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

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Friday 28 February 2014

Best for running not cake. (Copper Beech Tearooms, Brandon country park)

Cooper Beech Tearoom,
Opening times Mon-Fri 10:00-17:00,
Sat-Sun 10:00-17:30
(Nov-Feb 10:00-15:30)
After two weeks with no cycle cafe reviewing possible (bad weather and half term holiday.combination) I was glad to be able to get back on the bike for a cycle cafe review. 

Just before Christmas, during a short break to Elveden Forest Centre Parcs, we (Chris: wife and George: son) had ventured out to Brandon Country Park to take in the local parkrun. To explain for those not familiar with the parkrun concept then it is a timed 5k run every Saturday at 9.00 am in your local park. They are great fun and attract many people of all standards. I have now done over 100 (and have the t-shirt to prove it). We really enjoyed this one as it is a lovely run through the woods and the friendly organisers and regulars made us feel very welcome that day. It quickly went into my top 5 all time favourite parkrun venues. Admittedly all my other parkruns have been at Eaton park in Norwich so entry into the top 5 was guaranteed but it was still a great venue. At the end of the run I did notice there was an interesting looking cafe by the car park (Copper Beech Tearooms) and decided that I must cycle back here one day to give it a cycle cafe review. Hopefully the drinks and cake would be as good as the run.

Therefore today I teamed up with guest, Big George, with the plan to cycle to Brandon Country Park (wind behind), review tearoom and then catch the train back. 

Things started badly as when Big George arrived there was a frosty atmosphere. Not only had I not noticed the new tribars on his bike, a bit like failing to miss a ladies new hair do, but something else was clearly bothering him. It transpired that Chris (wife) had been to a parents evening type thing at school to learn about how to make your teenage child do revision leading up to their A'levels (a fairly fruitless exercise). She had been taken in by the presentation and was now convinced this was actually possible so had diligently written up the notes to e-mail to me and our sons. Like most modern families, despite all living in the same house and often being in the same room, we do find e-mail and text the most effective way to communicate with each other and avoid arguments. 

Unfortunately she had mistakenly sent this e-mail to Big George instead of Son George. Big George had taken this as a patronising slur on his parenting skills and criticism of his sons revising ability. Apparently family honour was now at stake. Rather than his original suggestion of pistols at dawn I smoothed over the situation by agreeing to buy him his cake and we spent the rest of the ride discussing the pros and cons of a colour coded revision timetable system.

We arrived at the Copper Beech tearooms in Brandon Country Park and I locked up our bikes, with Alarmio, in the outside seating area which has a collection of octagonal based benches. 
In outside seating area at the Copper Beech tearooms.
 Note octagonal based bench seating 
The outside seating area provides a pleasant view of the woods, however a quick tip, if you choose to sit on the wrong seating oct you end up with a not so pleasant view of the car park so if you choose to have your refreshments in the outside seating area select your seating oct with care to avoid potential view disappointment.
Bikes locked against octagonal based bench. Select your seating oct with care
for optimum view enjoyment.
As it was a bit rainy we headed inside to the cafeteria style indoor seating area. Despite there being a good range of cakes all of them were pre-packaged and therefore not very appealing. There is clearly no place for cellophane wrapped product in any top rated cafe or tearoom so I had to award a low effective cake selection (ECS) score.
Part of the cellophane wrapped cake selection.
To go with my hot chocolate I chose a walnut and date cake and Big George went for cappuccino and cherry cake. Unfortunately the cake appearance first impressions proved correct as the cakes were both very dry and a bit tasteless. If the package had been an attempt to keep the contents fresh and moist then this strategy needs a re think. I was therefore forced to give a poor cake quality rating. 
Frothy drinks and bits of cake ready for rating.
This just left the drinks to try to see if they could save the day. Sadly not as It appeared that the lady in charge of the frothing machine had got a bit carried away and gung-ho with her frothing duties as both our drinks contained far more froth than liquid. Once the drink part of the drink had been uncovered then the hot chocolate actually tasted ok but Big George didn't like his coffee. Not good drinks ratings either I'm afraid. 

I had had high hopes for the Copper Beech tearooms in Brandon Country park but it was a bit of a let down although slightly better than some cafes at other parks and attractions I have been to. I do, however, still suggest you visit the park for the excellent parkrun.

After cafe rating was completed we headed into Brandon to catch the train home and continued planning our London to Paris continental cycle cafe reviewing trip.

Ratings for Copper Beech Tearooms
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
This is Map of the route

View 40 miles Norwich to Brandon in a larger map
Click here to down load 40 miles Norwich to Brandon GPX file for your GPS

Wednesday 12 February 2014

What no rain. (Tudor Bakehouse and coffee shop, Long Stratton)

Tudor Bakehouse,
Long Stratton,
Closed Down
After waiting for over a week I finally got the necessary combination of no rain and an available guest so that I could once again resume Cafe Cycle reviewing. Today's guest was Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please). With a strong wind from the south we decided to do a loop, down to Long Stratton, so we would have the wind behind us on the way back. We had no particular cafe in mind but I had checked that Long Stratton did contain some actual cafes for our stop.

The ride got off to a shaky start with some confusion when crossing the A140 roundabout. Andrew sensibly choose the cycle path route whilst I nipped round on the road. Unfortunately Andrew didn't spot my manoeuvre and missed the fact I had gone past him and had turned off up the road. When he couldn't see me anywhere he assumed I had gone the other way and set off in the opposite direction. I soon realised there was something wrong, as there was no ranting going on beside me, so I stopped and turned round. Meanwhile Andrew had also noticed a 50% reduction in the number of riders on this trip. We both tried ringing each other to find out what had gone wrong and after a few missed calls, and several voice mail messages, we meet up again at the roundabout and managed to stay together for the rest of the ride.

It was a hard slog into the wind and we were glad when we got to Long Stratton. We slowly cycled down the main road until we came across the Tudor Bakehouse and Coffee shop. This looked like a good stop as it also had a bicycle repair shop attached to it so was likely to be very cycle friendly.

Outside the Tudor Bakehouse with distinct lack of Tudorness but lots of bikes.
After an Alarmio malfunction and piercing car style alarm incident we went inside. On the left of the Tudor bakehouse and coffee shop is a normal bakery type set up and on the right a choice of seating. You can either pick a standard table and chair seating solution or a comfy seating area with a pair of sofas. We went for sofas. Sadly there was no outside seating area although I have hard it rumoured that these are provided in the summer months to create a continental cafe culture on Long Stratton high street.

My coat perched on one of the sofas in the comfy seating area.
The cake selection was basic bakery based; consisting of cakes, scones, biscuits and slices which can be sold in multiples, however there were no big round cakes, so although there was plenty of choice I only awarded a middle effective cake selection score. There were also pasties, pies and sandwiches but as these are not cakes they didn't influence the rating.

Good selection of  cakes, biscuits, scones and slices but no big home-made cakes
With my hot chocolate I had an almond and cherry muffin and Andrew went for a cappuccino and chocolate shortbread slice. My hot chocolate was a good one but Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) found his cappuccino a bit milky although nice quality coffee. Both the muffin and shortbread where also very good.

The Tudor bakehouse and coffee shop was a very pleasant stop with a nice bike friendly feel about it. However one thing was troubling me, there was absolutely nothing Tudor about the Tudor bakehouse and coffee shop: no Tudor architecture, no mock Tudor beams, no dead Tudor kings buried in the car park etc so it seemed to me it should have been named just 'the bakehouse and coffee shop'. 

On my return home I undertook some further investigation which revealed that this Tudor bakehouse had recently become the 5th Tudor bakehouse in the Tudor bakehouse group (the others are in Harleston, Diss and Eye). I can only assume that the first Tudor bakehouse was actually in a Tudor building. Maybe from now on they should either only take on bakeries already in Tudor buildings or rename the company 'various eras of architecture bakehouse' to avoid further confusion. 

The eagle eyed readers may remember when I published the original rules for cafe cycle rating (see there must be rules).  I said I would't be reviewing chains just independent cafes and tearooms. Fortunately only one other of the Tudor bakehouses has a coffee shop as well so I think it's still within the regulations to review them.

With the wind behind on the way back we had a very quick and incident free return trip. 

Ratings for the Tudor bakehouse and coffeeshop
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
Here is map of route.

View 27 miles Norwich Long Stratton loop in a larger map
Click here to download 27miles Norwich Long Stratton loop GPX file for your GPS

Monday 10 February 2014

Which way. Introducing the new routes facility.

Due to the bad weather cafe visits have been light over the last couple of weeks. However I have taken the opportunity to update the blog with a new routes facility. 

To enhance your cycling cafe or tearoom experience I have provided a Google map, at the end of most posts, showing the route used to get to the venue being reviewed. I have also added the ability to download the route to your cycle GPS (if you have one). You will see a list of all the routes available on the right hand side of the blog. 

Some routes are circular and some are point to point. On the point to point routes one end is at a train station to help facilitate your way to the start or for getting the train back at the end of the ride.

I have also added some helpful symbols on the maps as follows

Cafe or tearoom on route

Start/end route or instruction

Take care at this point

____    Busy stretch of road, not suitable for two abreast riding.

The routes are all on quiet roads but occasionally have small stretches on slightly busier roads when there are no other options. Hopefully these routes will prove useful and I would be keen for any feedback about the actual route or the routes facility.

If you do download the GPX then some do actually start at my house rather than Eaton crossroads as shown on the google map. However Eaton crossroads is only a short distance away so it should be obvious where to start although you are welcome to start from outside my house if you want.

After downloading GPX I suggest you import it into mapping software like Garmin base maps and then you can easily transfer it to your GPS device.

Happy cycling.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Remember the Herbs. (Spoon Cake Cafe, Loddon)

Spoon Cake,
Opening times Mon-Sat 09:00-17:00,
Due to the bad weather and lack of availability of cycling guests, meant that today was the first cafe cycle ride I had done for a week. However I hadn't been idle on the blog front as I have introduced a new useful routes feature. At the end of each blog I'm adding a Google maps version of the route taken plus a Garmin GPS downloadable file. I'll be writing a post shortly with more information on the routes feature.

For this ride I persuaded Chris (Mrs Crusader) to be today's guest and I choose the Spoon Cake Cafe in Loddon as today's venue. Pre Blog I had rated this cafe twice before so I thought it was about time I did a proper review. The ride to Loddon was into the wind and ended with yet another puncture so we were pleased to get to the Spoon Cake Cafe and were in need of our hot beverages and cakes. 
Outside The Spoon Cake Cafe, Loddon with punctured bike.
You can easily miss the cafe as there is little signage

On entering we immediately examined the cake cabinet so as to award the effective cake selection rating (ECS). There was a good choice of scones, cakes and chocolate slices. I found it hard to choose so awarded a high ECS. We covered all options with Chris choosing the double chocolate cake and me going for the cheese scone and chocolate cherry slice type thing.
Cake cabinet including scones, cakes and chocolate slices.
All very good looking so high ECS rating awarded
To go with our cakes I had my normal hot chocolate and Chris a skinny mocha. My hot chocolate was very good, especially on the chocolate side but could have been a little hotter to better fulfil the hot bit of the drinks brief. Chris also enjoyed her drink but thought it just a touch sweet however both drinks still scored well.

The double chocolate cake and chocolate cherry slice type thing were both excellent as they had a good balance of chocolate as sometimes these type of chocolate offerings can be too rich. The Cheese scone came with a relish, always a nice touch, but I felt could have been a bit cheesier. All in all very good ratings and consistent with my previous two visits 
Drinks, cakes, scones and slices about to be rated
I did have one concern. The Spoon Cake Cafe have moved away from the standard table labelling approach of giving each table its own number. Instead they appeared to have adopted a system of labelling each table based on the name of a herb. We choose the Thyme table. 

On closer inspection of the other tables it became clear all was not well in the herb based table identification system department. To go with Thyme there was the predictable Parsley, Sage and Rosemary tables leaving 3 further tables to be allocate a herb based name. The next table I looked at was Basil, another good herb choice I thought but then we got to table Lavender. Although not strictly a Herb, more of a fragrant flower, it can be used in cooking so I thought they just got away with it. But what of the last table, to my horror it had a completely off piste label of Nutmeg. This is clearly not a herb or even a plant but a spice and I could see no place for it in any self respecting herb based table identification system.

I believe a Dill, Oregano or Coriander would have been more in keeping with the theme and I can only conclude the tables were haphazardly named after random jars in the herb and spice rack. I just hope no passing school children mistakenly use these tables to learn their herbs and are ridiculed at school for saying Nutmeg is a herb in a classroom situation. 

Despite the disappointment of not having a properly thought through herb based table identification system the Spoon Cake Cafe is one of the best and most consistent cafes I have reviewed and I highly recommend for a visit..

After fixing the puncture we set off home and with the wind behind and were back in double quick time.

These are the ratings of the Spoon Cake Cafe based on 3 visits. Full list of cafe ratings at end of Blog
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating

This is map of route

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