Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

For more information on the Cafes I have visited and the latest cafe cycle news go to http://www.cake-crusader.co.uk/

Cake Crusader Book

There is now a Cake Crusader book available where you can follow my journey from humble local trips to world record attempts and near-death experiences. How did a simple method of keeping track of decent cycling café pit stops turn my life upside down? Track my adventures into Europe, up mountains and right across Great Britain as I become a 'rising star' on social media. Will I prove my critics wrong? Should cheese scones be served hot or cold? Do I really have nothing better to do with his time? A must read for lovers of cycling and cake or anyone wanting to make it big in the virtual world

Available on Amazon

Saturday 26 October 2013

Going National (The Organic Shop, Fornham All Saints)

The Organic Shop,
Fornham All Saints,
Now Closed Down
It was time to expand the coffee shop and tearoom reviews beyond the boundaries of Norfolk and move my search further a field to become a national cafe cycle review blog. Therefore yesterday morning myself and Big George met up at Norwich station to catch the train to Cambridge before cycling back via a Suffolk based cafe. It was going to be an eighty mile epic but we had the energy (bars, gels and drinks) that should make it possible.

To add an element of jeopardy to our trip Big George had to be back by 5:00 to see his son perform in his Drama GCSE assessment (no I didn't know you could get an academic qualification in poncing about either). We would be up against it and need to pedal at full pelt with no mishaps.

We loaded our bikes and boarded the 08:57 train. We had just settled down when the guard announced that off peak tickets, like the ones we had just been sold, were not valid until 09:00. Anyone with such a ticket would either have to pay for a full ticket or jog on. We decided on the jog on option and not to risk it. We hurriedly got off the train talking loudly about "how we shouldn't have been sold the ticket" and "this wouldn't have happened  pre-privatisation". We then had to sheepishly creep back on the train to collect our coats which we had left on board.

We were now delayed by 40 minutes putting us in real danger of not meeting the drama deadline and creating drama of our own.

The journey to Cambridge was uneventful as was the start of the ride back so with the wind behind we arrived at the Organic Shop in Fornham All Saints still just on schedule.

Sitting in the outside seating area at the Organic Shop in Fornham All Saints, Suffolk
The Cafe is through the back of the Organic Deli and shop but we choose to sit outside. We did, however, have to go into the cafe to order and decide on the effective cake selection (ECS) rating. The ECS  was poor with only carrot cake or fruit scone or cheese scone on offer. Big George didn't like the cafe area as it wasn't what he had expected being a bit minimalist and clinical. I ordered a cheese sandwich, hot chocolate and carrot cake. Big George struggled with his selection. The pressure of getting back in time mixed with his clear disappointment in the indoor seating area had effected him badly and he was unable to think straight. He panicked and ordered the same as me (except coffee and not hot chocolate) rather than have to make taxing menu choices which might have pushed him over the edge. With the stressful ordering complete and free from the ultra modern cafe décor Big George grew visibly calmer as we returned to the outside seating area to await our order.

The hot chocolate was very good and they had added a touch of cinnamon which gave it a nice twist. Big George's coffee was also very good. We had a difference of opinion on the carrot cake with Big George stating it was the best he had ever had. I thought it was good but not stunning and slightly dry. Over the last few months I have tried a lot of carrot cake so felt I had some authority in the area but I couldn't let Big George's comment 'that this was the best carrot cake ever' go in case I was missing something. However on further questioning I discovered he had only had carrot cake once before, which was apparently a bit rubbish, so dismissed his opinion as being irrelevant and stuck with my rating.

Our stop had been longer than planned so we would have to cycle back faster than we had been going so far if we were to get back in time. Which we did, so it was a bit of an anticlimax.

The Organic Shop in Fornham All Saints was rated comfortably mid table (see latest ratings at bottom of blog) and although I wont cycle all that way just to go there it would certainly be one I would stop at in the future. 

Ratings for The Organic Shop
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
Map of route taken

Click here to down load 79 mile Norwich to Cambridge GPX file for uour GPS

Monday 21 October 2013

Close to home (7 Surrey Street, Norwich)

No 7 Surrey Street,
Opening times Mon-Fri 7:00-16:30,
Sat 8:00-17:00
It is my aim to review as many, if not all, the Cafes and tearooms in Norfolk that qualify for a rating (see post 'there must be rules !'). So living in Norwich this has to include cafes that are rather close to home, like today's choice. 

I had arranged to see an old work colleague in Norwich so I picked 7 Surrey Street as a convenient location. Despite the rain I set off on my hybrid bike to meet him. For consistency it is important to me that I cycle to each venue. Normally I go a bit further than two miles before a stop but at least I wasn't too wet when I arrived.

Due to it's name 7 Surrey Street was easy to find but I'm not sure I like this new trend of naming your business after your address. What are you meant to do when writing them a letter, do you effectively put the address on the envelope twice or do you just put the venue name or just the address? To get round this I will only e-mail them in future.
7 Surrey Street Cafe located at 7 Surrey Street. Sadly no outdoor seating area
7 Surrey Street probably caters for a different market from most the cafes and tearooms I go to on my rides in rural Norfolk and it was very busy, despite this the staff were most welcoming and friendly. It didn't have a spectacular view or outside seating area like many I visit so was always going to struggle for a good ambiance rating but that's not really its fault. If it did have a spectacular view or outside seating area it would have to be somewhere else and won't be able to call itself 7 Surrey Street which is another problem with this unimaginative naming approach.
View from 7 Surrey Street Cafe, not as spectacular as many other Norfolk
Cafes. Although good venue for bus spotters.
As always the first thing to do was to decide on my cake and give the effective cake selection rating (ECS). There was not a lot of choice with a beige theme running through the choices on offer made up of; fruit or cheese scone, raisin bun, choc au pain type thing or sausage roll (which isn't even a cake but is beige). Unfortunately there were no nice big slices of cake even though a coffee cake would have kept to the colour scheme. In these circumstances I always go for the fruit scone.

I ordered my hot chocolate and my guest a skinny latte. My hot chocolate and fruit scone were both ok and about average but my guest wasn't very keen on his latte. I was surprised as other reviews I have seen have raved about the coffee but he didn't crack under further probing from me and to prove his point left half his cup. 

I can't reveal the identity of my guest as he had sneaked out of work to meet me. I wouldn't want to get him in to trouble as he should have been busy creating share holder value and not moaning about milky coffee. From now on he will just be referred to as Mr X.

As a cafe for a business meeting or to pop in after a bit of shopping then 7 Surrey Street is a lot nicer than one of those big coffee chains but due to it's rather close location to my house and obsession with beige baking it is probably one I won't often visit on a bike ride. 

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

Saturday 19 October 2013

There must be rules !

Before I publish the current ratings it is important to be clear on how the cafe rating system works. So here are the rules and definitions.

What qualifies as a Cafe or tearoom?
  • It must be independent and not be part of a chain (I don't plan to go to every (or any) Starbucks or Costa etc)
  • If it is part of an attraction or garden centre then there mustn't be an entrance fee to get to the cafe.
  • It must have at least 1 home made type of cake on offer.
I like hot chocolate and cake so the ratings are weighted towards these. The 5 factors measured are:

1. Hot chocolate quality. (HCQ)
I'm looking for a thickish drink that has a distinctly chocolate taste. Most common issue is when the focus has mistakenly been put on the HOT rather than the CHOCOLATE part of the drink. A steaming anaemic drink, where the chocolate powder has been waved past the cup, with the resulting beverage tasting of burnt milk doesn't really do it. A standard Cadburys drinking chocolate gets a 6 (unless it is weak or cold).

2. Guest hot drink quality. (GHDQ)
My cycling guest (or guests) get to rate their hot drink (soft drinks don't count). There is more inconsistency here as type of drink and reviewer is much more variable. But it is rare for there to be a big difference between the HCQ and GHDQ and if there is I probe my guest further on their rating basis to try and get consistency. Again the temperature, strength and flavour are the key factors.
(Note: there is a GHDQ score ceiling of 7 for Tea because at the end of the day it is just a cup of tea)

3. Effective cake selection. (ECS)
The number of home made style cakes (e.g. nothing in a plastic wrapper) are reviewed and factored against how many I would actually like to try to give the effective cake selection (ECS) score. There is no absolute algorithm allowing for adjustments on just how tasty and desirable they look. Having 4 or 5 cakes I fancy would give a high score.

4. Cake Taste Quality. (CTQ)
Straight forward score of how good the cake tastes. If my cycling guest/s have also had cake then we agree a combined rating, although in the result of any disagreement my decision is final as I have more cake tasting experience to fall back on. 
(Note: there is a CTQ score ceiling of 8 on a flapjack as it is not really cake although I allow them to count as cake as I'm rather fond of a bit of flapjack.)

5. Ambiance and atmosphere. (AAA)
Whilst sitting enjoying our refreshments we agree an AAA based on factors like view, noise, space, layout, feel, cycle friendliness etc.

Each is rated out of 10 and the following unweighted formula; (HCQ+GHDQ+ECS+CTQ+AAA)/5, is used to give the overall cafe or tearoom rating. I score the cafe on every visit but to keep ratings current only the last 3 scores count.

However if a previously visited cafe is under new management when being revisited then any previous ratings will be discarded and the current visit would count as the first effectively wiping the slate clean. 

For further consistency, once rated, I moderate the cafe against others of a similar rating to make sure the score feels right and they are a comparable cafe or tearoom.

It has often been suggested that I rate other things like service, price, toilets, other food etc. but as cake and hot chocolate are the main things I want from my refreshment stop then I don't want other factors to influence the overall rating. If my guests want these things rated I have often suggested to them they do their own spreadsheet and blog.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

A second opinion (Earsham Street Cafe, Bungay)

Earsham Street Cafe,
Open 9:00-4:00 7 days a week,
 Highly Recommended
Looking at the BBC on-line weather forecast last night there seemed to be a window of opportunity this morning for a bike ride and cafe (or tearoom) review before the rain was due in the afternoon. With the wind from the west we caught the train to Lowestoft to come back (wind behind) via Bungay. Chris (wife) was coming along as today's guest reviewer so it seemed like a great opportunity to return to the Earsham Street Cafe in Bungay which is currently rated number 1 of the cafes rated so far. Every time I had previously returned to a highly rated cafe it had always disappointed, dropped down the ratings and left me embarrassed after the big sell I had given my guests. I was therefore keen to see if this trend would continue today.

We got to the station in plenty of time, loaded on our bikes and settled down for the journey. Everything was going smoothly until I became aware of a mumbling going round the carriage. Apparently someone was smoking a few tables behind us. People started to cover their faces with scarves, open windows, frenziedly cough and loudly make comments to each other that smoking was not allowed. No one seemed brave enough to ask him directly to stop. My chance to be a hero and perform my civic duty I thought. However when I saw the gentleman's tattoos and half drunk bottle of vodka I decided a quick coughing fit would make the point just as well. Despite my efforts he continued to smoke until we arrived at our destination. This was clearly the most exciting thing that had happened on the Wherry train line for some time and Lowestoft station was still buzzing about the illegal smoking incident as we set off on our bikes.

The ride to Bungay was very pleasant and covered a lot of cycle route 31 (Southwold to Beecles). We therefore arrived at the Earsham Street Cafe in good spirit  The cafe is very bike friendly as they allow you to bring your bikes through to the outside area rather than leave them outside on the main road which meant I was already feeling positive when I went to view the available cakes. 
Outside Earsham Street Cafe (although Photo taken on a different day)
The effective cake selection (ECS) was excellent and although not a huge choice (or a big chocolate cake) we struggled to narrow the choice down giving them a high ECS rating. We went for the fruit scone and carrot cake (as they are very benchmarkable fare). Chris went for a decaf mocha as her guest drink. 

We placed our order and awaited the beverages and cakes as pressure mounted as to if last times high standards could be met. I was not disappointed or embarrassed as for once the high standards were repeated. The guest drink scored higher than my previous guests (although this was Andrew who is notoriously hard to please) but my hot chocolate was not quite as good and I couldn't award the 9/10 it had previously got. The cake quality was as good as before and hard to fault. We did have a difference of opinion on as to if there was too much icing on the carrot cake but as I like icing and it is my spreadsheet this didn't impact the score.

As we left I was offered one of their new loyalty cards. I had to turn it down as it could tempt me to want to keep going back and not go to other cafes or tearooms. This would rather impact the content of this blog.

Unfortunately the BBC on-line weather forecast had got it  wrong as it started to rain heavily a couple of hours early and we got soaked on the way back. I expected better and have written to the Director General to register my disappointment.

Cafe rating based on 2 visits
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
Map of route taken

Download GPX file of route to load onto a GPS. 42 miles Lowestoft to Norwich

Monday 14 October 2013

Size matters (Corner House Cafe, Mundesley)

Corner House Cafe,
Opening times Mon 9:30-3:00,
 Tue-Sat 9:30-5:30, Sun 10-3
This is the first post about an actual Cafe (or tearoom) visit. Myself, with friend Andrew, set off from his house in Aylsham for a ride to Mundesley.  There is a choice of at least three Cafes in Mundesley but from previous visits I believed the Corner House Cafe was the best option. It does have the disadvantage from the others that it misses the sea view, although if you take the table by the door you can just glimpse the sea as long as you sit at the right angle, but it serves much better refreshments.
Outside the corner house cafe albeit on a different day from this visit
Overall the cafe scored very well against my hot chocolate and cake based scoring system (see There must be rules! ), and put the cafe equal 9th out of 21 cafes rated to date. The hot chocolate was excellent, with free mini marsh mallows, and the guest drink (Andrew's mocha) scored well despite him be notoriously hard to please in the coffee department. 

The most puzzeling thing was that the drink sizes available were only small and medium. Small I understood but with out a large size I couldn't see what reference point there was to know how big a medium should be. Maybe there used to be a large but it was either unpopular or they lost all the large cups, I shall probably never know but it is likely to trouble me for some time.

The overall score was pulled down by its effective cake selection rating (ECS). This is based on the number of cakes that I would like to try as opposed to just the number of different cakes on offer. There was not much choice but the carrot cake I did have was pretty good.

Despite a puncture the trip home was uneventful with less banter than normal as I was still distracted by the mystery of what happened to the large size drinks. However the Corner House Cafe is definitely on my list of cafes (or tearooms) to visit on my world record attempt (see Will it be a record ?) or when I next cycle out that way. 

Scores based on 2 visits
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating

This is a map of the route

View 31 Miles Aylsham Mundsley in a larger map

Click link to download 31 mile Alysham Mundsley loop GPX file for your GPS

Saturday 12 October 2013

Haven't you got better things to do with your time?

Many years ago, as I was approaching my mid life crisis, I received back our holiday photos from the developers (this was in a time before we had even heard of 'digital' this and 'I-' that). I was convinced that we had been sent the wrong pictures as there was some fat bloke that I didn't recognise in all them all. On closer examination it became apparent that the fat bloke was me. Action was needed and a 3 point plan developed.
  1.  better diet,
  2.  take up running again 
  3.  track my weight on a spreadsheet. 
As a result of this plan then my love of running and spreadsheets was born, both of which still rule my life today. 

About 4 years ago with many races run and a C: Drive crammed with Excels it became clear that running wasn't enough and triathlon was the obvious step forward. I had always been a keen leisure cyclist but never had a proper road bike, so a quick trip to the cycle shop and five hundred quid later I was the proud owner of a Giant Defy 3.5 (which is a bit better than a 4 but not quiet as good as a 3, apparently).

I quickly found I loved road cycling as much as running and took every opportunity to go for a ride or persuade friends and family that they should take up cycling so I could go riding with them. I had a couple of friends who were keen cyclists and they helped show me the way of a 'proper' cyclist.

One of these, Big George, suggested we included a stop at a cafe on our rides so we could go a bit further. Although his knowledge of cafes appeared good unfortunately his route management was poor and a great deal of each ride was spent looking at maps. I, on the other hand, liked to plan my routes in advance and load on to my GPS for easy of navigation and more flowing riding experience. Sadly I had no knowledge of the local cycle cafe scene so had to rely on Big George.

What I needed was to develop a superior set of cafe options so  that I could take control of both route and refreshment stops. 

As it transpired Big George only seemed to know of 3 cafes so I quickly developed a longer list and route planning was all mine. However I have particular needs from my stops, I don't drink coffee or tea so the quality of the hot chocolate was most important, also no stop is complete without the energy giving properties of cake. So cake choice and quality are important too.

I was discussing this dilemma with Jodie (my Aussie sister in law), who, knowing my love of spreadsheets and challenges suggested I rate all the cafes (and tearooms) in Norfolk against my criteria and record the information so as to avoid disappointing cycle breaks in the future.

The Cafe (or tea room) review system was therefore born and my quest had begun. 

I shall explain more about it and the initial results in my next posts.

Friday 11 October 2013

The story so far............

Today I'm launching my blog to document my quest to find the best cafes (or tearooms) in Norfolk and the lead up to my potential cafe (or tearoom) cycle world record attempt (See Will it be a record).

Over the first few posts I will answer the key questions;

  1. Why are you doing this? Haven't you got better things to do with your time?
  2. How does your rating system work? (is it suitable for other leisure actives such as hiking and chatting)
  3. What are the ratings so far from the establishments visited?
  4. What is the world record attempt you are planning?

Once I have brought you up to date future posts will update on the latest visits, reviews and progress on the world record attempt. So watch this space