Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

I

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Climbing tips (Biddys tearoom, Alysham)

Biddy’s Kitchen,
Alysham,
Opening times Mon- Sat 09:00-17:00,
Recommended 
Yesterday was the second of my back to back cafe cycle rides I had planned to slip in before my Ironman triathlon in Austria next weekend (did I mention I was doing an Ironmam triathlon). It was also the first chance I had to discuss my next European cycling adventure with today's cycling guest Big George. This time to check out the cafes in the Italian Dolomite's in late August. 

However before that we had today's ride to accomplish which was a forty mile route visiting Biddy's Kitchen in Alysham. I had planned the most mountainous way I could find to help Big George tune his climbing skills although Ringland Hills is no Monte Grappa, it was a start. On the way we discussed the best ways of improving your cycling up hill ability and came up with two ideas. First do lots of cycling and second loose weight.

We soon arrived in Alysham and found Biddy's Kitchen in one of the corners of the square. 
Outside Biddy's Kitchen in Alysham Square
We took our bikes round the back to a rather eclectic outdoor seating area featuring both a sofa and normal tables and chairs.
Eclectic outdoor seating area
Once inside it was clear Biddy's had set out to achieve a vintage tea room theme with period features and Vera Lynn Muzak. We decided to sit at the indoor sofa and period seating area but Big George soon became too self conscious and we moved on to a more traditional table.
Period seating area
The cake selection was excellent with lots of cakes, slices and scones to choose from, including a rather impressive Eton Mess cake. I awarded a high effective cake selection (ECS) score. I went for a slice of white chocolate and cherry cake and then, right out of left field, Big George asked for a lavender scone. As Big George has previously stated he doesn't like scones so this was a bit of a surprise but apparently he likes lavender although had never before eaten any.
Impressive looking Eton Mess cake which was part of impressive cake selection
On the drinks front the focus is on tea so only filter coffee is available meaning Big George had one of those and I had my normal hot chocolate. Big George thought his coffee was really good although I found my hot chocolate a little too milky for top marks.
Coffee and hot chocolate
My cake came accompanied with cream and the Lavender scone had cream and lemon curd. The combination was very good and Big George thought it was excellent (as was my cake) and kept saying how much he had enjoyed it on our return ride. I'm worried he will start randomly adding lavender to all his cooking which I'm sure won't go down well with Mrs Big George after a similar experience with Cinnamon and chilli flakes.
Cherry and white chocolate cake plus the lavender scone
Biddy's Kitchen was a very nice cycle stop with good cakes and drinks (especially if you are a tea drinker) and friendly staff so I recommend a visit. As a bonus Biddy's also had a loyalty card for me to add to my collection and some white chocolate and Apricot flapjack which I took away to try as part of my search for flapjack year 2016.It was mighty fine flapjack and should make it though to my end of year flapjack off

As we set off on the way home I realised our cream based cakes and scones had not helped in the losing weight part of our mountain climbing improvement plan so I suggest that Big George join me on a 100 mile sportive I was doing next month. He looked at me like I had just asked him if he wanted to come on a training camp in Syria which I took to be a no. I'm now not convinced that many mountains will be conquered on our August trip (note sadly I proved to be correct on this  see Monte Grappa cycling Adventure day 1).

Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
5.5
7.5
8.0
7.5
6.5
7.00
Route

click here to down load 40 mile Norwich Alysham loop GPX file for your GPS

Friday, 17 June 2016

Stick to the brief (The Black Apollo Coffee House, Holt)

Black Apollo Coffee House,
Holt,
Opening times Mon- Sat 08:00-17:00,
Sun 09:00-16:00
Highly Recommended 
Last Visited Oct 2017
After the success of cheese scone of the year 2015 this year I'm searching for flapjack of the year 2016. As well as trying flapjack, whenever I find it on cafe cycle rides, I'm also returning to other places where I know good flapjack can be found. 

As yesterday's ride would be hosted by Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) then a week ago I sent him the brief for this trip. I wanted a 30 mile ride calling in at the Funky Mackerel in Sheringham, to collect some flapjack, and then on to Holt to try out a new cafe, The Black Apollo Coffee House. Simples.

I was therefore a little disappointed when myself and Chris (Mrs Crusader) arrived at Hard to Please House to find that no planning had been undertaken and that Andrew would be "hoping to organically map out a 30 mile ride as we went along". I wasn't convinced this would deliver the outcome I was after and when, on more than one occasion, we looped round in mini circles whilst he decided if left or right was the best option I knew things would not work out as I had requested.

I do have to admit we cycled on some pretty nice roads before arriving in Sheringham where it was good to see the Bunting had been put out to celebrate the collection of the Sheringham flapjack.
Sheringhams flapjack collection bunting
The Funky Mackerel has a sign outside saying it is famous for flapjack and I wasn't disappointed when I saw the large squares of this oat based snack on offer, there were even four varieties to choose from. I purchased some black cherry and apple and raisin for testing at home after the ride.
Outside Funky Mackerel with flapjack successfully purchased
Chris asked if she could have some plain flapjack now as she was a bit peckish. I, of course, provided this although had to put my foot down when she asked for a coffee as well. I nipped the request in the bud by the expert use of sarcasm; "I don't remember seeing two drinks stops on the itinerary" I said.
Unscheduled consumption of flapjack
Flapjack of the year 2016 rules state that the ten cafes with the best pieces of flapjack found during the year will be revisited in December (by bike of course) and flapjack repurchased for a final flapjack off to be held at Crusader Towers. I was pleased my trip had not been wasted as Funky Mackerel's flapjack was excellent and its hard to see how it won't be in the flapjack off.
Funky Mackerel flapjack
However I was soon to find out that there was much more flapjack controversy ahead of us as we set off for the main event at Holt.

When we arrived at the Black Apollo coffee house in Holt High Street we had already clocked up 22 of the 30 miles I had allocated Andrew for the ride so I was more than a little worried he would not be able to deliver to the stated brief.
Outside the Black Apollo Coffee House
We parked our bikes and went inside. Black Apollo focuses on being a proper coffee house with a dark wood interior, there was also a two table outdoor seating area but with sharp showers forecast for the day we chose to sit inside. The staff were incredibly friendly and, for the first time I can remember, we were even introduced to our cup or mug which we would be drinking from today so we could give it our approval. As a result I gave a good atmosphere and ambience (AAA) score.
Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) checking out the coffee info
inside the Black Apollo Coffee House
On the counter was an interesting set of cakes. None of the big 5 sponges but some good alternative offerings of which we choose sticky lemon cake, orange cake and Bakewell tart. As this was Holt there was Granola bar rather than flapjack.
Cake selection
As the Black Apollo Coffee House had lots of coffee based information on display we had high hopes for our drinks which were, in fact, exceeded. My Hot Chocolate had an excellent bitter chocolate taste, like the drink should be, so I awarded a high hot chocolate quality (HCQ) mark. Things got even better when I was offered a top up as there was still some Hot Chocolate left in the Hot Chocolate preparation jug. Andrews Cappuccino and Chris's Mocha also got a big thumbs up and a high guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) rating resulted.
Cakes and drinks in our pre introduced mugs and cups
although it was the first time we had met the plates and saucers
Our cakes were also very good too. Beautifully moist with an excellent flavour. Again high marks, this time in the cake taste quality (CTQ) category. 

The black Apollo coffee shop was a very fine stop with top quality cakes and drinks. It makes it into my current top 10 cafes and I highly recommend a visit. I even got a loyalty card to add to my loyalty card picture library.

As we were leaving Chris queried why I hadn't brought any flapjack. I pointed out it wasn't flapjack but granola bar which was not the same thing at all. Everyone knows that a granola bar has its oats prebaked whereas a flapjack uses rolled oats plus they are spelt differently. She felt this was nonsense and purchased some for testing alongside my funky mackerel flapjack.   

As you can see from the photo I'm clearly right and flapjack and granola bar are quite different so I took no part in this unnecessary tasting (although I'm told it was very tasty).
Granola bar and flapjack which are NOT the same thing
As we left Holt the sky's had began to darken and I wasn't confident we would make it back without a soaking. Andrew was still developing the route and as we passed the the 30 mile point it was clear he would not be hitting the correct distance that I had requested. Round the next corner the cows were starting to sit down and it was therefore no surprise that soon after this the sky's opened and we got a proper soaking.
Cow's starting to sit down ready for the rain
Dead American president (Benjamin Franklin) cycling Top tip no 1. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

If only Andrew had followed dead American president cycling top tip no 1. Then we wouldn't have cycled over 35 miles, we would have got back earlier avoiding the soaking, not missing the start of the England v Wales match and he could have got the washing in. When will he ever learn? 

Scores based on 3 visits
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
8..42
9.125
6.69
8.75
7.75
8.15
Route

Click here to download 36 mile Alysham to Sheringham loop Gpx file for your GPS

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Motivation. (Maglia Rosso, Bury St Edmunds)

Maglia Rosso,
Bury Saint Edmunds,
Opening times Mon- Sun 9:30-17:30,
Highly Recommended 
As a so called cafe cycle reviewer I always like to prioritise visits to proper cycle cafes above others. A proper cycle cafe is one that provides cycling facilities (normally in the form of a cycle shop) alongside a refreshments outlet. I had become aware of such a place, Maglia Rosso, near Bury St Edmunds, so planned a trip there with yesterday's cycling guest Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please). As it would be a very long round trip, if we went from race HQ at Crusader Towers, we decided to catch the train to Diss and go from there. We would be following Sustrans routes 30 and 13 most of the way.
Alighting the train at Diss station ready to start
After the recent warm weather, yesterday was a little cloudier making it difficult to know what cycling top to wear to keep yourself at the optimum cycling temperature.

Cycling guest cycling top tip no 48. If you are unsure what cycling top to wear to keep yourself at the optimum cycling temperature then always wear a long sleeve one as you can roll your long sleeves up but you can't roll your short sleeves down.

We had both wisely followed cycling guest cycling top tip no.48 as after a cool start to the ride it continued to warm up so we both had rolled up when we arrived at the Maglia Rosso cycle cafe a few miles south of Bury St Edmunds.
Outside Maglia Rosso cycle cafe with my sleeves rolled up
It was clearly a cycling cafe as when we arrived we were met by another group of middle aged cyclists dressed in Lycra just leaving so we stopped from some meaningless standard cycling chat as we parked our bikes on the rack. 

Maglia Rosso is in a peaceful village setting with a large outdoor seating area. Inside there is a cycling themed indoor seating area plus an excellently stocked cycle shop. With all these facilities it meant a high atmosphere and ambience (AAA) score was awarded.
Outdoor seating area
We went inside to check out the cakes in order to award the effective cake selection (ECS) mark. There was a good selection featuring some cyclist favourites of brownie, bread pudding and of course flapjack (which I tested as part of my search for flapjack year 2016) that could all be slipped into your cycling jersey pockets if emergency cake was needed later on your ride. I therefore award a good ECS mark.
Part of the cake selection
As well as the flapjack I had Victoria sponge cake with my hot chocolate and Andrew went for a mug of tea and fruit cake. My hot chocolate was a bit disappointing as it was rather weak and milky but both the fruit cake and Victoria sponge were excellent and got a high cake taste quality (CTQ) mark.
Cakes and drinks on our outdoor seating table
Despite it clearly being lunch time Andrew also had a vegetarian breakfast so as I waited for him to eat it I checked out the bike shop and bike themed indoor seating area. On the walls were some useful cycling based motivational pictures including "pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever" and "winners train, losers complain" which is not only motivational but rhymes to boot. I suggested Andrew check them out as I thought they would help him get over his disappointment following his pathetic attempt to cycle up Monte Zoncolan in Italy with me last week (see my that's steep) but apparently they didn't.
Motivational picture
After Andrew finished his Vegetarian breakfast I said we needed to set off so we could comfortably make our train connection at Stowmarket which was nearly 30 miles away. However apparently it is not possible to have a vegetarian breakfast without washing it down with a second cup of tea which he insisted on having, putting our return journey at threat.

Despite the fact they were prepared to serve him more tea I thought the Maglia Rosso was an excellent venue and a must visit for all cyclist so I highly recommend you go.

With the second cup eventually drunk we set off again but had to up the pace to make sure we got to the station on time. Unfortunately the terrain had got a lot more bumpy on this part of the ride meaning I had to wait at the top of several hills for Andrew to catch up. 
Photo of bumpy terrain taken while I waited for Andrew
Clearly a second piece of cake would have been more useful to us than a second cup of tea. However after being inspired by the posters I was able to use some of my legendary motivational skills to get us to the station just on time ("pedal faster or I'm not waiting and you will miss the train" seemed to work the best). As the train pulled in and I waited on the platform Andrew had once again disappeared this time he had popped into the station cafe as after our dash across Suffolk he said that he really needed another cup of tea. I clearly still have much more motivating of him to do yet.

Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambience and Atmosphere
Café Rating
5.5
7.0
7.0
8.0
8.5
7.20
route

Click here to download 60 mile Diss to Stowmarket gpx file for your GPS

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Spooky (Little Pigs Cafe, Poringland)

Little Pigs Cafe,
Poringland,
Opening times Mon- Sat 9:30-16:30, Sun 10-12
Highly Recommended 
As the number 1 self appointed cycling cafe reviewer (in the Norfolk area) I sometimes get contacted by cafes suggesting that I visit them. I'm always happy to oblige and try to fit them in when I can but there was something different about the invitation from Dani of the Little Pigs cafe at Framlingham Earl near Poringland which made me turn white from shock when I read it.

It was a beautiful summers day when, along with Chris (Mrs Crusader), we met up with today's cycling guests Barry and Helen and their Tandem for the start of our 32 mile ride to the Little Pigs Cafe via Loddon. It was the bluest sky of the year to date and a perfect cycling temperature. 
Beautiful skys over Norfolk
In such good riding conditions it was no surprise we made excellent time to our destination and found the Little Pigs cafe next to the Aldis farm shop. 
Outside Little Pigs Cafe
Barry and Helen and their tandem can't resist a farm shop and instead of joining me in the cafe to check out the cakes went straight to the shop to look at soft fruits and vegetables. The cake selection may not have been the biggest, with none of the big five sponge cakes, but this was made up for by the interesting cakes they did have on offer of which I had difficulty choosing between. I therefore still award a good effective cake selection (ECS) score.
Cake selection offering some different cakes from normal
Inside there was a seating option of more traditional tables and chairs as well as a comfy sofa seating corner. There was also a set of little table and chairs which I assumed the naughty customers were sent to sit at until they could learn to behave properly.
Indoor seating options
As it was such a nice day we decided to make use of the outdoor farmyard seating area, especially as it was closer to the farm shop which we couldn't drag Barry or his tandem away from.
Outdoor farmyard seating area
I went for Lebanese Orange cake and a flapjack (to test for flapjack of the year 2016) with my hot chocolate. Chris and Helen both had Mochas, one with Bakewell tart and one a fruit scone. As always Barry refused to join in with any cake reviewing nonsense and had Diet Coke. Their tandem remained in the farm shop and missed out on refreshments altogether.

When my cakes arrived I was shocked to find that both the flapjack and cake had been put on top of the serviette rending it useless for wiping purposes.
Both cake and flapjack on the serviette!!
Despite my best efforts I was unable to save the serviette and I have to confess I had to resort to using the back of my hand for removing crumbs from around my mouth. Shocking I know but the best option in the circumstance. Remember #keepcakesoffserviettes. (note Little Pigs cafe assure me they have now cut this practice out, phew)
Unusable serviette after the cake and flapjack had been skilfully removed
Even though it was a hot day our hot drinks went down very well all of them being of a good standard and therefore getting decent scores. On the cake front there was a slight incident when Chris discovered her fruit scone had cinnamon in it, which she doesn't like, where as I thought it was an excellent scone and one of the best I could remember so I gladly finished it for her. Barry also tried some scone and said it was fine but he's indifferent about most things, including Marmite, so no surprise there. The rest of the cakes were less controversial as Helen liked her Bakewell tart and we all thought the Lebanese Orange cake was top drawer so a high cake taste quality (CTQ) mark was awarded.
Cakes and drinks for reviewing
The Little Pigs cafe was a very good cycle stop and as a bonus I picked up a loyalty card to add to my cafe loyalty card picture library, I would certainly recommend a visit.

Once we had finally got Barry and Helens Tandem out of the farm shop we set off on the last bit of our ride. Once I got home I sat down and checked my email. There was one that had been sent from the 'contact me' function on this blog. I excitingly opened it and it was from Dani at the Little Pigs cafe Framlingham Earl suggesting I should come on a visit. It had been sent at 10:30 this morning, exactly the time we were setting off on our ride! What are the chances of that? I turned white.

I returned to the Little Pigs in October 2016 with a different group to see what they thought and make sure the cakes and serviettes were kept a part.
Lollipop mans day out on return visit to Little Pigs
To my relief cakes were now kept well away from their serviette which was great. We were also even more impressed with the quality of cakes and drinks than on the previous visiting increasing their overall rating so well worth a visit.
Excellent cakes and not a serviette in sight
Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
6.75
8.0
6.625
8.0
7.0
7.28
Route

Click here to download Loddon - Norwich loop GPX file to load on to your GPS

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Power of Cake (Victorian Tea rooms, Cromer)

Victorian Tearooms,
Cromer,
Opening times 9:30-16:30 (closed Thursday),

Recommended 
After the excitement of cycling in the mountains last week it was back to more standard fare with a ride, albeit a long one, solely contained within Norfolk. I was joined for this by today's cycling guest Big George.

We were going to cycle up to Cromer and also pop into an old favourite on the way back to try out some flapjack in my continuing search for flapjack of the year 2016.

Things didn't start well as on the way to meeting up with BIg George my chain snapped. This was surprising, as after putting it under maximum strain on the way up the extremely steep Monte Zoncolan (see my that's steep) last week I was surprised it went on a very flat road in Norwich. Fortunately I had only gone about a mile so was able to push this bike home and select a different one to go on.

When we did set off we were met by a strong head wind. Big George had told me how he had been doing lots of cycle training since we last rode a fortnight ago and was in a perky mood as he kept putting in little sprints meaning I had to work hard to keep up. History has told me that when Big George rides in this way, especially into the wind, it always ends in tears on the way back so I hoped he would be eating plenty of cake today.

Despite the wind we made good time to our target destination of the Victorian Tea Rooms on the edge of Cromer. 
Outside the Victorian Tearooms.
I didn't tell Big George the name of the cafe before hand as when I took him to the excellent Tally Ho (Victorian themed) Tea room near Bungay a couple of years ago the whole experience, especially the use of china cups, had freaked him out (see a matter of taste) as the photo below shows.
Big George being freaked out by using china tea service at the tally ho tea rooms
However he was fine when he saw there were was no one dressed up as Victorians here and inside it had more the feel of a giant beach hut (in a good way) than a Victorian Coffee shop.
Inside the giant beach hut interior, with added teapots
There was also a sizeable out door seating area, which was a bit too windy for us today, so when added to the very friendly staff it led to a good atmosphere and ambiance (AAA) score.
Outside seating area
There was also a good cake selection with all the big 5 (Chocolate, Coffee, Victoria, Lemon and Carrot) available so I awarded a high effective cake selection (ECS) mark.
Excellent cake selection
I ordered chocolate cake plus flapjack (as part of my flapjack of the year 2016 research) with my hot chocolate and Big George a fried egg sandwich with his coffee. As a fried egg sandwich is clearly not cake Big George played no further part in cake based reviewing in the Victorian tea rooms today. I also feared fried egg sandwich would not give the same energy boost as cake and flapjack.
Cakes and drinks (I refused to photo the fried egg sandwich)
Drinks and cakes were all of a good standard with Big George thinking his coffee was particularly nice. The only disappointment was that the flapjack had been served on the serviette rendering it useless. Remember #Keepcake(andflapjackforthatmatter)offserviettes.
Flapjack severed and serviette, it is so wrong!!
Despite the napkin incident the Victorian Tearooms had proved to be a very nice stop and I recommend a visit.

On the way back we had wind behind but even so we still had over half the ride left so I promised Big George we would also pop into his favourite cafe, the community shop in Itteringham This would also give me a chance to try their flapjack. On the way we got to cycle through the National Trust Property of Felbrigg Hall which reminded me that I still need to check out it's tea room some day.
Cycle route through grounds of Felbrig Hall
We arrived at Itteringham and went inside the cafe shop. As it was not an official rating stop I decided to go off piste and have a cup of tea and sausage roll as I had reviewed Itteringham cafe before (See Black Friday) and knew it to be good. When our pot of tea arrived, in a stylish pot, I asked Big George if I should be mother. I then managed to slop the tea all over the table before getting any into the cups. Apparently, unlike mine, Big Georges mother never did this.
Tea for two
This is a lovely community run facility and according to the sign on the wall there had been a shop here since 1637, which is nearly twenty to five! If you ever are passing its really worth popping in


With extra refreshment stop complete and flapjack purchased, for testing later at home, we set off again. 
Flapjack ready for transporting home
I was worried that over our two stops Big George had not taken on board any cake and would therefore be lacking the energy giving powers it offers. Combined with his over enthusiastic start to our ride it came as no surprise when he ran out of puff and even with a strong wind behind the last few miles were a slow affair.

Cycling guest cycling top tip 47. To avoid running out of energy over the last few miles of a cycle ride always have some cake at every cafe stop.

Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
6.0
7.5
7.5
7.0
7.0
7.00
map of route

Click here to download 61 mile Norwich to Cromer loop gpx file for your GPS