Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

I

Friday, 27 January 2017

The mystery of the disappearing overshoe (In-a-spin, Loddon)

In-a-Spin,
Loddon,
Opening times Tue-Fri 10:00-17:00,
Sat 09:00-17:00, Sun 09:00-14:00
Highly Recommended 
Recently Mrs Crusader decided it was about time she had a new bike as her current one was dirty and no longer matched her favourite cycling outfit. It was hard to argue against her rationale so I was tasked with getting her a suitable replacement that matched her criteria (clean and blue).

I had been very happy with my last new bike purchase which I had got from In-a spin near Loddon so we set off their to see if they could satisfy her demanding spec. Not only did they have just the right bike but I discovered they were now doing hot drinks and cake as well. I promised I would return on another day for a cafe cycle ride to do a proper review.

Well, today was that day and I was joined by cycling guest Big George for the trip. Once again it was a cold one, so we layered up before we set off. We hadn't gone far before Big George started to have cleat problems as his shoe kept slipping out of his pedal. I was keen to bring Big George up to speed with details from the recent Marathon that I ran in Gran Canaria and the pedal issues were distracting him from my story. At first I suspected he may have been making up the problem but when he insisted on stopping and removing both his overshoe and shoe, in this weather, I knew it was for real. 

After much huffing, puffing and fiddling we were good to go again and I could at last continue my mile by mile update (restarting from mile 7). I felt I now had his full attention until I got to the bit about the excellent water bottle snatch I performed at the half way drinks station as he suddenly announced that one of his feet was now much colder than the other. On closer inspection it appeared that this was because one foot no longer had an overshoe to help keep the heat in. Despite his claims that he clearly remembered putting it back on the evidence suggested that he must have left it while fiddling with his shoes earlier.

With mismatching feet, temperature wise, we continued to In-a-spin and got there just as I completed telling him about the final mile of my race.
At In-a Spin with equally warm feet
Once inside I immediately headed for the cakes and was impressed by both the number and quality of those on offer so awarded a high effective cake selection (ECS) mark. I went for coffee and walnut cake with my hot chocolate and Big George had an Americano and fruit scone (with raspberry jam).
Excellent cake selection
We sat down in the window seating area and awaited our refreshments. Owner Simon clearly felt obliged to ask how the marathon had gone as I may have mentioned that I was doing it (several times) during the recent bike purchasing activity. Big George went pale at the thought of hearing about it again so immediately suggested he gave a summary while I went to look at the bikes on display.

On my return the cakes and drinks had arrived, the coffee and walnut cake had expertly been placed the correct distance from my serviette, almost as if to make a point. I was lapping up the cycling chat whilst enjoying the bike based atmosphere and ambiance so completely forgot to take the obligatory drinks and cake photograph. It wasn't until I had finished my cake and drink that I noticed my gaff so this was all that was left when I eventually got round to taking a picture.
What was left of cakes and drinks when I finally remembered to take a photo

The drinks were very good with my hot chocolate being a proper Italian one. The coffee and walnut cake was a triumph, just a shame there's no photo. I thoroughly enjoyed my stop at In-a-Spin and would highly recommend a visit especially if you like bicycles or want to see what the cake actually looks like.

It was an uneventful ride back but once I got home I received a text from Big George saying that he had found his missing overshoe which led to today's cycling guest cycling top tip.

Cycling guest cycling top tip no 59. If you have to remove your overshoe during a ride and want to keep both feet equally warm then remember to replace it on the shoe without an overshoe and not on top of the foot that already has one.

Note I returned with a large group of cycling guests in spring 2017 who thought the cake was some of the best they had had thus pushing up the scores further

Scores based on 2 visits
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7.0
7.5
7.5
8.25
8.5
7.75
Route
Click here to download Loddon - Norwich loop GPX file to load on to your GPS

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Arctic expedition (White House Stores, Neatishead)

White House Store,
Neatishead,
Opening times Mon-Sat 08:30-17:00,
Sun 8:30-13:00
Due to the recent bad weather, poorly cycling guests and a trip to Gran Canaria (to run a marathon) it has meant that cafe cycle riding has been rather thin on the ground so far this year. Worse still the hunt for sausage roll of the year has got off to a very slow start.

Things were not looking good when I awoke this morning to see a frost on the ground and a freezing fog in the air. Fortunately I knew that I had got today's cycling guest, Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please), well trained as to not call off a ride and sure enough he turned up right on time. As expected there was much whinging about how cold it was and how far I had planned for us to ride. At these times I find it best to resort to the gift of the lie by telling him that we would take a short cut (we didn't) and that the weather forecast said it was due to warm up (it wasn't) so he agreed that the ride could go ahead.

As predicted, by the real weather forecast, the fog and cold air stayed with us for the whole ride so it was not a surprise that within a few minutes, despite double socking and gloving, we could not feel any of our extremities. This combination made our mid-ride comfort break almost impossible to undertake successfully. 
Fog and dark skies were with us all ride
To make matters worse the poor weather led to some slow cautious riding meaning that by the time we eventually got to our planned cafe stop at the Neatishead White House Store (community village shop and coffee house) we felt less like Tour de France cyclists and more like arctic explorers, but without the sled, huskies and Igloos.

Andrew reluctantly took the requisite cafe photo as this meant removing his gloves increasing the imminent threat of finger frost bite amputation further. With picture captured we dashed inside, past the outdoor seating patio area, hoping to warm up.
Outside the White House Stores
We were greeted by two extremely friendly volunteer shop assistants eager to make us some hot drinks, chocolate for me and cappuccino for Andrew. 
Our very welcome hot drinks
They explained that cake and sandwiches were in short supply in the middle of January as only complete idiots would cycle into the middle of Broadland at the this time of year but if we could wait to the Spring there would be a much bigger choice. As we couldn't wait that long Andrew opted for the last bit of chocolate and orange cake and me a blueberry muffin.
Rather sparse cake selection as we visited in the middle of winter
It was better news on the sausage roll front as they had plenty of them and more than happy to heat one up for me. 
Second sausage roll of the year
The hot drinks were just what we needed with my hot chocolate tasting particularly good. The chocolate orange cake was extremely nice and got very high cake taste quality marks. 
Today's cakes
Neatishead community shop and coffee stop was just what we needed and worth a visit although I suggest you go during the summer season.

Now warm again we returned to our bikes and started the process of getting really cold again we which, like Captain Oats but without the dying bit, we successfully achieved before arriving home. 

Finally must give a big thanks to the inventors of the hot water bottle and blanket without whom I would still not have warmed up several hours later.

Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7.0
5.0
4.0
8.0
7.0
6.20
Route

Click here to download 41 mile Norwich Horning loop GPX file to your GPS

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Anyone for tennis (Eaton Park Cafe, Norwich)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scores 
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
6.0
6.0
5.0
8.0
8.0
6.60
Route

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

Monday, 9 January 2017

Thing of the year 2017.


Thing of the year 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Are accompaniments such as pickle, chutney or mustard taken into account in the scoring.
A.No

Q. How will the winning sausage roll be decided?

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Back to business. (Natural Surroundings, Glandford)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
6.5
5.0
6.0
7.0
9.0
6.70
Route

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