Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

Friday, 23 September 2016

Bad back. (Farmhouse Kitchen, Wortwell)

Farmers Kitchen (at the Dove),
Opening times Tue-Sat from 08:30-16:30,
Sun 10:00-12:30

I hadn't seen Big George since just before he was due to come with me on my search for the best mountain top cafe in Italy. I had just finished showing him the profiles of the rides I had planned for the trip when he went down with a mystery bad back injury and had to cry off (see Monte Grappa cycling adventure). 

Miraculously the bad back seemed to clear up the day I arrived safely in Italy and he was now back on his bike and ready to ride again. We therefore had much to catch up on as I was keen for him to know about the 'fun' he had missed out on by not cycling up steep mountains. He claimed to have read the posts from my trip but despite his protests I felt obliged to go through a day by day account. In a futile attempt to distract me Big George manufactured a puncture but it didn't work.
Big George attempting to change the subject with a puncture
As Big George reluctantly listened to my stories his only interaction was to ask how much further it was to the cafe, which came two thirds into the ride. I ignored him and pressed on with my stories regardless.

After a couple of hours I had got to the end of my tales, just as we arrived at the Farmhouse Kitchen Cafe (at  the Dove) near Wortwell, which is also a farm shop.
Outside the Farmhouse kitchen cafe
It is a recently converted pub so we were able to push our bikes round the back to the old beer garden area, which is now a nice outdoor seating terrace area, where we could safely leave our bikes.
Outdoor seating terrace area
I went through a large indoor seating area to check out the cake selection. It was rather disappointing as there was only a carrot cake and brownies. I asked the friendly staff if there were any other cakes and as luck would have it I was informed there was now an interesting sounding rhubarb and custard cake available. Despite this exciting news I could only award a low effective cake selection (ECS) score.

We went back to our seats in the outdoor seating area where our order was taken by the excellent waitress service, we both opted for some of the rhubarb and custard cake plus hot chocolate for me and a filter coffee for Big George.
Hot drinks
My hot chocolate was pretty good although could have been slightly hotter. Big George thought his coffee very good indeed so gave a high Guest Hot Drink Quality (GHDQ) mark.

Everything was going well until the rhubarb and custard cake turned up. To my horror it was served on it's serviette. I have noticed how many new establishments seem to think this is a good idea but it isn't as it renders the napkin useless for crumb wiping purposes. However to make matters worse the cake came with an extra serviette, presumably as they realised the first one would be ruined, meaning the one on the plate now served no purpose whatsoever and was a criminal waste of serviettes. Remember #keepcakeoffserviettes,
Cake served on its napkin. ARGHHHHHH!!
Once I had calmed down from the cake and serviette situation (and puffed on my TUE inhaler) the cake was actually rather good, making a nice change from the normal big five sponges, and scored well for cake taste quality (CTQ). As an aside the cheese on toast I had for my lunch and eggy bread Big George had were excellent too.

The Farmers Kitchen cafe proved to be an excellent cycle stop as not only was there somewhere to put your bike safely but the food and drink were of a high quality too. They even brought us some free perfectly drinkable tap water in a nice bottle.
Perfectly drinkable tap water
Hopefully the cake selection will get expanded (and be severed separately from its serviette) but even if it isn't I still recommend a visit.

As it was the first ride Big George had had for a while it was no surprise to see him fading on the way home although apparently his back was starting to go again.

Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
Route to be published shortly

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Catch up. (No. 33 Cafe Bar, Norwich)

No 33 Café Bar,
Opening times Mon-Fri from 08:00-17:00,
Sat 09:00-17:00, Sun 10:30-16:30
Highly Recommended 
It had been a while since I had been on a cafe visit with Mr X or added to my collection of cafes numbered one to a hundred. But today this was about to change as, with the aid of encrypted messages, I had arranged to meet Mr X at No 33 cafe bar in Norwich. It would be the seventh numbered cafe in my collection.

You may recall that Mr X should really be at work creating share holder value rather than out rating cake so his identity must be kept a secret at all times to 
a. stop the possibility of a run on a large insurance companies share price
b. stop getting Mr X into trouble.

With everything in place and the sun in the sky I set out on my 'about town bike' for the short ride to No 33. Mr X was waiting outside, in disguise, but once he had revealed himself to me we went in.
Waiting outside No 33 Cafe bar for Mr X to reveal himself
I had been warned that No 33 can be busy so I was please that we were able to secure a seat in the downstairs section, there is an upstairs area too but sadly no outdoor seating However the place had a nice vibe so we awarded a high atmosphere and ambience (AAA) score.

The cake selection was very impressive with a large number of big cakes and interesting looking slices. It was going to be hard to choose which one to have so I awarded a very high effective cake selection (ECS) rating.
Impressive cake selection
It is a waitress service scenario here but when she arrived to take our order I still hadn't made my mind up as to which cake to have. In these situations I always ask the waitress to list the options and go for what ever the third one she says is (but only after she has listed them all) which I did and it was the Chocolate Orange one. Being a part of the world of big business Mr X was for more decisive with his Coffee and Walnut selection. He also decided to have a cup of fancy tea.
Cakes and drinks arrive
while Mr X shows the how to lift the cup correctly not using his little finger
My hot chocolate was very nice, with a good chocolate taste but needed to be a bit hotter for really top marks.

I explained to Mr X that as he had opted for tea I would be capping his Guest Hot Drink quality (GHDQ) score to 7 as that is the most a cup of tea could get as after all it is just a cup of tea. He looked at me as if I was mad. I put up my hands in a defensive manor   'I don't make the rules' I said before remembering that actually I did but I stuck with it before he eventually gave his tea a 6.

We both thought our cakes tasted every bit as good as they looked with good moistness and texture so awarded high cake taste quality marks (CTQ)

Despite Mr X's GHDQ score No 33 had a very high overall rating and goes into my current cafe top 10 and I highly recommend a visit. 

On the way out I purchased some Flapjack as part of my hunt for flapjack of the year and not surprisingly it was jolly nice too. I hope to update on progress on this in the next couple of weeks.

By opting for fancy tea I was worried that Mr X had not really allowed No 33 a fair crack of the whip on the GHDQ stakes. Fortunately I knew that later that evening Mrs Crusaders book club were meeting round at Crusader towers and that several of them had had coffee at No 33 in the past.

When I got home I asked if an agenda item, presumably under AOB, could be added to that nights meeting in order that I could enquire of the group their views on the coffee at No. 33. I was somewhat taken a back to find that the book club operates without an agenda or indeed any form of documented governance. Apparently it is free format nattering and I could pop in anytime with my question. Which, after waiting for a very long time for a suitable gap in the conversations (none of which was book related), I did and was told the coffee at No 33 was excellent. So, although the rules don't allow for the GHDQ mark to be changed retrospectively, I feel it is important for you to know this when making your next cafe cycle venue choice (CCVC).

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

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Norwich to St Andrews cycle ride update.

Norwich to St Andrews
Ride latest news

It is now just over a month until myself and Chris (Mrs Crusader) set off on our sponsored ride along national cycle route1 from Norwich to St Andrews. 

You may recall this trip came about as a result of Chris being lady captain at the local golf club this year. Apart from giving her the opportunity to play even more golf, then being lady captain also gives her the opportunity to raise money for her favourite charity. Obviously her favourite charity is bicycle related being world bicycle relief (WBR). The money raised provides specially designed, locally assembled bikes to students and healthcare workers in rural Africa; connecting them with education, healthcare and economic opportunities. Click here for video about WBR

Pretending I was keen to offer support I said I would help in the fund raising by organising a sponsored bike ride for her but I obviously had an additional motive. She eagerly accepted my offer so she could concentrate on golf related activities and therefore walked straight into my trap. As well as raising money for a great cause it would be an excellent opportunity for some cafe cycle reviewing activity as well. I have never reviewed any cafe, or tearoom, above the Wash and I'm not sure what the cafe culture is like up North. I therefore came up with a plan for us to ride from her Golf Club in Bawburgh to St Andrews golf club in Scotland. After some research I found it was only a 574 mile ride which could mainly be done on national cycle route 1. I was sure that we could knock it off in a week or so and visit a good 10-20 cafes for good measure.

It transpired that her idea of a sponsored cycle (100ish miles over a day) and mine were an order of magnitude out in length but after pointing out the golf theme of the ride she agreed to give it a go. 

Planning is nearly complete with the route sorted (see map below) and accommodation booked. I am now starting to research some good cafes to visit and review (any suggestions welcomed). I have also purchased some rather clever bags so we can hopefully carry everything with out the need of a rack, panniers or a rucksack, apparently mainly on my bike.
My bike with 5 different frame bags
Chris's bike with small bag carrier on the front
Golfing activities is making the amount of training required more difficult for one of us which should at least make the drama of seeing if we actually get there or not more exciting.
Out on training ride in team kit
If anyone would like to sponsor this great cause and encourage Mrs Crusader to spend more time on her bike and less on the golf course then you can do so here. Your help will be really appreciated. 


Saturday, 3 September 2016

Turkey time. (Waveny Gallery Coffee shop. Dickleburgh)

Waveny Gallery Coffee Shop,
Opening times Wed- Sun from 10:00-17:00
I had a double mission for today's cafe cycle ride. First was to try out a cafe near Dickleburgh, and second to take a short division to check out a new venue I thought I had recently spotted in the distance on a previous ride. I was joined by Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) as today's cycling guest.

The route down was a bit windy but also very successful. I was able to give Andrew a pedal stroke by pedal stroke up date on my recent trip to find the best summit cafe in the Dolomite's and he was able to rant on a wide number of things that have annoyed him on the news recently. I can now tune out while Andrew rants so I can't tell you what he was currently upset about.

I was excited to find that the place I thought I had spotted was in fact the Farmers Kitchen at the old Dove pub near Alburgh (neither of which I was aware of before today) and was indeed a cafe. I could see cake as I peered through the window so I made a note to return soon as I have pretty much exhausted cafes to visit in this area. It was then on to Dickleburgh where we found the Waveny Gallery Coffee shop at Blacksmith Nursery and Shorelands wildlife gardens. 
Outside the Entrance to the coffee shop and wildlife gardens
It was the last day of the school holidays so the Wildlife gardens, and thus the cafe had not surprisingly attracted lots of small children.  More of a surprise was the group of turkeys who had also appeared to have decided to visit today and they were hanging out in the outdoor seating area. They were clearly also keen cyclists as they came over to check out our bikes even though they had clearly not cycled here themselves.
Andrew showing the turkeys his bike
We went inside to check out the cakes and their was a reasonable selection of 4 cakes and both types of scone so I awarded a reasonable effective cake selection (ECS) rating. I went for chocolate cake with my hot chocolate and Andrew Bakewell cherry cake with a pot of tea. As it was lunch time we also cheese sandwiched.
Part of the cake selection
We went back outside where the turkeys were now mingling with the school children however once our sandwiches arrived they came back to see us and tried to nick our food. I told them to get their own but they wouldn't take no for an answer. I had to resort to shouting 'only 103 more shopping days to Christmas' at them which seemed to do the trick as they hurried off asking each other if they knew what Christmas was, they will find out soon enough.
The turkeys wanting to join us for lunch
Although I only normal comment on cakes and drinks, the cheese sandwiches must get a special mention as we both agreed they were some of the finest we have enjoyed on our rides. My hot chocolate was good but could have been a bit hotter and Andrews pot of tea was, well a pot of tea so got the standard 7 for guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) when it's tea.
Cakes and drinks
Both our cakes were very good, light and moist so got a high cake taste quality (CTQ) score.

The Waveny Gallery coffee shop was a nice stop with good cakes and drinks. If you like wildlife gardens (unseen by us) and/or turkeys then you will especially like it here and I recommend a visit.

The ride back was going smoothly until Andrew told me, probably in confidence, a terrible confession. He currently couldn't see why he needed more than one bike (he currently only has 3) and had no plans to buy a new one and might even reduce numbers as one of the turkeys had made him an offer for his single speed. This is not the mantra of a cyclist who knows the correct number of bikes you need is one more than you currently have. I suggested he seek professional help before our next ride. As soon as I got home I read the latest bike reviews in cycling weekly. At least one of us is normal I thought.
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
route to be published soon

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Is it really there. (Hamptons at Stanfield)

Opening times Everyday from 10:00-16:00
Highly Recommended 
I had recently heard, from a Mr Marvin Gaye on the cycle cafe grapevine, that one of my favourite venues, Hamptons at the barn in Bawdswell, had possibly opened a second outlet. I searched the Internet for more information but although I could find some mentions of it I couldn't find any details of opening times or exact location etc. Unfortunately Marvin didn't seem to know either so I wasn't convinced that a trip out there would end successfully as I may not be able to find it or if I do it might be shut. All I knew was it was somewhere near Stanfield, a village I have never heard of. 

You may recall I'm currently training Chris (Mrs Crusader) for our sponsored 560 mile (subject to getting lost) cycle ride from Norwich to St Andrews in October for world bicycle relief. (See here for details). So as it was a perfect weather day it looked like an ideal opportunity to go on a 50 training mile loop, via Stanfield, to see if I could find the new Hamptons. 

Recently I foolishly revealed to Chris that I carry some emergency chocolate energy bars on each ride in case anyone bonks while out. So it wasn't a surprise when just a few miles in Chris claimed she was feeling a little low on energy and felt that maybe one of my emergency chocolate bars could help speed her up. I couldn't really say no but suspected someone just fancied some chocolate. I certainly won't be telling her about my secret stash of jelly babies.

Now topped up with energy I noticed exactly no difference to our speed as we continued through the sunny Norfolk country side to Stanfield.
Perfect weather conditions
As we approached this potentially mythical destination I was already planning what an alternative cafe option could be but just as I was starting to worry it turned out that Marvin had been right and there it was on the main road meaning we never did make it into Stanfield village, which may or may not exist.
Outside the new Hamptons near the possibly mythical village of Stanfield
Hamptons was virtually empty today but we were told it was heaving on yesterday's bank holiday. I assumed this was why the cake selection wasn't as vast as at the other Hamptons as the holiday makers had eaten it all, but there was still enough choice to keep it interesting. I therefore awarded a reasonable effective cake selection (ECS) score and opted for a white chocolate and raspberry blonde and Chris chose the lemon and gin cake. (yes gin not ginger as I assumed).
Part of the reasonable but interesting cake selection
We decided to sit in the rear courtyard outdoor seating area which was extremely pleasant, although the inside seating area and front terrace outdoor seating areas both looked very nice too.
Part of the courtyard outdoor seating area
It wasn't long before my hot chocolate and Chris's Mocha arrived and both drinks had an excellent taste but could have been a bit hotter for even higher marks.
Very good tasting drinks
Our cakes were also excellent with the blonde being really exceptional. You couldn't really taste the gin in the gin and lemon cake, which was probably for the best, as we still had another 25 miles to do before we got home.
Top cakes
Our trip to Hamptons new branch at Stanfield proved to be a success and was of the same high quality as the original so I would highly recommend a visit. Thanks for the tip Marvin.

On the way home it got even hotter and, despite refilling her water bottle at the cafe stop, Chris ran out of drink. She asked how much drink I had left so I passed her my bottle which came back almost empty (so none really). I have noted that for our big ride in October I shall have to offer a full refreshment service from my bike if we are to make it all the way.

Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
route to be published soon

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Monte Grappa cycling adventure day 4. (85 miles east of Feltre)

Monte Grappa cycling adventure day 4
After 2 days of climbing I thought it was time for something more gentle and decided to have another crack at the ride I was meant to do on Tuesday before the broken bikes fiasco. On paper it looked a fairly straight forward 75 miles with a couple of lumps but nothing that looked too testing. In my continued search for the best mountain summit cafes I hoped I would find something at the two highest points on the ride.

Having been cycling guestless yesterday I persuaded George (son) and his girlfriend Meg to accompany me to the first summit. Meg had not been expected to cycle out here but I hired her a bike which was delivered to the hotel and only cost €20 for the day. Despite this it turned out to be a very nice one. I estimated the first summit was 20 miles away giving them a 40 mile round trip.
Well it would have been if I hadn't followed the wrong cycle route signs leaving town (they all look the same to me) and found ourselves going in completely the wrong direction adding about 3 or 4 miles to the route.

After we were back on track and had completed just over 20 miles everyone was getting peckish and we still were a long way from my first target summit. I felt it would be best to cut our loses, find somewhere to eat and then I would press on alone as they returned to the hotel. We couldn't find anything but bars that did no food or speak English. Using the gift of international sign some locals suggested there was food available down the big step hill (grande collina ripida).

So we cycled down only to find that there wasn't anywhere there either. This was clearly some sort of local joke and I imagined they were now wetting themselves laughing having sent another group of English cyclists down the grande collina ripida. However I would have the last laugh as I would be going the long way round (about 60 more miles) to avoid cycling back up it. Sadly this option was not available to my cycling guests who had to cycle and walk their bikes up on their return as they continued the search for food.
It was a good job they had not continued with me as it was another 10 miles before I reached the top of the first bump. Up to now all my summit cafes were at over 1000m at the top of mountains but this time I was barely at 500m and on a side street in the village of Tisoi. However I was pleased to see there was still a bar there for me to try.
I knew I was in trouble on the language front when my request for water met with a blank expression. I desperately tried to remember what international sign language for glass of water was. So I made an oscillating motion with one arm, like a wave, and mimed drinking. It seemed to work and I got some water but I knew there would be no point in asking for, or acting out, a hot chocolate. Fortunately food was on display so I pointed to a crossiant and tiny ham roll. 
Just as I sat down outside to eat it the lady pointed to her watch, and locked the door as it was siesta time for her, although not for me as I had another cafe to find. With no great view and just water to drink the cafe scored poorly and won't feature in my book 'the worlds best mountain summit cafes' if I ever write it.

The next part of the ride was a rather dull bit going through the large town of Belluno.
Before I found my self at the bottom of the only proper big up I faced all day. 
It was only 500m of climbing but still took 45 mins to the top of Passo San Baldo where once again I found a summit cafe. 
Although there was no awesome view it was still a very pleasant spot and the waitress spoke excellent English so I went straight for a hot chocolate. Unfortunately on the food front there as no strudel left but they did have tiramisu so I opted for that instead.
The whole package was excellent and I rated AAA as 7.75, tiramisu as 8 and the hot chocolat was an 8.5 so overall score of 8.08 taking it to the 'summit' of my mountain top cafe list.

Straight after leaving I had to wait at some traffic lights at the entrance to a small tunnel. I couldn't understand why we were needed to be there for so long as it took nearly 5 minutes before they changed. It turned it was because the lights weren't  just for 1 tunnel but a network of 9 that zigzagged down the top of the mountain. I couldn't stop to take a photo with out holding up the traffic so here is one I found online.
It was a fabulous experience weaving in and out of tunnels but we did meet a poor cyclist coming up the other way who had to quickly move to the side as the downward traffic zoomed past. It was certainly going to take several light changes from him to cycle up so I suggest you only try doing this climb one way.

The view from this side was rather more spectacular than at the top, probably improved in that I was now zooming down rather struggling up.
The scenery continued to be of the highest order as I know rode for several mountains through vineyards and wineries, so well done Italy.
Just as I thought this had been a near perfect afternoon of riding I turned north for the final 20 miles back and found my self cycling along the edge of a busy trunk road. There was a cycle path, of sorts, which was about 2 foot wide separated from the speeding traffic by a white line. Despite the excellent river views it was no fun cycling with lorries and cars brushing past so I kept going head down as fast as I could.
I was relieved to get back to the hotel in one piece having covered nearly 10 miles more than planned. I was also pleased my cycling guests had got back safely too having followed the correct set of signs for their route.

This was my final ride as part of the Monte Grappa cycling adventure on which I have learnt that the best cafe always comes at the highest point of your ride, which proved the case on all 3 days so must be true.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Monte Grappa cycling Adventure day 3. (83 miles via Passo del Brocon)

Monte Grappa cycling adventure day 3
I always like to go riding with a cycling guest on a cafe cycle ride but for reasons explain in the two previous posts I found myself in Italy without a cycling guest for the day. I have noticed that, despite my excellent hosting, cycling guests tend to whinge a lot, always asking how far it is to the cafe stop or end of ride and then complaining when their speedo says the ride was further than I had promised (admittedly sometimes a lot further). So today I decided I could go crazy and make the ride as long and hard as I like without the danger of any complaints. 

The goal for the week is to find the best mountain summit top cafes to see if any of this type of establishment will become my top rated cafe in Europe. I had therefore planned 4 ascents in today's ride assuming I would find a cafe at the top of each. Yesterday's cafe at the top of Monte Grappa had been a little dissapointing so I was hoping for better today. 

The ride started off on the same route as yesterday until it got to Arsie.
There is nothing us Brits like more than an amusing sounding foreign town name so I was still giggling as I started the first and longest climb of the day leaving Arsie below.
 This would be 1300m up to Cima Campo and my first ride in the Dolomites. It wasn't super steep but a long way and took 1 hour and 45 mins of solid up. The views were awesome and helped to keep my mind off the constant pedalling required.
Eventually I made it and tried to find the requisite summit cafe. All I could see was a large house with a couple of tables outside and a man talking to another cyclist. I thought I would risk it and went over to one of the tables and sat down. 
I now wasn't sure if I was at a summit cafe or I was just sitting in someone's front garden. After a while and with no sign of action I decided it was probably the latter and started to get ready to leave. At this point the man talking to the cyclist came over and asked me what I wanted. I gambled that he meant food and drink, and not why was I sitting in his front garden, and asked for water and a cheese panini. He nodded and  hurried off inside before returning almost instantly with them.
In terms of a rating it wasn't great as there wasn't much of a view and the cheese roll was rather dry and hard to eat after a long climb. I have no idea what the cafe was called or if he was just the owner being nice to a cyclist although he did charge me 4 euros. In my records it scored 6 and I have just called it big house cafe.

It was now down hill for several miles giving me time to recover and enjoy yet more views. 
Sadly this rest bite was too short and I soon found myself on the second big climb up to Passo del Brocon, which turned out to be a ski resort. On the way up this 1 hour 20min climb I have to confess stopping for a quick rest as I pretended to admire the view.
Once at the top I found 2 cafes. One full of bikers, I wasn't going there, and one empty one in the shade called Alberco Passo Brocon. 
Inside they even had a cake selection, so I had some strudel. I then braved asking for hot chocolate and they actually had it. I gave the Strudel 7.5, hot chocolate 8 and thanks to the stunning view the atmosphere and ambiance 8.5 for a total score of 8 putting into my current European cafe top 5.
The way down had the best views yet and if I had stopped to photograph them all I would still be there now. 
This ended when I hit the smallest climb of the day which took just 20 minutes and once at the top there was nothing there so I continued for several more miles, much along the river until I reached the final climb up to Croce d'Aune.
It didn't look much on the map but had a real sting as the second part was the steepest of the day and took another hour making 4.5 hours of climbing in total (which is quite a lot). I was pleased that I was on my own as any potential cycling guest would have mutinied by now.
Here I found my final summit cafe of the day, Albergo Croc d'Aune, again I was excited that they did hot chocolate but the only cake type item was a jam croissant. 
The Hot chocolate was top notch, really thick, and score 8.5 with the croissant coming in at 6 and the AAA 8 for a respectable 7.5 total.
It was now just a short 10 mile downhill stretch back to Feltre, which I could see stretched out below, and I was very happy to get back for a shower and a nice sit down.
Today proved to be an epic, 83 mile, 4 climb, 10 hour ride with two excellent summit cafe stop finds. However I'm not sure my legs can face a third day of climbing so I have a different plan for the final ride tomorrow, which will include the return of some cycling guests.