Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

I

Friday, 26 February 2016

Stranded. (Knead Food cafe at the Blue Egg, Great Bardfield)

Knead Food Café (at the Blue Egg),
Great Bardfield,
Opening times Mon-Fri 09:00-17:00,
Sat 10:00-17:00, Sun 10:00-16:00  
Highly Recommended 
I'm currently writing this post in the waiting room at Ely station. When I set off on the ride, with today's cycling guest Andrew (who, is notoriously hard to please), the waiting room at Ely station was not part of my plans but not only do we find ourselves here but there is every chance that when the next train arrives in 45 minutes time that we will not be allowed on board and we maybe stuck here for sometime or possibly ever. But how did we find ourselves in Ely?

It had been nearly 2 weeks since my last cafe cycle ride as I had been away on a snowboarding trip. Whilst away, and much to the shock of the snowboarding community, I announced my retirement from the sport, as it now seems to mainly consist of lying on your back in the snow.

With one less sport to worry about I can now concentrate even more of my efforts on finding the best cafes for you to cycle to. For the first ride back I had planned another of my 'cycling celebrity recommends' features with a trip to the Blue Egg in Essex which famous cyclists Mark Cavendish and Alex Dowsett both claim to be their favourite place for a cafe stop when they go out on a ride.

It meant an early start for me and Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) but we both got to Norwich station ready to catch the necessary train to Cambridge from where we would begin. As on so many previous occasions we had no problems loading our bikes on to the train letting it take the strain on the way south.

On arrival we alighted (got off) the train and attempted to make our way to the requisite cycle path. After a short while we found the cycle path which runs alongside a very high fence and led to today's cycling guest cycling top tip.

Cycling Guest Cycling Top Tip 44. When aiming to cycle along a cycle path that runs along side a very high fence it is important that you and your bike are on the cycle path side of the fence.

Sadly I had not followed cycling guest cycling top tip 44 and it took 20 minutes and two miles of aimlessly cycling until we eventually found ourselves on the right side of the fence and able to speed out of Cambridge on a several mile stretch of flat cycle path.

At this point I foolishly said to Andrew that although I was enjoying the flat fast ride a few hills would be nice to add a bit of variety. This was a mistake as round the next bend we met a steep rise and it was nothing but hills for most of the rest of the day.
Nice views but nothing but hills for most of this ride
When riding in these tough up and down conditions it came as no surprise when we came to the village of Debden which was twinned with Tang Ting a village in Nepal. 

I stopped to chat with a local Sherpa who told us about the many expeditions he had led in the Debden area before leading us off again in the right direction.

Thanks to the cycle path delay, a puncture and the hilly terrain we were a long way behind schedule when we arrived at the Blue Egg farm shop where we found the Knead food (I see what they have done there) cafe.
Outside the Blue Egg Farm shop which includes the Knead Food Cafe
Inside it was packed including a large number of cyclists who had hung their bikes on the bike rack outside.
This cafe is a magnet for local cyclists
We grabbed one of the few remaining seats before checking out the cake selection. It was a good selection with a number of interesting items but none of the sponge cake classics. They also had an equally good gluten free selection but as a lover of gluten I paid them little attention. Overall I awarded a good effective cake selection (ECS) score.
Very interesting cake selection
With the cafe being so busy I was worried our food, cakes and drinks might take a long time to come and threaten further the chances of catching our train. I needn't have worried as the staff were both friendly and ruthlessly efficient so our cakes and drinks soon appeared
Cakes and drinks ready for tasting
My hot chocolate was good but Andrew reckoned his cappuccino was one of the best he had had and gave a 9 out of 10 for his guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) mark. Our cakes (chocolate cheesecake and chocolate oat slice) were both top draw too also attracting high cake taste quality scores.

All in all the Knead Food cafe had proved to be worth the journey and moves into my cafe top ten being highly recommended.

I also noticed that Mark Cavendish (world road champion) and Alex Dowsett (former 1 hour world record holder) had both donated shirts re-enforcing their cycling celebrity cafe recommendation. If you are a cycling celebrity and want to recommend a venue for me to try then let me know.
Cav's world champion rainbow jersey
It was time to set off back but there wasn't much time for chat as we put our heads down for a 30 mile charge back to Cambridge to try and make the train.

Fortunately we rode well and arrived back at the station with 15 minutes to spare. With a spring in our step we proudly pushed our bikes down the platform after another excellent ride. As we approached the train the guard smugly informed us that we couldn't put our bikes on the train as the allotted bike space already had bikes in it and he had been trained not to let more than 4 bikes on the train. Clearly his training had been excellent as despite a number of other cyclists joining in our protests he would not allow any more on board. 
A train like the one we were not allowed to get on
We were forced to take an alternative train but it meant having to risk being able to get a connection from Ely and, even if successful, we would still be home nearly an hour later than planned.

So I now find myself in the Ely station waiting room not knowing if we will be allowed on our connecting train with bikes, as we have been told it is only a little one, or if we will ever actually get home. 

Stop Press: 
We were and we did, phew.

Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7.00
9.00
7.50
8.50
6.50
7.70
Route to be published if I ever get home

click here to download 63 mile Cambridge Great Bardfield loop gpx file for your gps

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Where's the sea? (Stiffkey Stores, Stiffkey)

Stiffkey Stores,
Stiffkey,
Opening times 08:30-17:00
(except Wed and Sun when closes at 13:00),
Highly Recommended 
For the last week or so regular cycling guest Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) has been laid low with a so called 'virus' and apparently has had to spend most of this time tucked up in his bed reading magazines rather than being out on his bike like he should have been. Fortunately the amount of wind and rainy weather we have had recently made cycling pretty unpleasant so he hadn't missed much.

However yesterday was the first time for a while that the winds had dropped and when I contacted Andrew about a ride he declared himself fit enough to be my cycling guest, as long as we could start the ride from Hard to Please House. Which we did.

Andrew would be in charge of our destination and route. I was hopeful that Andrew had done some quality research and planning after having nothing better to do whilst lying in bed all week. So I was pleased when he reported that when reading Coast magazine (yes it really is a thing) he had come across an article entitled the top ten cafes by the sea. One of the selected cafes was Stiffkey stores which was only 20 miles away. Inspired by the article he had chosen this as our venue. That was as far as the planning had gone and our route, and his map, unfolded organically as we went.

On the way Andrew demonstrated his bird watching skills as he spotted 2 kestrels, a buzzard and an owl (which he made me photograph). I didn't spot any birds as I was focused on cycling like he should have been.
Unnecessary time lost while photographing an owl.
Despite the unnecessary delays getting as one with nature we successfully arrived at Stiffkey were we found the stores on the main road. I was a little surprised by the location as we had come here based on Coast magazine claiming it was one of the top cafes by the sea but there was no sign of any sea in the immediate vicinity. In fact, once I had finished researching on Google maps where the nearest sea was, I found it to be nearly 2 miles away. If I told my friends I was going to spend the day by the sea I think they would imagine me in a deck chair a few paces from the shore line and not in a field a couple of miles away needing a decent pair of binoculars to have any chance of a glimpsing a wave. I will not now be able to rely on anything else in Coast magazine (not that I have ever read it). However this is between me and Coast magazine and would not detract from my review of today's cafe.
Outside Stiffkey store with no sea in sight
As we locked up our bikes in the Stiffkey courtyard I liked the look of what I saw as it was the second ride in a row when I had come across a shed based out door seating area after my visit to the HenHouse at Wymondham on Saturday which also provides this type of facility. However Andrew pointed out that as we were in North Norfolk and only 2 miles from the sea they were actually not sheds but beach huts. All we needed now was a beach.
Apparently these were not sheds but beach huts
We went inside to find that Stiffkey Stores was another popular post office/stores/cafe combination of which I have now come across many. This one had a a nice old fashioned wooden interior giving a cosy feel on a cold day. There was a big indoor table and bench seating area which combined with the excellent out door space and warm welcome meant I awarded a very high atmosphere and ambiance (AAA) score. As always I first checked out the cake selection which wasn't the biggest and had no big sponge cakes but I was glad to see flapjack available which I could include in my search for flapjack of the year 2016. 
Fairly small cake selection
I ordered some peanut butter blonde and we both had flapjack. As it wasn't really beach weather we decided to stay inside rather than make use of the beach huts so took our drinks and slices over to the indoor large table seating area.
Drinks and slices
Both my hot chocolate and Andrew's cappuccino were very good with plenty of flavour, they could have been a bit hotter but both good high hot drinks marks. The Peanut butter blonde and flapjack were of a good size and both went down very well with excellent energy giving properties for the return ride. 

Despite Coast magazines inaccurate location description we both thought the Stiffkey Stores was an excellent stop with good cakes, drinks and AAA. I recommend a visit but leave your bucket and spade at home.

Despite his recent 'virus' Andrew performed well on the way back once again demonstrating the recovery powers of cycling and flapjack. Maybe he should have tried them sooner. 

Cycling Guest cycling top tip No 43. For a quicker recovery from a so called virus don't waste time resting but try going for a bike ride and eating flapjack

For those in other parts of the country here is the link to the full list of Coast magazines top 10 cafes 'by the sea' but I can't be held responsible if you don't get to actually see any water. (coast magazine top 10 cafe by the sea)

Ratings
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7.50
8.00
5.00
7.50
8.50
7.30
Route

Click here to download 45 mile Alysham Stiffkey loop GPX file for your GPS

Friday, 5 February 2016

Compulsory Hummus. (Amandines cafe, Diss)

Amandines Cafe,
Diss,
Opening times Tue-Sat 10:00-17:00,
Highly Recommended 
Due to the amount of high winds we have been having recently it has been difficult to get out on a ride with out putting my cycling guests into potential danger. I can think of nothing worse than setting off on a cafe cycle ride only for my cycling guest to be blown off their bikes and suffer a serious wind induced cycling guest injury (SWICGI). I would then have no one to rate the guest hot drink at the cafe stop and the ride would have counted for nothing. It just isn't worth the risk.

Fortunately, although the winds today were still fairly strong, they were below the speed at which I felt a SWICGI was likely and therefore the planned ride could go ahead with today's cycling guest Big George. As the wind was from the south we decided to head down to Diss so we could be blown home on the way back.

Like me Big George has opted for a two bike strategy with a lighter summer bike and a more heavy duty one, with tough tyres and mudguards, for wet and slippery winter conditions. I changed to my winter bike back in October and have suffered no punctures or wet backs since. Big George, on the other hand, has had several of both and only today finally got his winter bike out leading to today's cycling guest cycling top tip.

Cycling Guest cycling top tip No 43. To get best use form your winter bike try learning which months correspond to which season. (To find out more then the ladybird book of weather is a good source).

My most regular cycling guests; Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) and Big George both used to follow the way of the vegetarian but where as Andrew has stuck to his principals Big George has lapsed due to it being too much faff to cook veg for himself and dead things for the rest of his family. However I knew given the choice he still likes the way of the vegetarian best so as a treat we would be going to Amandines Vegetarian cafe today.

We battled into the wind down to Diss, safe in the knowledge that a puncture or untimely skid was unlikely, where we found Amandines cafe in a little courtyard area.
Outside Amandines cafe about to put bike security measures into operation
There didn't appear to be an outdoor seating option so we headed inside to find two indoor seating areas; a more cosy set of tables near the counter or a bigger indoor atrium seating space. The place was busy and represented the most vegetarians I had ever seen at one time. We both liked the whole feel and set up so gave Amandines a high atmosphere and ambiance (AAA) rating.
Actual Vegetarians in the indoor atrium space
I was looking forward to some actual vegetarian cake to see how it compared to the normal meat eaters cake I was used to so I checked out the available cakes in order to decide on the effective cake selection (ECS) rating. To save space the cake display only had one slice of each type of vegetarian cake making it look a little sparse. There was vegetarian carrot cake and vegetarian courgette and lime cake which I understood as I know carrots and courgettes are vegetables. I was a bit more confused by the other cakes on offer. First there was Tunisian orange cake but I know an orange is a fruit not a vegetable, with the final offering being chocolate fudge cake and chocolate and fudge are neither fruit or vegetable so not sure what this was doing in a vegetarian cake selection. As there were not many cakes available I could only give a moderate ECS score.
Vegetarian cake selection although not all the cakes had vegetables in them
Big George obviously went for one of the cakes with vegetables in, courgette and lime, to go with his filter coffee but I went for the Tunisian Orange cake to accompany my hot chocolate. As it was lunchtime we also had a jacket potato each. Big George explained that in a vegetarian restaurant it was compulsory to have something called hummus so I did and it was very nice.
Jacket potato with compulsory hummus
Our drinks were both very large which in some establishments can sometimes lead to a weak drink but this was not the case at Amandines cafe and we were both impressed by the strength and taste of our drinks leading to high drinks marks.
Nice large and strong drinks
On the cakes front, despite the lack of vegetables, I found my Tunisian orange cake to be quite excellent. Big George liked his lime and courgette cake too, but not quite as much as mine, leading to a high cake taste quality (CTQ) mark.
Tunisian orange and courgette and lime cakes
I very much enjoyed my visit to Amandines cafe and experiencing the way of the vegetarian. It had rated very well and I recommend a visit even for non vegetarians like me.

Due to my excellent planning it was now wind behind on the way home and this combined with the energy giving powers of compulsory hummus meant we were back in no time at all.
Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7.50
8.00
5.50
8.00
7.50
7.30
Route

Click link to down load 57 mile Diss Loop gpx file to your GPS