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

Friday 26 June 2015

More power. (Smallsticks cafe, Happisburgh)

Smallsticks Cafe,
Open Mon to Thurs 10:00-16:00,
Fri 10:00 – 19:00,
Sat and Sun 9:00-17:00
Highly Recommended
I first visited Smallsticks cafe in June 2015 when, as you can see from the post, Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) was at his most hard to please. I returned again in August 2016 with cycling guests, Chris (Mrs Crusader) and Dom (old school cyclist) who felt Andrew was completely wrong and really liked the cafe. I have therefore updated the post and ratings to reflect their views as well. For the record I thought it was great on both visits.

Back in June 2015 I followed up on a blog reader cafe recommendation to go to Alfresco tearoom in Ludham (see A series of mistakes) which was a success so I thought I should try another blog reader recommendation. This time it was from Steve who said

'Suggest you try Smallsticks Cafe, Cart Gap, nr Happisburgh,  
I haven't cycled there, but regular mid dog walk stop, courtyard to put bikes in, good cakes and breakfasts' 

All sounded very promising and I fancied a trip to the seaside so arranged to meet up with today's cycling guest, Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please), at his house in Alysham where we set off towards the coast.

On the way I told Andrew about my new bicycle power meter. I was very excited about it as it would give me lots of new interesting ride facts (such as my average watts per ride, the balance of my pedalling between left and right foot, smoothness of my pedalling) so lots of new spreadsheet opportunities and post ride data crunching fun. I even explained to him the science behind power and how the meter worked. This led to today's cycling guest cycling top tip.

Cycling guest cycling top tip No 33. For the safety of your cycling guest make sure you don't bore them to sleep whilst riding as they will fall off their bike and could injure themselves.

After Andrew woke up and got back on his bike we continued to Happisburgh via the back roads through the dunes at Sea Palling, a very pleasant route. (I took a similar route on national cycle way 30 on the ride in August 2016 as well but this time it was 65 miles from Norwich).
Route 30 through the dunes
We found Smallsticks cafe down the road towards the lifeboat station at Cart Gap. I was curious why it was called Smallsticks so was pleased to see an explanation was available on the website. Apparently it is named after the field next door which is called Smallsticks field. Unfortunately Smallsticks field doesn't have a website explaining its name derivation so none the wiser really.

Andrew took the obligatory photo and complained he couldn't really see what he was taking as the screen was dirty. Foolishly I didn't check the photo but it turned out he couldn't really see what he was taking as he had his finger over the lens.
Smallsticks cafe and close up of Andrews finger
On my visit in August 2016 the priority was to get a proper photo taken which this time was a success.
Photo of smallsticks cafe minus any finger
As Steve suggested we took our bikes round to the courtyard area where there was a lovely walled outdoor seating courtyard area. Inside was a glass fronted indoor seating area but as it was a rare warm day we sat outside.
Outdoor seating courtyard area
The staff were very friendly (on both my visits) and the view across to Happisburgh lighthouse was great so I awarded a high atmosphere and ambiance (AAA) score. 
Great view of Happisburgh lighthouse and church
Steve had said there were good cakes but unfortunately there seemed to have been a rush on them so only Victoria or chocolate sponge cake, cupcakes and flapjack on offer. I enquired about scones but the fruit ones were just out the oven and the cheese had only just gone in. There were muffins but they were wrapped in cellophane and cake reviewing rules clearly state anything in cellophane will not count towards the effective cake selection (ECS) rating so sadly I could only give a low ECS score. I suspect it could have been much higher on a different day.
Rather sparse selection of cakes
My suspicions proved correct as there was a much better selection on my next visit upping the ECS mark.
Larger cake selection on a different day
We ordered hot chocolate and cappuccino for drinks plus a slice of both the cakes. As it was lunch time we also went for a cheese ciabatta roll as well. I know a cheese ciabatta roll is not cake, so plays no part in my ratings system, but I mention it as when it arrived it was served on top of its serviette. I was worried this would not bode well for when the cakes arrive and impact my 'keep cake off serviettes' campaign.
Ciabatta served on serviette rendering it useless
I had been given a choice of dark, milk or white hot chocolate which is always a good sign. I went for dark and was very pleased with both my choice and the drink as it had an excellent chocolate taste and good temperature so scored well. On the other extreme Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) did not like his cappuccino at all. I questioned him further and he just didn't like the taste and lack of coffeeness so refused to budge from a very low guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) score. As a good reviewer I have since checked trip advisor where there is only positive comments on the quality of the Smallsticks coffee so maybe it was just an off day (for Andrew or Smallsticks or both).
Very good hot chocolate and not so good cappuccino
Again I was right about the coffee as when I returned with Chris and Dom (who can also be hard to please and are certainly no pushovers) they both thought their coffee was excellent pushing up the guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) mark. My hot chocolate was even better than before.
Cakes and drinks from my second visit in August 2016
Steve prove to be spot on about the cakes as they were both top draw and got high cake taste quality (CTQ) marks and much to my relief they came with separate serviette wrapped round a cake knife. As my mother told me never to eat food off my knife I had to request a cake fork to eat the cake with, so she will be very pleased with me.
Good quality cakes
All in all Smallsticks cafe was a good recommendation, thanks Steve, and I could have spent sometime sitting in the outdoor seating courtyard area enjoying the views but it was time to return home. It was equally hard to persuade my 2016 guests to get going as we had already cycled 40 miles to get there and had another 25 to go. However I decided it was worth it and highly recommend a visit.

I also now have over a year of power meter data that I have spent many happy hours analysing although I still don't really know what it all means (graphs available on request)

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

Click here to download 43 mile Alysham Happisburgh loop gpx file for your gps

Tuesday 23 June 2015

A series of mistakes. (Alfresco Tearoom, Ludham)

Alfresco Tearoom,
Open Every day 10:00-18:00

I always like it when someone contacts me about a cafe or tea room they have visited and recommends that I check it out. This happened a few weeks ago when Martin dropped me a line and said

"opposite Ludham church there is a good cafe called Alfresco tearooms where they serve real tea in a pot with a strainer, well its important to me, and other good stuff too. Open 10-6 7 days". 

Today seemed like a good day to see if Martin was right and a visit to Ludham would also fill a gap in my cafe locations map in the Broadland area. So hopes were high of a top quality cafe cycle ride. However I should have spotted that Martin was a tea drinker whereas my cycling guests today, Chris (wife) plus Barry and Helen and their tandem were all coffee drinkers and this proved to be a critical mistake.

It was a grey and cold day as we set off out through the Norfolk flatlands but as it was mid June I was determined to wear my summer cycling gear. This was my second mistake of the day as I was soon freezing. Chris (wife) had made the same mistake although I got the distinict impression that both her choice of clothing and the coldness of the day were my fault.
Cold and grey Norfolk day
One problem with visiting the broads on a bike is that there are not many roads to chose from as the areas where the roads should be have been taken up by rivers and lakes so it was going to be tricky to find a route that avoided main roads. I had hatched a plan to avoid getting the blame for the route as well as the weather by sneakily asking Barry to plan it for us and I made him acting lead navigator for the day (although he didn't get to wear my special leader hat). 

Despite having to go on a series of busy roads we got to Ludham safely and headed for the church where, exactly as Martin had said, we found Alfresco tearooms opposite it.
Outside Alfresco tearoom looking at Ludham church
Alfresco tearoom is the converted front of a house and once inside we were in what must have been the living room area. There were several tables available and another two in a mini courtyard outdoor seating area, but it was too cold for anyone to be using them today. The décor was traditional tea room with large cheque table clothes, some beams, a welsh dresser etc. It was obviously a popular destination as by the time we left people were waiting for tables. I therefore awarded a good atmosphere and ambiance (AAA) score.

I went to check out the cake selection so that I could award the effective cake selection (ECS) score. Martin had not said what he had thought of the cakes although I assumed they were a subset of the 'other good stuff' he had referred to. There were three nice looking sponge cakes on display. 
3 sponges cakes on display, less blurry in real life
Plus, the 'on wall blackboard style menu system' suggest there were three other types of cake available as well so I awarded a reasonably good ECS score.
on wall blackboard style menu system
I ordered my hot chocolate and some lemon and sultana cake. Chris and Helen had mochas plus chocolate cake and more lemon and sultana cake and Barry went for cappuccino and ploughman's lunch. As a ploughman's lunch is not cake Barry played no further part in any cake rating activity. 

My hot chocolate was good and got a good hot chocolate quality score. The cakes were nice too although we all agreed the lemon and sultana was particularly fine and the better of the two. 
The cakes had been served on a doily which itself was on top of the serviette. At first I didn't know how I felt about  this in terms of my 'keep cake off serviettes campaign' but as the serviette could be removed with out any cake soiling I decided it was ok.
Cake on doily on serviette conundrum
As an aside we all had some form of 'light lunch' which reinforced the 'other good stuff' remark. 

So up to this point everything Martin had said about the Alfresco tea room had been spot on. I just needed to find out what my cycling guests thought about their coffees. Unfortunately this is where things unravelled as all three of them were more than disappointed with their drinks which were exceptionally weak missing any evidence of the key ingredient needed in a good cup of coffee, namely coffee or the chocolate needed in a mocha. There was plenty of froth and milk but this didn't seem to help with their scoring. I was forced to award a rather poor guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) score.
Very weak Mocha with no sign of coffee or chocolate but lots of milk and froth
Unfortunately the GHDQ rating dramatically dragged the Alfresco tearoom score down. However if you are a tea drinker, like Martin or Hot chocolate drinker, like me, then it is worth going on a visit if you are in the area, especially for a light lunch.

On the way back Barry took us down two miles of the A1064 which was particularly unpleasant. I kept pointing out that Barry was lead navigator today but to no avail and it led to days cycling guest cycling top tip from Chris.

Cycling guest cycling top tip No 33. If you have planned a cafe cycle route that goes on busy A roads then, for a more relaxing ride, find a cycling guest who isn't your wife to accompany you.

The rest of the route back was quieter both in terms of roads and criticism but there was still time for me to get a puncture. As an experiment I tried fixing it with a can of puncture fixing spray which you squirt in the valve. It is meant to both seal the hole and inflate the tyre at the same time thus saving you much time and effort. It just about did this and I managed to limp home on a fairly soft tyre without having to change the inner tube. However at over seven quid a can I think I will stick to fixing it properly in future.
About to try out the can of puncture repair spray to fix my puncture
For cafe cycle puncture statistic fans this was my 4th puncture this year but first since February which is a puncture per ride coefficient of 10.5. Not bad.

I have several more recommendations to follow up on but if you know a good venue then please let me have yours, and thanks to Martin for his.

Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
Click here to down load 36 mile Thorpe End Ludham Loop GPX file for your GPS

Friday 19 June 2015

2005 revistied. (The Mardlers' rest cafe at the Gressenhall muesum of Norfolk life, Gressenhall).

The Mardlers' rest cafe,
Gressenhall muesum of Norfolk Life,
Open Every day 10:00-17:00/16:00 March to Nov,

It has been a couple of weeks since I was able to do a UK based cafe cycle ride. This was partly due to my recent alpine cafe cycling reviewing adventure, partly due to my ironman training commitments and partly due to lack of potential cycling guests. So I was pleased when Big George said he was up for being today's cycling guest as he had a surprise.

He also told me he recommended the Mardlers rest cafe at the Gressenhall museum of Norfolk life as a venue as it was very good when he last went. I therefore planned a 45 mile route to get us there.

When he turned up Big George's surprise was that he had with him a shiny new bike which he had got for a bargain price off e-bay. This was bad news for me as it meant Big George would be trying to go fast to give his bike a good work out which would mean he would either end up running out of steam sooner than normal or he would keep racing me and I would have to race him back as I can't stop myself however hard I try. I was feeling very tired after all my ironman training (don't know if I mentioned anywhere I was doing an Ironman triathlon) so had been hoping for a leisurely ride. As predicted we set off at a super fast pace as Big George shot off on his new machine and I was forced to chase after him. 

As a man who is quite partial to buying new bikes there is one thing I always do before using it.

Cycling Guest top cycling tip No. 32. When you get a new bike buy some good quality tyres as the ones that come with it are always cheap and prone to punctures.

Sadly Big George had not followed Cycling Guest top cycling tip No. 31 and after a few miles we had to stop for him to replace his inner tube. While he fixed it I noted down the puncture on my cycling data spreadsheet which, incidentally, was the 6th cycling guest puncture this year but first since mid March. I feel a graph coming on.

Big George repairing puncture on his cheap tyres
After the unplanned stop we set off again with Big George acting like a nine year old by putting in lots of fast surges for me to chase down but we had no further incidents until we arrived at the Gressenhall museum of Norfolk life. 

As Big George had recommended the cafe I assumed he knew the way from the museum car park to the cafe. To my surprise he told me he couldn't remember as it was over 10 years ago when he came. On hearing this news I was no longer sure how relevant his recommendation now was or even if there was a cafe here at all.

Fortunately there still was a cafe and thanks to the excellent selection of site maps and signposts we found our way to the entrance.

Outside entrance to the Mardlers rest cafe at the Gressenhall museum of Norfolk life
The first thing I noticed was the wide range of seating choices. First was an outside courtyard seating area, then a standard cafe based indoor seating area and finally a glass conservatory indoor seating area. It was all very quiet and pleasant so I awarded a high atmosphere and ambiance (AAA) score. However we had come just before lunchtime on a Thursday out of school holidays so I suspect it could be very different at other times of the year.
Some of the seating options available
We went inside and checked out the cake selection to award the effective cake selection (ECS) score. There were a good number of offerings including a large toffee apple cake, but on closer inspection a number of them were biscuits so don't contribute to the ECS rating. Big George had told me he remembered the tiffin being very good but sometime in the last 10 years they seemed to have stopped selling it.
Cake selection with several being biscuits
I ordered a hot chocolate, cheese scone (as part of my cheese scone serving temperature research) and a slice of the toffee apple cake. Big George had a filter coffee, sausage roll and coconut and apricot biscuit. As neither a sausage roll or a coconut and apricot biscuit are cake then Big George would play no further part in any cake reviewing today.
Drinks and food, not all of which were cake based
Despite our drinks coming from a machine they were both good and nice and strong so good drinks quality marks. My cheese scone was served cold but despite this was still nice. The toffee apple cake was a top ranking piece of cake and therefore scored well. As an aside Big George said his sausage roll was excellent as well.

Overall Big George's recommendation of the Mardlers rest cafe at the Gressenhall museum of Norfolk life had proved a good one and I have given it my recommended status as it performed well in all categories. You can visit it without having to go into the museum but Big George said the museum was very good as well although it may have changed somewhat in the last ten years. He had particularly liked petting the animals in the farm but I had to break the news to him that the ones he had made friends with were now dead. 

After a few tears (but no hugging) Big George felt ready to set off back to Norwich. This time we had the wind behind so Big George could go extra fast, which seemed to make him forget about his departed farmyard friends and he was soon happy again. I asked him if there was any interesting news he wanted to chat about. He said he had heard that London had been awarded the 2012 Olympics and that someone called David Cameron had become the conservative leader. I said I was aware of these things but didn't like to point out they happened 10 years ago.

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


Click here to down load 45 mile Norwich Gressenhall loop gpx file to your gps

Thursday 4 June 2015

Can't sit down (Austrian and Slovenian cafes)

Slovenian 'High Altitude' training camp

Day 3
Today was the third and final day of my ironman altitude training and European cafe cycle mash up. After two days of serious climbing I had promised Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) a much flatter day. We were to head to a lake in Austria and cycle round it on the theory that lakes must be put somewhere flat to stop all the water running out. The plan was to check out Austrian lakeside cafes before returning to Slovenia to revisit Hotel Vitranc the Cake Crusader European cafe of the year 2014.

The only issue was we in Slovenia and Austria was the other side of the mountain. This meant we had to start the day going over the Wurzenpass. We had done it the other way round on day 1 and discovered that a 4 mile climb with 18 % parts and lots of sharp bends is rather challenging. Andrew has had difficulty getting over it, literally on the day and since by moaning about how hard it was all the time. However today we would be going the other way which is a much easier climb as we start much higher up in Slovenia.

We therefore reached the top with surprising ease and I was able to take a deserted boarding crossing black and white photo from the opposite side.
Deserted boarder crossing, in black and white, on way to Italy
However we still had to tackle the descent down. This was the scariest experience of the trip as you can pick up a lot of speed going down a hill that steep and if it ends in a hairpin bend then it gets a bit tricky. We were not helped by our motor biking friends insisting on overtaking everything coming up the hill and heading straight for us. Needless to say I had very sore hands from gripping the brakes very tightly when we eventually got down. 
Going down Wuzenpass which is much steeper than it looks in phot
From here, after some tricky navigation around the motorway and a busy road, it was a fairly flat ride through the Austrian town of Villach to the northern side of lake Ossiach.
Centre of Villach in Austria
The main excitement on route was seeing eggs for sale allowing me to put out my first international Egg news flash on my Twitter feed. As yet it has not gone viral.
European egg news
The ride round the lake proved disappointing due to all prime lakeside real estate being full of houses so that, although there was a good cycle path, you could only get the odd glimpse of the water.
Rare glimpse of lake from cycle path
All the lakeside cafes we passed were either part of campsites, which Andrew refused to go near, or looked overly touristy. We then spotted something on the other side of the road so decide to try there instead.

It was Urbani wirt cafe in the village of St Urban. Wikipedia research tells you that Saint Urban is the patron saint of built up areas but as a little village by a big lake isn't at all built it was surprising that he came from here.
Ready to find a seat in impressive and shady outside seating area
The cafe itself had a shady outside seating area with the only distraction being the nearby road. An added bonus was the waiter and waitress wore traditional lederhosen to give an authentic feel and therefore a good atmosphere and ambience (AAA) score.

Sadly they had no hot chocolate so I thought I would try the tea and some strudel. Andrew had cappuccino and a cheese toastie.

I was very impressed with my tea that came in a mixing bowl. It was nice but at the end of the day just a cup of tea. My strudel was excellent but Andrew found his cheese toastie to be only fine. However overall good scores and a high position in my growing European cafe list.
Tea served in a mixing bowl
After our stop we got to the far end of the lake and headed up into foothills which had a bit of climbing but nothing too difficult compared with our hour plus up hill experiences of the previous days. It was completely different scenery being much more open than on our proper mountain trips.
Flatter Austrian terrain
During this part of the ride Andrew insisted on an unscheduled 10 minute break to admire the view and soak up the scenery. Apparently this is something called a rest. I had no idea why you would want to do this as it did not add to our total miles, metres climbed or average speed stats, but I reluctantly agreed he could have 5 minutes whilst I twiddled my thumbs and looked at maps and data.
Andrew taking a break on the village green
When we eventually set off again we were now on the south side of the lake and in search of a late lunch.
South side of lake which was again a little way from the cycle path
After a while we chose to try cafe Gasthaus Messnai at Bade Strand as it had a lake view and wasn't too busy. Sadly my lake view was obscured by a fruit tree which I think they should cut down. Andrew felt that moving my chair might be a better option but it wasn't me who had placed the chair there in the first place.
Outside cafe which was not too busy mid afternoon
I was pleased that hot chocolate was a available although the waitress was not so impressed with Andrew's food choice of salad and chips. Like me she was probably worried that salad and chips was not really enough fuel for the remaining 40 miles of ride, especially in these temperatures and after he had already needed to do that funny rest thing earlier. She would be proved right.

Despite my hot chocolate looking anaemic it was quite nice as was Andrews cappuccino. I had tortellini and chips for lunch which was fairly nice so overall, despite the fruit tree issue and lack of lederhosen, it was another good cafe score.
Rather milky looking hot chocolate
We set off again and rode through Villach back to the Wurzenpass. Here we had a choice of 10 miles up and over or 20 miles going gently up and round. Andrew went for the twenty mile option, and although I didn't let on I was relieved.
Approaching the infamous and very tough to cycle up, Wuzenpass
However it was still hard work and the temperature was now over 30c. It took a while to reach the Austrian/Italian boarder and a last deserted boarder crossing black and white photo.
Final deserted boarder crossing black and white experience on the trip
With just 6 miles to go it was clear the mixed salad and chips had run out as Andrew did the unthinkable and asked if we could stop for another rest. Before agreeing I tried some of my legendary motivational skills by suggesting he 'man up as he was cycling like a whining toddler' but surprisingly this didn't appear to help and we were forced to stop.
Andrew having a rest
Cycling guest cycling top tip no 31 To enjoy a cycle ride without the need for unscheduled stops or rests then make sure you eat more than a mixed salad and chips for lunch.

When Andrew finally announced this rest thing was over we set off again on a final push to the hotel Vitranc in Podkoren. This had previously been awarded Cake Crusader European cafe of the year 2014. I had emailed them their winners certificate but surprisingly they had never responded. I had therefore brought out a certificate with me to personally hand over.
Outside the award winning Hotel Vitranc
Whilst we waited to find someone to give the certificate to I ordered a hot chocolate and strudel only to find they had run out of both. I went for pancakes instead. Andrew had another cappuccino and also had pancakes to help refuel him.
Pancakes was only sweet food available
The food and drinks were nice but due to lack of options their new rating knocked them off the top of the best cafe cycle in Europe spot. As there was no one at reception and they had lost their top spot I decided not to give them the certificate after all but took a photo of me with it for the records.
Outside hotel Vitranc with their winners certificate 
We now just had a couple of miles left but by now we were both so saddle sore we couldn't sit down for the rest of the ride home. After over 260 miles and up a lot of climbs my backside is very happy to be travelling home with me tomorrow rather than spending more time on the bike. However it has been a very successful trip both from a training and high cafe caliber view with a special thanks to my cycling guest for his input.