Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

I

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

A bit of culture. (Modern Life Cafe, Norwich)

Modern Life Cafe,
Norwich,
Open Mon-Fri 9:00-17:00, Sat-Sun 10:00-17:00
It has now been 5 weeks since the surgeon had me under the knife but my rehab has been going well and I have been able to do plenty of walking but no cycling yet. As I was getting fed up of buses and their extortionate fares I decided to try a cafe walking review today. As I can now do about a 4 mile round trip I got out my map and plotted a circle of 2 mile radius centred on my house to define the target cafe walking zone (TCWZ). Within the TCWZ there was only actually one candidate so today I set off, with today's guest Chris (wife), for the Modern Life Cafe at the Sainsbury Centre of Visual arts.

The 2 mile walk is very pleasant as it goes along the river and then past the UEA broad which is a favourite spot for joggers and dog walkers. However there are also many dangers along the route so it should only be tackled with great care and courage. The first challenge is the infamous bridge of pain. This innocuous looking bridge is an accident black spot. I know this from my own experience as when out jogging on one frosty morning I slipped on the corner and smashed into the bridge breaking my collar bone, ending up in hospital. Make sure you treat this bridge with respect as there are surprisingly no warning signs highlighting the danger. 
Standing on Bridge of pain by the rail that I slipped and bashed into
when breaking my collar bone a few years ago
Other dangers I have previously encountered on this route include, slipping on the 'river of mud' causing me to land face fast in a big puddle, being hounded (pardon the pun) by dogs off their leads using me as their plaything and worse of all being viciously flapped at by one of the evil swans, who stalk the river bank, causing me to turn round and run away screaming like a little girl. 
One of the evil vicious swans that stalk the river
but fortunately stayed in the river today
Although all these hazards were present today we managed to avoid being caught by any of them and got to the Sainsbury Centre of Visual arts in one piece.
Sainsbury Centre of Visual Arts which is also secret 2015 HQ for the Avengers
For those of you who are not culture vultures then you maybe surprised to know that the Sainsbury Centre of Visual Art is neither a supermarket nor aircraft hanger but a public art museum originally built to house Lord and Lady Sainsbury's art collection as it had got too big for their front room. It is also due to appear in the 2015 Avengers film as their new HQ.
Outside Sainsbury Centre of Visual Art
which is where the Modern Life Cafe can be found
On arrival we made our way through the art collection straight to the Modern Life Cafe situated at the far end of the hanger just past the tinned vegetables and soups. At the counter we checked out the cakes. There was a small selection but enough choice. Chris choose the scone and I went for the chocolate loaf. I was offered either chocolate loaf with or without stuff on it. I went for with stuff. 
Cake selection which was small so did not get a high ECS score
My drink was hot chocolate and Chris went for a skinny Mocha.
Drinks and cakes ready for rating
Unfortunately my hot chocolate was one where all the focus had been put on the hot bit meaning the drink tasted burnt milky and not hot chocolaty. Chris likes it hot but as her drink cooled down so did her rating of it. Both the chocolate loaf with stuff on it and the scone were nice enough if not exceptional.

The best part about the Modern Life Cafe is the huge light space and enormous window giving it a nice relaxed atmosphere. 
Inside the Modern Life Cafe 
We made our way back through the exhibits but as neither of us really understand art we didn't spend much/any time looking at the work on display. However I did notice that  a chap called Henry Moore never did seem to master heads on any of his sculptures, which was a shame as he was clearly quite good.
Henry Moore Sculpture at UEA
We carefully walked back round the broad and along the river avoiding all the dangers. If things go well I maybe able to do a short bike ride for the next cafe visit and cafe cycle reviewing will be back on!

Ratings for Modern Life Cafe
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
4
6
4.5
6
7
5.50

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Off the list at last (Pandora's Kitchen, Norwich)

Pandora’s Kitchen,
Norwich,
Opening times Mon-Fri 08:00-17:00, Sat 09:00-17:00
Highly Recommended
Once every few months I get invited to meet up with old work colleagues for lunch. As I no longer have any big business chat to offer up then, much to their 'delight', I like to bring them up to date with the latest cycle (or currently bus) cafe reviewing. In a futile attempt to move the conversation on, Vince always tells me I must go to Pandora's Kitchen on London Street in Norwich which is the only cafe I think he has ever been to. As a result it has been top of my 'cafes or tearooms I need to visit' to do list for a long time. With my current bus transport limitations today seemed like the opportunity to eventually go there and also it will give me a good way of keeping the conversation on to cycle (or currently bus) cafe reviewing next time we meet up.

So on a nice sunny day, myself and Chris (wife), my regular bus based cafe review guest, set off to the bus stop. Apparently it is 14% cheaper to buy return bus tickets so that is what I did.
Buying two return tickets which is 14% cheaper than buying single tickets.
A top tip for any bus traveller under retirement age.
Once again it was a short uneventful trip on the number 11 bus. Once we arrived at our bus stop we alighted and took a short walk to Pandora's kitchen.
Outside Pandora's Kitchen by the outdoor seating island area.
Pandora's Kitchen is a very popular and busy cafe so I wasted no time studying the cake selection so we could join the queue. It was an interesting mix of cakes with standards like chocolate brownies and scones as well as some unusual cakes including a snickers sponge. Despite there not being a huge choice but because of the variety I still felt able to award a good effective cake selection (ECS) rating.
Cake selection with a good mix of interesting cakes.
As usual I ordered a hot chocolate and Chris a skinny Mocha. I went for a caramel pudding cake and Chris went for the snickers sponge.

Pandora's Kitchen has indoor seating on two floors but the décor was a bit twee for my liking so as it was a nice day we choose to sit in the large outdoor island seating area. Pandora's Kitchen outdoor island seating area is in the middle of the shopping walkway meaning pedestrians have to go round on either side of you. There are also waiters and punters having to cross one carriage way to get to their table. In the short time we were there we saw a number of near misses as people risked going the wrong way round or didn't look both ways before crossing. On a clear bright day like today accidents could easily be avoided but in foggy or icy conditions I can see only carnage with cakes, shopping and pedestrians strewn across the pavement. This is lack of health and safety gone mad!
Outdoor seating island area that could be prone to people bumping
 into each other. Although no one did while we were there
After a while I got used to outdoor seating island area and it was quite nice watching all the comings and goings and near misses but we had business to attend to and needed to get down to reviewing the cakes and drinks.
Cakes and drinks ready to be reviewed
After the disappointment of my last two cafe visits were the hot chocolates had tasted very good but were not at all hot it was good that the Pandora's Kitchen hot chocolate offering was just the right temperature. It could have done with being a little more chocolaty but not bad. Chris decided her skinny mocha was a pretty good one. I thought the caramel pudding cake was excellent and very enjoyable. Chris found her snickers sponge a little too far off the cake piste for her taste and particularly didn't like the peanuts in the chocolate sponge. As I recall a Snickers bar is exceptionally peanuty so having peanuts in the cake is probably what you would expect. In fact you are more likely to complain if your snickers sponge cake had no peanuts in it as then it would just be a chocolate sponge cake. After much discussion with my guest on the matter I ignored her comments and awarded a good cake quality score.

Pandora's Kitchen is a very good cafe and I did like its unusual selection of cakes, however if you go there on my recommendation I can not be held responsible if you are involved in a pedestrian traffic incident but is definitely worth the risk.

We had another uneventful return bus trip and the whole visit was over in an hour. I'm looking forward to when I'm strong enough to get back on my bike again for a proper day out of cycle cafe reviewing.

Ratings for Pandora's Kitchen
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7
7.5
6.5
7.5
6.5
7.00

The fry up inspector has been here too. Click here for his review

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Family Favourite. (Expresso cafe, Norwich)

Expresso,
Norwich,
Opening times Mon-Sat 07:00-17:30,

Sun 09:00-16:00
Highly Recommended
At the bottom of the Norfolk Cafe Cycle Tour blog you will see ratings for all the cafes I have visited. However one eagle eyed blogee, Ali (regular Norfolk cafe cycle tour sportiver) complained that there are some cafes on the list that have not been reviewed in the blog. This is because I started rating cafes before I started blogging so there are currently 12 venues that fall into the no post category. Not realising this Ali had unfortunately spent most of Easter searching the blog for a non existent review of his favourite, Expresso Cafe, which is one of the missing 12 . It is also George's (my son's) favourite cafe as well. So with my current bus only travel limitations it seemed like a great opportunity to right this wrong and make Expresso Cafe today's target.

With today's regular bus based guest Chris (wife) we set of for the bus stop. Fortunately after last weeks bus debacle (not a good Friday) there were plenty of buses about today so we opted for a number 11 to Norwich city centre.
The Number 11 bus we selected for our transport to Expresso Cafe.
After a short journey we alighted the bus and walked to Expresso Cafe. It is situated opposite St Andrews Hall and has an outside seating area trying to create a continental cafe vibe.
At Expresso Cafe by the outside seating area which
creates a continental cafe vibe
As it was a grey and drizzly day we decided to sit inside at the window seats. Expresso Cafe also has a back room seating area that leads to another small garden outdoor seating area. To complete the eclectic feel Expresso Cafe doubles up as an art gallery with a small selection of paintings and photos for sale on the walls. You therefore have plenty of choice for the type of cafe atmosphere you want.

At the counter there was a good selection of cakes so I awarded a good effective cake selection (ECS) rating.
A good cake selection available at Expresso Cafe.
I ordered hot chocolate and peach and blueberry sponge and Chris a skinny Mocha and white chocolate, raspberry and another fruit which she can't remember but knew that she liked sponge. We made our way to the window seat to try our selections.

Cakes and drinks ready to review at the window seats.
My drink was nice but not very hot. Chris thought her skinny mocha was quite good. Both the cakes were nice although a bit too similar. Chris also found the icing on her white chocolate, raspberry and another fruit which she can't remember but knew that she liked sponge was a bit rich. Maybe this was partly because Chris was feeling a bit delicate after eating all her Easter eggs in just two sittings and didn't fancy more rich sweet things.

We planned to sit at our window seat and watch the world go by, unfortunately the world seemed to have had the day off and there was no one outside and nothing going on. We therefore decided to give up on people watching and set off home. 

Expresso Cafe got a good score in each category making it a solid all round cafe, although without a stand-out feature, and well worth a visit as it has entered my current top 10 of reviewed cafes.

On the way home I spotted another 3 cafes I was unaware of so they got added to my cafes or tearooms to be reviewed list. Currently I have 32 cafes on this list and I still have large areas of Norfolk I haven't even started to investigate for cafes or tearooms. When I set off on my mission to find the best cafes and tearooms for cycle rides, I thought there could only be a handful in Norfolk but it now looks like I have many years of Cycle (or temporarily bus) based cafe reviewing to do before my work is done.

Note: After further research I discovered the other fruit in Chris's white chocolate, raspberry and another fruit which she can't remember but knew that she liked sponge was pear.

Ratings for Expresso Cafe based on 2 visits
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
6.75
7.5
8
7.25
7.25
7.35

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Not a good Friday (Britannia Cafe, Norwich)

The Britannia Cafe,
Norwich,
Opening times Mon-Fri 7:30-22:00, Sat 08:00-22:00,
Sun 08:00-20:00
 Recommended
After the success of the bus based cafe review earlier this week (On the buses), I felt ready for a more adventurous trip. I was still obviously not well enough to get back on the bike so it would be a bus trip again. I had heard lots of good things about the Britannia Cafe which is run by Norwich Prison so despite it requiring two buses and a short walk I decided that this would be a good test of my recovery progress, since getting out of intensive care last month, and an opportunity to visit a new cafe. I had arranged to meet Barry and Helen (and their tandem) there and also had Chris (Mrs Crusader) coming along so there were plenty of guest reviewers.

With a chill in the air Chris and I set off for the bus stop. We waited for about 10 minutes without a bus appearing. According to the timetable there should have been at least two buses stopped here by now. It was then I realised that it was Good Friday and twigged that there must only be a Sunday (or non existent) bus service today. After waiting 25 minutes and not a sniff of a bus we gave up waiting and decided to take the bus simulator instead.
A Norwich bus like the one we would have caught
 if there had been any running on Good Friday
The ride in the bus simulator went smoothly with the bonus that we didn't need to pick up any passenger simulations at any simulated bus stop or change bus simulator at the half way point, all of which would have been required on a proper bus. It was also a lot cheaper but despite all these advantages it was not the type of bus based cafe reviewing that I want to do so arrived at the Britannia Cafe with a heavy heart. 
Bus simulator which fortunately runs a full simulated service even on a bank holiday
We did however get to the Britannia Cafe on time and just as Barry and Helen (and their tandem) arrived.
In the outside seating area at the Britannia Cafe
 with Barry And Helen and their Tandem.
There was a spacious outside seating area which provided a lovely view over Mousehold heath and Norwich. Unfortunately it was a bit too cold to sit in the outside seating area so we made our way inside. The Britannia Cafe was extremely busy and despite it being a large cafe there was only one table left.
View of Norwich from the outside seating area
We headed straight for the counter to check on the cake selection and order our drinks. Even though it was 11.35 am Barry and Helen (but not their tandem) wanted a late breakfast. I had heard that they did very good cakes but apart from a few scones on the counter I couldn't see any. The barista serving us informed me that they had been concentrating on breakfasts and were still making the cakes which would be available by mid-day. I decided to have a drink and scone to be going on with, whilst I waited for the cakes to arrive and delay awarding the effective cake selection (ECS) rating.

Barry and Helen asked for more details about the breakfast options and the barista told them all about the King's breakfast, Queens breakfast and breakfast bap in great detail. Barry and Helen thought the breakfast bap sounded best and ordered two. Unfortunately the barista's detailed breakfast options description had missed the bit about stopping serving breakfast at 11.30 so they couldn't have one. For a review of breakfasts at the Britannia Cafe try the fry up inspectors review, he obviously went at the right time of day.

We ordered drinks: my normal hot chocolate, 2 skinny mochas and a cappuccino. I also ordered a Stilton scone so at least I would have a contingency cake to review.
Warm drinks and Stilton scone ready for reviewing
The drinks all had a good flavour but were not very hot which didn't go down well with my guest reviewers. The scone was a bit too dry and I always feel a cheese flavoured scone should be warmed which this one wasn't. We then waited patently for the cakes to appear but after 45 minutes they had still not materialised (obviously also working on a Sunday timetable in the kitchen). By now there was standing room only and a big queue in the Britannia Cafe so we decided to free up our table and leave without proper cake and a low ECS rating.

The barista explained that they had had so much recent publicity and good reviews on trip advisor that they were far busier than they had expected to be and were rushed off their feet. I'm sure on a nice quiet sunny day, when there is some cake available, the Britannia Cafe would be very good but our visit was a bit disappointing. At least my review should not add to people wanting to go there.

We returned home in the bus simulator and Barry and Helen (and their tandem) set off to find some cake which they found at the Olive Tree in Tunstead. I have therefore added the Olive Tree to my list of Cafes to visit.
Cake selection Barry and Helen (and their tandem)
found at the Olive Tree Tunstead
Ratings for Britannia Cafe
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7
6
3
5
7
5.60

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

On the Buses. (Littlehaven Coffee Co, Norwich)

Littlehaven Coffee Co,
Norwich,
Opening times Mon-Fri 08:00-16:00, Sat 9:00-15:00,
Recommended 
After the drama of my unexpected visit to the N and N intensive care unit last month (see sometime you need a plan b) and last weeks trial runs (see Practice makes perfect), today I finally felt ready to return to cafe reviewing albeit on the buses rather than my preferred cycling method.

It seemed like a great opportunity to try the Littlehaven Coffee Co. I have cycled past it many times but as it is only a couple of miles down the road it never figured as a potential stop on a bike ride. However as today was my first bus based cafe review it was perfect as it was just eight stops away. So with the sun shining I set of, with today's guest Mrs Crusader, for the bus stop.
Waiting for a bus at the bus stop.
It wasn't long before a bus turned up and we were on our way. As someone who has always used his bike as the primary form of transport (which is free) I was shocked by the cost of a short bus ride (which is not). Fortunately my guest paid. The quicker I can get back on my bike the cheaper.

We were soon at our stop and alighted (which is bus speak for got off) and headed straight for the Littlehaven Coffee Co. 
Outside the Littlehaven Coffee co.
Sadly for the first time without a bike.
It is tucked away down a side street and as a result has no outside seating area or stunning view but inside it is very nicely laid out and has a warm and friendly feel.

The first thing I noticed was there was a choice of hot chocolates and they were made from real chocolate. Each type was listed with their % cocoa strength. To demonstrate my macho hot chocolate credentials I obviously went for a 82% Madagascar, the strongest one. Mr Owner, (who was extremely friendly and welcoming) advised that I have some flavoured sugar on it (of which there was quite a selection) but I felt that was like having water in your whisky and I wanted it straight. Chris chose a skinny Mocha as her guest drink.
Hot chocolate selection
Next I reviewed the available cakes so as to award the effective cake selection (ECS) rating. In line with most small coffee shops the Littlehaven Coffee Co had a rather small ECS. I choose the raspberry and oat muffin type thing and Chris went for the orange and almond cake.
Cakes and drinks ready for reviewing
The hot chocolate was excellent although I think I should have had the sugar sprinkle as 82% is very strong. Chris also rated her skinny mocha highly. The raspberry and oat muffin type thing was good but a bit too healthy for me where as the orange and almond cake was exceptionally good.

The only thing I was puzzled about was why the Littlehaven Coffee Co was in Norwich and not Littlehaven in Wales. I wondered if the coffee beans were from the Pembrokeshire coffee plantations but they weren't so it remains a mystery.

The quality of drinks and cake at the Littlehaven Coffee Co. was extremely high and it has a lovely friendly atmosphere. If it had a larger ECS and the location was moved to overlook the Pembrokeshire coffee plantations then it would be almost perfect. Even so I would definitely recommend you check it out, especially if you are a hot chocolate lover like me. 

Before today's trip I decided I would introduce a new loyalty card feature as up to now I have always turned them down. So I was excited when Mr Owner thrust The Littlehaven Coffee Co. loyalty card in my hand. It requires only 8 LH coffee bean stamps for a free drink and has a nice artificial wood card design. It takes pride of place of as the first entry in my loyalty card picture album.

Obviously as it is less than two miles away I won't be publishing the route I took. 
Ratings for Littlehaven Coffee Co.
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
8.5
8
4.25
8
7
7.15

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Practice makes perfect

Today I celebrate 3 weeks since I was struck down and ended up with my unexpected emergency stomach op and visit to intensive care. As I'm starting to get my strength back I feel it is time to see how close I am to a potential bus based cafe review. 

There are a number of steps I need to be able to complete to do a bus based café review.
1.   Get to bus stop
2.   Ride on bumpy bus without splitting in two
3.   Get from bus stop to café or tearoom without falling over
4.   Sit in café or tearoom long enough to review it without needing a kip
5.   Repeat steps 3-1.

I can comfortably achieve step 1 so I thought I would first have a crack at steps 3 and 4.

We live fairly near to Waitrose and as a proud owner of a MyWaitrose card I believed I was entitled to a free hot drink at their café. So on Wednesday I set off on the mammoth 10 minute walk, supported by Chris (wife), to Waitrose café.

Although I don't review cafe chains if I had been doing Waitrose cafe it would be at the bottom of my ratings. The hot chocolate, guest drink, cakes etc were all low quality and the cafe was very busy, packed with people after their free drink. A little hypercritical, you may say, as it was the free drink that had partly attracted me to the Waitrose café in the first place. But no! To make matters worse you can have a free coffee or free tea but not a free hot chocolate so I even had to pay for this unpleasant experience. I have therefore decided to continue to boycott Waitrose cafe and will be writing to the chief executive (a Mr J Lewis) to tell him to sort out his free hot drink offering. I suggest you all use Stephanie's coffee house in Eaton instead.

I just about passed the trial run of points 3 and 4 (getting there and back and staying awake long enough to have a drink) but unfortunately the exertion of the trip and anger at being charged for my free hot drink meant I needed a couple of hours lie down afterwards. I was worried that I still wasn't ready for a full bus based cafe review trip.

Therefore on Friday I decided to do a another trial run to Notcutts cafe. This time, to better replicate a bus based trip, Chris (wife) would play the part of bus driver and drive me there in our bus simulator. To add further to the realism I waited by the bus simulator for a few minutes before getting on board, it is a single decker bus simulator so I had to sit downstairs.  
The bus simulator used for practice trip to Notcutts
which I photographed while waiting for the bus simulator driver
Once I had alighted the bus simulator in Notcutts car park we made our way to the cafe. The Notcutts loyalty card includes hot chocolate as a hot free beverage option but you can only have two free drinks per month. This is still infinitely better than the no free hot chocolate available on every visit to the Waitrose cafe. 

Through habit I also ordered a Notcutts cheese scone which I regretted as it was very average. If I was reviewing Notcutts cafe it would be bottom Quartile but far better than the Waitrose offering.

The return bus simulator ride home was very smooth probably as the bus simulator driver had purchased a number of house plants and pots and therefore was driving very carefully.

At the end of this trip I still needed a short lie down but this time quickly recovered. I had enough energy to spend another action packed afternoon sitting in my chair in the garden pointing at weeds that the 'gardener' (who looked very like the bus simulator driver) needed to pull up. 

With my trial run check list complete then next week I should be ready for a real bus based cafe review. I will be getting out the bus timetables to start planning the trip over the weekend.