them approaching I got my phone ready clicked away. But what was this, they had turned up on the same old tandem they had always used. I was very disappointed and nearly called the ride off there and then but I was curious to know why the new tandem wasn't making an appearance. Barry explained that his new tandem (or possible him) was a bit of a fair weather tart and didn't want to come out in the winter incase it got it's shiny new paint a bit dirty. He promised that it would make an appearance on the first nice spring day we have. I am begining to suspect they havent got a new tandem at all but time will tell.
Barry and Helen on their old tandem
Barry has always been very sniffy about reviewing cake and deliberately chooses to have a sausage roll on all of our cafe cycle rides so that he doesn't have to get involved in any of 'the cake rating nonsense'. In 2017 I was confident I had got around this issue and proudly told Barry that this year was the year of the sausage roll so he could be fully involved in finding the best one (see thing of the year). I was expecting Barry to be pleased and enthusiastic about this year's competition but I should have known better. He just said there was no point in doing the competition as he had already found the best sausage roll ever which was at a service station on the M5 in Gloucestershire. So that was that, the search for sausage roll of the year 2017 was over before it had really begun. Then I remembered that the rules state that you have to be able to cycle to the cafe to get the sausage roll and you can't cycle on a motorway. The search for sausage roll of the year 2017 was back on again.

Today's cafe came right at the end of our ride but the miles flew by as we continued to debate sausage roll rating criteria and in no time we were at the Eaton Park cafe in Eaton Park in Norwich.
Outside the Eaton Park cafe
The cafe is situated in the old victorian pavilion by the bandstand. I was worried it wouldn't be open at this time of year so was surprised that not only was it open seven days a week all year round but was also very busy today. The whole setup was very welcoming so I awarded a high atmosphere and ambiance mark.

There is also an outdoor seating area overlooking the tennis courts but we decided it was a bit cold to sit there today especially as there was no tennis action to enjoy.
Outdoor seating area overlooks the tennis courts
I checked out the cake selection but the only things on display were  scones and pastries. You had to rely on the cake selection blackboard to pick one of three cakes on offer,. This obviously impacted the effective cake selection (ECS) score.
Scones, pastries and cake selection blackboard
Much to mine and Barry's disappointment there were no sausage rolls on the menu so I went for chocolate and almond cake. Chris opted for orange and almond cake while Barry and Helen and their tandem just had coffee to avoid getting involved in any of 'the cake rating nonsense'.

Our drinks soon arrived in a nice selection of mugs and cups. For once Barry actually liked his cappuccino but Chris and Helen thought their Mocha's were not hot enough for really high marks. My hot chocolate was nice but didn't perform well on the hot part of the drink either.
Nice selection of drinks but could have been a bit hotter
I thought both our almond base cakes were excellent with the orange one being particularly good and I awarded a high cake taste quality (CTQ) rating.
Almond based cakes
Despite the lack of sausage rolls the Eaton Park cafe was a good relaxing stop and I recommend a visit especially for tennis fans.

Hopefully next time Barry and Helen join me as cycling guests they will be provide a new tandem and I'll provide the sausage rolls then we will all be happy. 

Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating

Click here to dowload 25 mile Norwich Poringland loop GPX file for your GPS

Monday, 9 January 2017

Thing of the year 2017.

Thing of the year 2017

Regular readers may have noticed that I like to have a thing of the year to test out on my cafe cycle rides. In 2015 it was cheese scones and 2016 was Flapjack. When I have done 9 years of thing of the year I will be cycling back round again. It's a bit like chinese animal years only more cake and snack based. But what is 2017 the year of?

Last week I announced on my twitter feed and Facebook page what it would be and was shocked by the media storm it created. It caused a schism to open across the whole cafe cycle community when I revealed it would be the sausage roll and a lot of people are still not happy. 
First Sausage roll to enter the competition
To explain more I have created a useful Q and A which hopefully explains everything and clarifies how the competition works

Q. Surely a sausage roll isn't cake so why has it been selected?
A. Although sausage rolls will never be part of any self respecting cafe cake quality rating system I have noticed that many of my cycling guests prefer them to cake so as an equal opportunity blog I felt I needed to recognise this as part of my diversity programme. Although I will still insist on having a cake, scone or slice at every cafe review.   

Q. Do vegetarian sausage rolls count?
A. Although several of my cycling guest are vegetarian and the Cake Crusader is an equal opportunity blog, with a diversity programme, there is a limit. So no.

Q. How does a sausage roll qualify for the competition? Can it only be from a cafe you are reviewing that day?
A. No. Any sausage roll bought from a cafe or tearoom will qualify but I must have cycled to pick it up although I don't have to stop for a cake or hot drink. I plan to do some rides to several cafes to pick up highly recommended sausage rolls. I will be testing some live at the cafe and some back at Crusader Towers.

Q. What is the scoring criteria for a sausage roll?
A. I shall be using the internationally recognised sausage roll rating system which rates meat, pastry, roll aesthetics and overall taste. The first 3 categories are out of 10 with taste being out of 20 to give an overall mark out of 50. If my cycling guests have a roll too then we will average the score between us.

Q. Do all sausage rolls need to be eaten warm?
A. No although I will always go for warmed if offered and may warm them up if I take them home for testing it is not compulsory.

Q. Are accompaniments such as pickle, chutney or mustard taken into account in the scoring.

Q. How will the winning sausage roll be decided?

A. Over the year the sausage roll's score will be added to my Sausage Roll of the Year League table. Then in December 2017 I will revisit the cafes (by bike of course) that provided the best 10 sausage rolls and purchase some more. I will then hold two semi finals before the final sausage roll off to decide the winner.

Q. Is it the maker of the sausage roll or the cafe that sold it that will win the prize?
A. I am only interested in cafes so if you want to start awarding manufacturers prizes I suggest you start your own butchers based blog.

Q. What is the prize?
A. The winner will receive one of my coveted home made cake crusaders winner certificates which they can put on display (or in the bin) forever. 

I have already had my first sausage roll (see Back to business) and have had several recommendations which I need to follow up on but if you know of a cafe or tearoom that has a particularly good sausage roll then please let me know via Facebook, twitter or the email link at the bottom of the blog.

2016 was utterly flapjastic so lets hope 2017 is equally sausage rollicious.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Back to business. (Natural Surroundings, Glandford)

Natural Surroundings,
Opening times Tues-Sun 10:00-16:00,
It had been a long time since I had been able to get back to business and review a new venue on a cafe cycle ride. I had been thwarted by a lack of cycling guests, poor weather and the limitations of cafe Christmas opening times. Fortunately, all these things were in alignment today so I just needed to decide where to go.

A friend Jeremy (Eco Warrior) had suggested I go to Natural Surroundings in Glandford near Holt which had a cafe at the entrance to the wildlife gardens based there. I believe this is the sort of place Eco Warriors like to hang out at so was interested to see what it was like. 

To make the ride more doable on a winters day, I had arranged to meet up at Hard to Please House in Aylsham with today's Cycling guest, Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) as it was a lot nearer to Glandford than my house.

As we set off on the route it was clear that Andrew was in one of his most hard to please moods as he claimed he had been to Natural Surroundings 20 years ago and didn't remember the cafe serving good coffee.

It was only a 16 mile ride out to the cafe but it took sometime as we were cycling into a strong wind. This made any conversations hard to hear which had Andrew in an even crosser mood as he had to repeat many of his rants to make sure I had heard them properly.

When we arrived at Natural Surroundings Andrew took one look at the cafe and had to admit the reason he didn't remember the cafe serving good coffee on his last visit was because, in hindsight, he didn't remember there being a cafe there so had never actually had a drink in it.
Outside the Natural Surroundings Cafe which wasn't here
 last time Andrew thought he had a coffee there
The cafe is surrounded by woodland and its wooden construction slots nicely into the natural surroundings (see what I did there). There is a one bench outdoor seating area but we opted to go inside where sadly we didn't spot any Eco Warriors unless they were disguised as members of the public.
Outdoor seating areas with birdfeeders fully stocked
I went to check out the cakes at the counter, there seemed to be a bias towards scones, flapjack and slices but there was still a couple of good looking sponge cakes so I awarded a reasonable effective cake selection (ECS) score.
Cake selection with sausage rolls at the front
Normally the presence of a sausage roll would pass me by but since announcing that this year I would be searching for sausage roll of the year 2017 I was excited to be testing the first contestant.

I have to admit that I have opened up a schism in the cafe cycle ride with the controversial choice of sausage roll as thing of the year. Admittedly sausage roll is clearly not cake and will continue to play no part in cycle cafe rating but be a completely stand alone contest. More details on the rules and scoring system will be published shortly.

Along with my sausage roll I had Victoria sponge cake to go with my Hot Chocolate while Andrew had a cappuccino and millionaire shortbread. 

We opted to sit in the wood burner area and as we looked out the window to watch the local birds nibbling on a series of bird feeders we both agreed it was both cosy and relaxing so deserved a high atmosphere and ambiance score.
Cosy seating area 
Despite this when the drinks and cakes arrived Andrew was still in a full scale notoriously hard to please mood. First he was unhappy that the cappuccino had come in a mug claiming that if the Italians had intended it to be served in a mug it would be called a Muguccino and he didn't like his millionaire shortbread either. I felt the mugs were appropriate especially as I have never seen an Eco Warrior use a cup. I thought my hot chocolate and Victoria sponge were both good although today it was really the sausage roll I was most interested in.
Drinks and cakes
As the first sausage roll in the competition I thought it set a good standard with the sausage filling being a particularly good one so I updated my newly prepared sausage roll spreadsheet with the ratings and the search for Sausage roll of the year 2017 was underway
First entry in Sausage Roll of the year 2017 
Natural Surroundings cafe has a fabulous setting and worth a visit especially if you like wildlife gardens, sausage rolls or are in Eco Warrior.

The way back was a lot quicker as the wind had now become our friend but sadly I could now hear Andrews ranting more clearly so got a sore neck with all the feigned nodding in agreement I had to do.

Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating

Click here to download 37 mile Alysham Wiveton loop gpx file for your GPS

Friday, 16 December 2016

Royal appointment. (The Rendezvous, Hunstanton)

The Rendezvous Cafe,
With the excitement of Flapjack of the year 2016 starting to die down then it was back to traditional cafe cycle riding today. One of the areas with least coverage on my location map is North West Norfolk as it is a long way to cycle to in one go but it needed to be visited. Therefore I hatched a cunning plan where I would drive halfway before finishing the rest of the journey on bike. Today's cycling guest, Big George, is a fan of cycling somewhere new so was easily convinced to join me.

So, this morning I got up early and once Big George had arrived we set off for Fakenham where we parked the car and set off on a 50 mile round trip during which we would be reviewing a yet to be decided cafe in Hunstanton.

It was good cycling conditions for the time of year with no rain, a reasonable temperature and little wind. The only downside was the amount of mist and fog making it difficult to appreciate the lovely views that were probably there.
Dull and misty but excellent cycling conditions
On the way up we went through the Burnhams and right through the village where local hero Lord Nelson was born. We even went past the pub he had clearly been named after and probably drank at as a boy. 

Village sign showing Lord Nelson was born here
Progress continued to be good and we got into Hunstanton right on schedule. The fog and mist meant you couldn't see the sea properly which was a shame after coming all this way. Instead we headed to Hunstanton high street to find a cafe.

The first one we came across was The Rendezvous so we parked the bikes and went inside.
Outside the Rendezvous which was the first cafe we found
Normally I try and check the cake selection before going into an un-researched stop but I couldn't see properly through the window due to the Father Christmas stickers so decided to risk it. This turned out to be a mistake as there was only carrot cake, chocolate cake or fruit scone to chose from so I had to award a low effective cake selection (ECS) score.
Rather small Cake selection to chose from
As we had come to Hunstanton out of season we were the only people in the cafe so had to talk in a whisper as we did the ratings. I went for carrot cake with my hot chocolate while Big George opted for a filter coffee and fried breakfast. I have explained to Big George many times that a fried breakfast is not cake. He claimed he had got confused when ordering and meant to ask for a scone, it's almost as if he does it on purpose to avoid joining in with any of my exciting cake based reviewing activity. 
Big George got confused again and forgot a fried breakfast isn't cake
Drinks and cakes were standard fare with Big George's coffee being the best received and he did enjoy his fried breakfast. The Rendezvous was nice enough but I don't think I have found a top rated cafe for this corner of Norfolk yet.
My carrot cake.
On the return we would be going past Sandringham where the Queen will be for Christmas. Since the misunderstanding when the Queen missed me cycle past on the epic ride to St Andrews earlier this year (see Great ride North day 1) she has been very apologetic and promised we could meet up next time I was in the area. I had texted ahead to let her know I was coming and everything was in place when a text message from Liz flashed up on my phone. Apparently Phil had been helping make this year's Christmas pud down in the royal kitchens and more of the brandy had ended up in him than the mixing bowl. She said that she was having to now pop round to Asda to buy another bottle so would have to postpone our catch up again.

It was disappointing news but hopefully it will be third time lucky when I next cycle up this way. The rest of the ride was very pleasant as we cycled down a lot of lovely country lanes only disturbed when we were overtaken by a series of Range Rovers which are clearly the only type of car allowed in the area.

Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating

Click here to downlaod 54 mile Fakenham Hunstanton Loop gpx file for your GPS

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Flapjack of the year 2016 winner.

Flapjack of the year winner
After the excitement of the semi finals then we were all hoping for a cracking flapjack off final today and it didn't disappoint.

Proceedings kicked off with the opening ceremony as all the finalists lined up ready for the national anthems. They were then presented to my team of 5 flapjack experts who would soon be eating them.
Flapjacks lining up at the opening ceremony
The four finalists were from Pandora's Kitchen of Norwich (Maple and Walnut), Bridgestones of Potter Heigham (Nutty), Funky Mackerel of Sheringham (Banana) and Art Cafe of Glandford (Apricot).

The flapjack was divided up between the judges who tasted each before entering a round of heated debate to decide the winner. In the end it was an almost unanimous decision that the Funky Mackerel Banana flapjack was the best of a very high quality bunch. As an added bonus it was also the biggest so plenty to enjoy.
Winning flapjack, photo taken before it was eaten
So many congratulations to them and also a well done to all the finalists as it was a close fought affair. If you are in Sheringham I recommend you go and check out their flapjack.
Funky Mackerel cafe winner of flapjack of the year 2016
Look out for news of what next years thing of the year will be as I think it will cause a real stir in the cycle cafe world.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Flapjack of the year 2016 second semi final

Flapjack of the year 2nd Semi Final
Todays second semi final for flapjack of the year 2016 was concentrated in North Norfolk and featured some real power houses in the world of cycle cafes and flapjack. I was joined today by Chris (Mrs Crusader) who would be keeping an eye on proceedings and making sure there was no foul play.

Due to the short length of the days at this time of year we set off in the car to Alysham ready for a 40 mile loop to collect our 4 pieces of flapjack for todays semi final. It would occur back at Crusader Towers later in the day when my panel of flapjack experts would again be joining me for tasting.

We parked in Alysham car park and headed the short distance to our first stop which was Biddy's that had delivered an excellent apricot and white chocolate earlier in the year. However disaster struck as they said they didn't have any flapjack today.
What no flap jack, at Biddys today
After a similar flapjack noshow incident yesterday then today I had a back up plan and had introduced a reserve flapjack cafe that could step in at short notice. This would be Itteringham community cafe whose flapjack had only just missed out on the semi final stage. Fortunately it came up trumps with some festive mince meat flapjack.
Itteringham community cafe came off the bench to provide some flapjack for the semi final
The flapjack experts liked the very different taste that this flapjack had to all the others in the competition but would it be good enough to make it through to the final.
Itteringham cafe mince meat flapjack
It was now another 15 miles or so cycle up to the coast. The weather was dull and chilly but fortunately we only had light winds so made it to Sheringham about an hour later. No flapjack competition worth it's salt could possibly not include the Funky Mackerel cafe on the sea front in the final line up. It is renowned for its flapjack and normally has 5 or 6 different flavours on offer. I went for Banana flavour.
Flapjack successfully collected at the seaside
The Funky Mackerel banana flapjack was by far the biggest and impressed the judges with its texture and taste too.
Funky Macerals enormous banana flapjack
Next it was along the coast road to Wiveton Hall for their chocolate flapjack. The road has some fantastic views over the marshes to the sea and we were joined by a number of migrating geese who were flying home for Christmas. When we got to Wiveton hall I discovered it was not only the geese who disappeared over the winter as the staff at Wiveton hall had also migrated and there was a notice saying the cafe is now shut until March! I didn't have a second reserve cafe so there would again be only 3 pieces of flapjack in the second semi.
Empty slot where the Wiveton Hall chocolate flapjack should have been
The final stop was a mile or so further down the road at the Art cafe for some of their apricot flapjack.
Ready to collect the last flapjack of the day
The flapjack experts particularly like the fact that this flapjack wasn't too sweet which is often an issue with this type of tray bake.
Art cafes tasty apricot flapjack
As we set off again for the return journey then the skies darkened and heavens opened as we got a proper soaking. I wasn't worried about myself or Chris but didn't want any soggy flapjack. I therefore took a moment to place each square into a waterproof sandwich bag before completing the route back to the car.

Mrs Crusader confirmed collection had been in line with flapjack off rules and (sadly) there had been no attempt to bribe or influence me in anyway.

Back at Crusader Towers I joined the rest of the panel of experts for the flapjack off where there was a lot of debate and soul searching before it was decided that the Art Cafe and Funky Mackerel would go through to the final.

The final flapjack off will take place over the next few days before the winner is announced at the weekend. So watch this space.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Flapjack of the year 2016 first semi final

Flapjack of the year 1st Semi Final

After a year of research and having consumed many squares of flapjack then today it was finally time for the first semi final in the hunt for flapjack of the year 2016.

Four cafes had made it through qualifying for todays flapjack off. The best two would then go through to the final later this week. It would be a 50 mile round trip to purchase the flapjack before returning to Crusader Towers where a panel of flapjack experts would decide who would progress in the competition. 

I set off just after rush hour with a short leg to Pandora's Kitchen in Norwich. They were the only cafe who had also made the finals of cheese scone of the year 2015 showing fantastic consistency. They were hoping to make it all the way to the final this time round after falling at the semi final stage last year. 
Collect flapjack from Pandora's Kitchen
On arrival I was informed that the flapjack was just out the oven so I knew it was fresh. It was walnut and maple flavour and my panel of experts all thought it had a good crumb and clean flavours.
Pandoras Kitchens Walnut and Maple flapjack
From here It was along ride out to the coast to Smallsticks cafe which overlooks Happisburgh lighthouse. It is the cafe I have been to most times this year so it must be good as it's a 50 mile round trip.
You can see Happisburgh lighthouse from the smallsticks outdoor seating area
Their flapjack was cherry and coconut which was the marmite of today's flapjack as some of the panel of flapjack experts don't like coconut. Those who did found it a nice piece as it wasn't too sweet.
Smallsticks cherry and coconut flapjack
It was then back into Broadland and Potter Heigham to Bridgestones. When their flapjack was first shortlisted it was called Potters tearoom but it is now under new management so I wasn't sure if this would impact the flapjack. On arrival I was glad to see some good looking traybake was there.
Potters tea room is now called Bridge stones but still has excellent flapjack
My panel of experts enjoyed the nuttiness of the flapjack with plenty of ingredients on show.
Bridgestones Nutty flapjack 
The final stop of the day was at Salhouse Garden centre cafe. They were the last cafe I had gone to in the preliminary rounds so had snuck into the semis at the last minute. Unfortunately when I got there they had sold out of flapjack. The closest they had was coconut and raspberry slice or white chocolate tiffin so I bought some of those instead.
Outside Salhouse garden centre about to go and buy some flapjack from the cafe,
 but they didnt have any.
Sadly as neither coconut and raspberry slice or white chocolate tiffin is flapjack I had to immediately disqualify them from the competition.
White chocolate tiffin and coconut and raspberry slice from Salhouse garden centre cafe,
which are not flapjack
With the flapjack for the 1st semi final all safely on board it was back to Crusader Towers for the flapjack off. Any flapjack that had made it this far was obviously going to be good so it was a tough decision but in the end Pandoras and Bridgestones won out and will progress to meet the winners of tomorrow's second semi final in the great flapjack off final later in the week.