Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

I

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Flapjack, cake or not cake? (Funky Mackerel Cafe, Sheringham)

Funky Mackerel Cafe,
Sheringham,
Opening times Mon-Sun 10:00-17:00,
Recommended 
Last week I had arranged to go on a ride with Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) from his house in Alysham so we could head up to the North Norfolk coastal area. Unfortunately, just as I was about to set off, I received a text informing me that he had fallen over the day before and was now too stiff to ride (bless). We therefore had to rearrange until today while he loosened up. I had assumed he must have fallen off his bike and had been impressed but it transpired that, due to reasons he was unprepared to share, he had actually tripped over and fallen into a nettle patch getting stung from head to toe, less impressive. The pain, itching and numbness lasted for several days so today would be his first ride he had been on for a couple of weeks.

I had requested we head for Sheringham where I currently had 3 different cafe recommendations from blog readers. However as Andrew was leading the way it came as no surprise that we found ourselves in Holt, again, which you may remember is Andrews destination of choice whenever we ride from his house. He was keen to cafe here but I insisted we continue North to the seaside.
Holt high street which is clearly not the Sheringham destination I had requested
Although Norfolk is famous for being flat it does have a feature called the Cromer ridge which is a steep ridge that runs parallel to the coast. You have to go over this to reach Sheringham. Heading North the climb is long and gentle before a steep decent towards the sea. On leaving Holt we climbed up to the top and then sped down the other side. Andrew was clearly still upset that we had not stopped in Holt so to my surprise, at the next junction, instead of heading along the flat coast road to Sheringham we turned the other way to climb back up another steep section of the ridge. Apparently this was his way of punishing me for insisting we went to the planned destination. At the summit we rode along the top and then back down the hill to Sheringham. As Andrew had been off the bike for a couple of weeks he was knackered so decided I had been 'punished' enough for not stopping at his beloved Holt and was now happy to proceed to our cafe stop.
One of the roads up Cromer ridge, with Andrew in the distance.
We headed straight to the Beach where I had been recommended to try the Funky Mackerel Beach cafe. I was a bit nervous as to date I have never found a good beach caff. I suspect this is because they have a captive audience of holiday makers so your beach caff doesn't have to try very hard and they all seem to have a quantity versus quality approach to catering. However it had been recommended to me by an actual journalist, Kate, who writes about cycling so I had high hopes.
Outside the Funky Mackerel Cafe on the prom at Sheringham
One thing all beach caffs have in common are fantastic seaside views and the Funky Mackerel was no exception. The view from the small outdoor seating breakfast bar area was tremendous even if I couldn't persuade Andrew to sit outside today.
View of sea from outdoor breakfast bar area
Inside was a little strange as it was full of 70 retro clothes and toys. Andrew very much liked the decor and was keen to award a high atmosphere and ambiance score. I wasn't quite as keen but it made a change from plastic tables and cheap beach goods plus with the great view I had to admit it had a good feel.
Inside has a 70's retro feel
As always I went to check out the cake selection which was different from most I have come across. There was: a cookie, which is a biscuit so doesn't count, Eccles cake, which although it has the word cake in it is actually a raisin pie so doesn't count either, carrot cake, which is cake and 5 different types of flapjack, which is barely cake. Fortunately I'm a big fan of flapjack so always count it as part of a cake selection but despite this I couldn't really give a high effective cake selection (ECS) rating.
Cake selection featuring 5 types of flapjack
There were also a number of hot chocolates available on the hot chocolate menu board but in these circumstances I always go for standard hot chocolate to maintain cross cafe hot chocolate reviewing consistency. Andrew ordered a cappuccino and we then selected banana and date flap jack, respectively, from the multitude of flap jack options.
Selection of hot choclates available
We chose a seat that took in the view and tried our food and drink.
Sea view from indoor seating area
The hot chocolate was quite good and if my body wasn't such a temple I would have liked to try a specialist hot chocolate but it is so I didn't. I made a note to have one on a future visit when I'm off cake crusader reviewing duties. Still on the drinks front Andrew also thought his cappuccino performed well. 
Drinks and flapjacks
The flapjacks were excellent and I was especially impressed by the consistency as often a flapjack can be either a tooth breaker or crumbles in your hand before it reaches your mouth but these were spot on. We debated if there needed to be a cake taste quality (CTQ) score ceiling (in the same way there is for a guest hot drink cup of tea) as flapjack isn't really cake. We eventually decided there should be so awarded theses the maximum available flapjack score which we set at 8. I have update cycle cafe reviewing rules accordingly with the new flapjack ruling (see there must be rules).

We found it very relaxing as we sat admiring the view whilst enjoying our drinks and flapjacks and could have stayed there all day but blogs don't write themselves so we eventually had to leave.

I thought the Funky Mackerel cafe was a very good stop, especially if you like flapjack, and was the best example of a beach caff I have encountered to date. I will definitely be coming back again.

The return ride meant climbing the Cromer ridge for the 3rd time but as this was clearly wearing out Andrew more than me it forced him to take us the quick way back to Alysham successfully bypassing Holt for once.

Ratings for Funky Mackerel Cafe
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
6.5
6.5
5.5
8.0
8.5
7.00
Route

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

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Newbies. (Purdy's tearoom, Aylsham)

Purdy's Tearoom,
Aylsham,
Open Daily 10:00 -16:30
Recommended 
Today was a great day for a bike ride, clear blue crisp sky's and the perfect cycling temperature. I was therefore very pleased I had arranged to go on a cafe cycle to a new cafe. However cafe cycle rules clearly state that a ride only qualifies if it has at least one cycling guest in order that the guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) can be rated. Fortunately due to a series of diary and communication mishaps I had managed to triple book and invite 3 different sets of cycling guest on today's ride so I wasn't exactly sure who was going to turn up.

I started to get nervous after one of my potential guests Chris (Mrs Crusader) had to pull out at short notice and then realised another, Barry, was currently refusing to partake of hot drinks and cakes so was useless on the cafe reviewing front.

I was therefore mighty relieved when Mick turned up on schedule with two newbies, Jenny and Roberta, in tow. As with all new riders they were keen to learn the ways of the cycle cafe reviewer and would be prepared to enthusiastically join in with coffee and cake rating. Obviously once they had come on several rides they would soon get bored, like Barry, with my insistence you eat cake and rate everything but for now it was good to have some new people on board.

It was also good to have some new cycling guests who hadn't heard the story of my Ironman triathlon (which I may have mentioned before) and I was therefore able to bore Jenny with the tale for many miles.

With the combination of fantastic biking conditions, keen new riders and Ironman chat I was amazed how quickly we got to today's venue especially as I had only got as far as the swim section of my Ironman story so still had the bike and marathon parts to cover after the cafe stop.

Today's stop was Purdy's tearoom at Woodgate Nursery which is just outside Alysham and near the Marriotts Way cycle track on the way to Reepham.

We pushed our bikes through the nursery plants where we found Purdy's Tearoom and a large outdoor seating area. We parked our bikes amongst a collection of pumpkins and selected a table for later use. 
Today's group parking bikes in pumpkin corner
Then it was inside the wooden cabin to check out the cakes. There were four available plus cheese and fruit scones and although not the largest selection it was still an interesting one and I therefore awarded a reasonable effective cake selection (ECS) rating.
Cake selection
I ordered chocolate and orange drizzle cake plus a cheese scone (as part of my cheese scone serving temperature research, it was served cold). This was Mick's 4th time as one of my cycling guests and he had always chosen coffee and walnut cake on the previous excursions. I now considered him my go to man on the coffee and walnut front and knew I could now trust his expertise on the subject. With coffee and walnut cake available today I was both surprised and disappointed that he went for chocolate and orange drizzle as well as me. He said he didn't want to become predictable but I considered having a self proclaimed coffee and walnut specialist on the cake crusader reviewing panel to be a real asset and will make sure I direct him back to the ways of the walnut on future rides.

As usual Barry refused to become involved and had a diet coke and sausage roll so he would take no further part in any remaining reviewing activities today.

We returned back to our outdoor seating table and on such a stunning day awarded a high atmosphere and ambiance score.
Cakes and drinks pre reviewing
The newbies had both selected filter coffee and scones (one cheese and one fruit). Hopefully they will become more exotic in their choices in the future. They also had some work to do on their reviewing skills. The coffee was 'nice' as were the scones on the basis they 'weren't hard' which they seemed to think is the only scone quality differentiator. They have much to learn especially as I couldn't work with their descriptive style of input, I NEED NUMBERS!

The pressure was now on Mick (coffee and walnut cake expert) as my only credible cycling guest left and he didn't disappoint. Despite chocolate and orange drizzle not being his specialist subject he was able to give a full rationale for his rating. Moist sponge, good amount of chocolate but lacking enough orange tang which equated to a solid seven. I was in full agreement and felt my cheese scone, although cold, was a good one.

My hot chocolate was a bit on the weak side but, after further questioning of the cycling guests, it was felt the coffees were good and worthy of a high rating.

Overall Purdy's tearoom was a good stop and in an excellent location for a bike ride so worth checking out if you are riding that way.

I was looking forward to the return ride home as I could now talk Jenny through the Ironman bike and run legs but disappointingly she kept getting involved in conversations with the other cycling guests, if I didn't know better it was almost as if she was doing it on purpose. Still I can save the story up for next time which will surely encourage her to come on a return ride.

Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
5
7.25
6.50
7.00
8.00
6.75
Route

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

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Cake Crusader Sportive 17. (30 miles Poringland via Acorn tearooms)

Sportive 17,
Acorn Tearooms,
Poringland,
Opening times Everyday 10-4,
 Recommended
It had been a quiet few weeks on the cafe cycle front as the excitement from my world record attempt died down and normal cycling service started to be resumed. However things were about to go cake crusader cafe cycle crazy (CCCCC) as over the next few days four rides were planned. The first of these was today's sportive to the Acorn Tearooms at the Royal Oak pub in Poringland.

I wasn't sure how many riders were joining me today as the signing up process had consisted of a series of excuses and maybe's this, combined with a forecast of rain, could mean I would be doing the sportive by myself, in which case I wouldn't be bothering posting about it.

Clearly someone must have turned up or you wouldn't be reading this now and in fact I was surprisingly joined by 5 sportive guests at race HQ.
Today's sportive guests
Three of today's riders, Mick, Chris (Mrs Crusader) and Gwyn had recently been on a bicycle maintenance for beginners course meaning we would be in safe hands if there were any mechanicals on the ride today. The course was clearly excellent as when Gwyns chain came off, before we had gone a few yards, she was able to put it back on, eventually, without assistance and we were back on our way.
Gwyn finally managing to complete getting her chain back on
Most of the ride was spent with my sportive cycling guests complaining about how far it was to the cafe stop, as it came towards the end of the ride, and uttering comments such as 'there must be a quicker route to the cafe than this'. I suggested that on that basis they could always have gone in the car but this would be missing the point of going on an actual bike ride. With my point well made we finally arrived at the Acorn tearooms at the Royal Oak pub. Despite all the moaning and the dull and windy conditions, there was general agreement that it had been a good route on some nice quiet country lanes and we were definitely ready to cake.
Arriving at the entrance to Acorn Tearooms
We parked up are bikes and went inside where Mrs Acorn was on hand to give us her usual warm welcome whilst we reviewed the good cake selection and ordered our drinks. 
Good selection of proper sponge cakes
We took a table for six in the corner and entered into the traditional debate as to if the Acorn tearooms at the Royal Oak pub felt more like a tea room or a pub that serves cake. As on previous visits the jury was split although as they have a stained glass indoor window with tearoom written on it and had put a table cloth on the pool table it felt all tearoom to me.
Indoor stain glass window clearly saying tearoom
I was pleased to see that everyone had ordered a different hot drink so I would get a good view on the accuracy of the guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) rating and was looking forward to a lively and informative debate.
An excellent selection of guest hot drinks
Gwyn had ordered a cup of Earl Grey tea and wanted to award it 8 out of 10. I explained this was not possible as cafe cycle reviewing rules clearly state that there is a cap of 7 on a cup of tea rating as at the end of the day it is just a cup of tea. So I scored it as a 7. Gwyn was not happy with this approach and said that in that case she only wanted to give it a 6 out of 7. Once again I had to explain it didn't work like that as it was a cap of 7 not out of 7. Gwyn was now quite agitated and insistent about her score being 6 so I was forced to suggest that if she was not happy with my scoring approach maybe she would like to start up her own tea based blog in which case she could implement a tea rating system of her choice. I noted her drink as a 7 and moved on to gather the other guests hot drink thoughts as they clearly agreed with me or didn't care.

After a lively and informative debate, in which there was a wide range of views on the different coffees, I collected all the scores and the average came out to the same GHDQ score as of my previous visit making drinks GHDQ scoring today all a bit of a waste of time really. 
Excellent cake
We all thought our cakes, especially the sticky toffee one, were very good and once all the remaining category scores were entered then the Acorn tearooms had ended up with the same score as when I visited before once again proving the consistency of my rating system. The Acorn Tearooms at the Royal Oak pub proved a very welcome stop after a 'long' ride on a cold day and remains in my recommended category, definitely worth a visit and as a bonus you can play the tearoom vs pub that serves cake game.

We set off home in the drizzle with the first of the CCCCC rides successfully completed. The only disappointment was that Gwyn, Mick and Chris had not had any further mechanicals with which to demonstrate their bicycle maintenance beginners skills. Before the next ride I may deliberately deflate Chris's (Mrs Crusader's) back tyre to see what her pumping up ability is now like.

Scores for Acorn Tearooms at the Royal Oak pub after two visits
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7.5
7.00
6.50
7.50
6.50
7.00
Map of route
Click link to down load 30 mile Norwich Poringland gpx file for your GPS

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Poetry Corner (Coco Mama, Eye)

Cocoa Mama,
Eye,
Opening times Tue-Sat 09:00-15:00,
Highly Recommended
Today (October 2015) was not only national poetry day but was also about two years since I started the Cake Crusader blog so I had planned a very special 2nd anniversary ride.

To celebrate the two events I first insisted that all our conversations should be held in rhyming couplets and as it was also a special ride we would be going to a proper chocolaterie cafe in order to make sure I got a really good quality hot chocolate, hopefully. I had chosen Cocoa Mama in Eye for the role but it would mean a sixty mile plus round trip.

Once again my special anniversary cycling guest would be Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) as he had come on the first cafe cycle ride back in October 2013 (see size matters).

To summarise our conversation while on the bikes

I started by clarifying the position,
On amount of my VW cars emission,
It might be a little prone to pollute,
But gets two bikes in its roomy boot,

We both agreed it was sad,
That Jose Morihno had gone mad,
I thought he would be gone soon,
Now he's lost the changing room,

I wasn't sure how I felt,
That Jeremy Corbyn hadn't knelt,
But as I'm sure you can guess,
He took a kicking from the right wing press

To avoid having a political row,
We talked about the telly now,
Where we had both watch Nadia make,
The winning bake off show stopper cake,

Andrew who is notoriously hard to please,
Gave advice on my dodgy knees,
I ignored it as he said it's best,
To stop my training and take a rest, (that will never happen!)

With this quality chat time flew by,
As we rode to the country town of Eye.

Once we arrived at Eye we quickly found Coco Mama and were just about to lock up our bikes when to our horror a rival group of 4 cyclists arrived and we had to fight with them over the few places to be able to padlock our bikes to. With bicycle security chaos going on outside the staff came to our rescue by offering to unlock the side entrance where we could all safely store our bikes. This quickly put Cocoa Mamas into my good books. (Note on subsequent visit in September 2016 the side alley was permanently open as it is now shared with a gift shop)
Outside Cocoa Mama as rival cycling group arrived
We rushed straight to the counter in order to get our order in before the other cyclists could. I went to take a photo of the cakes but found to my horror that I had forgotten to charge my phone and the picture taken outside had consumed the remaining battery. In a panic I decided that I would have to do it old school and draw a picture of the cakes on my serviette instead. As you can see it was a good cake selection with some interesting cakes and scones so a good effective cake selection (ECS) mark.
Drawing of some of cake selection
I ordered a hot chocolate, which I really hoped would be up to special 2nd anniversary bike ride standard, and some chocolate cloud cake. As we had cycled over 30 miles to get here and it was lunch time I decided to double scone (one plain cheese and one with spring onion) as I was both hungry and continuing to research cheese scone serving temperature. Andrew went for a cappuccino and a cheese and a sun dried tomato panini. As a cheese and sun dried panini is clearly not a cake Andrew would be playing no further part in any special 2nd anniversary bike ride cake reviewing today.

Our cakes and drinks arrived and I was just about to start drawing them when Andrew remembered his very old phone did have a camera so I could use that instead. First I took a photo of the cake selection which, I think you will agree, is hard to tell apart from my life like sketch.
Some of the cake selection
Meanwhile our rival cyclists were being very noisy and indecisive so had spent a lot of time faffing at the ordering counter. Fortunately Cocoa Mama has 3 possible indoor seating areas available, and we were mighty relieved when they went to the one up the stairs and out of earshot. We sat at a table in the front of the shop although there was also a breakfast bar indoor seating area in a spare corridor available to us. It was all very nicely laid out but sadly there was no outside seating area which I always like.
Breakfast bar style extra indoor seating area
It was at last time to try my Hot chocolate and I was not disappointed as it was the best tasting hot chocolate I could remember with a really good chocolaty flavour. For absolute top marks it needed to be slightly thicker but a definite contender for hot chocolate of the year and certainly worth the trip down. Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) wasn't so keen on his cappuccino only thinking it was reasonable and slightly bland.
Scones, cakes and drinks 
The cheese scones (properly warmed) were also very good with excellent balance of cheese and herbs and a good bake. I put them on my candidate list for 2015 cheese scone of the year. Finally I ate the chocolate cloud cake which was super being both moist and chocolatey without being too rich.

Overall I thought Coco Mamas was an excellent cycle friendly stop and a top choice for a special 2nd anniversary bike ride. It also sells hand made chocolates so is a must go to stop for all chocolate loving cyclists. I would highly recommend it

With the food and drinks consumed I waited in expectation for Andrew to give me my special 2nd anniversary bike ride card and present. On last years 1st anniversary bike ride I had also taken Andrew as my cycling guest but he had failed to produce any card, present or party bags (see Special anniversary ride). I had put this down to the fact I hadn't actual told him it was an anniversary ride until after we had set off but this year I had mentioned it several times when we were arranging today's trip. No card or present was forth coming so I made a note not to invite him on next years 3rd anniversary ride as he had turned out to be a very poor special anniversary bike ride guest again.

We went to collect our bikes only to find our rival cycling group already there discussing what route to take back. They were clearly amateurs as they had not planned the route in advance and were even thinking of going back the same way they came, what nonsense! It is this sort of thing that gives cyclists a bad name so we left them too it and completed our proper circular route home.

Scores based on two visits
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
8.50
6.75
7.00
7.75
7.75
7.55
Route

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

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Way out West. (Orchard Tearoom, Wisbech)

Orchard Tearoom,
Wisbech,
Opening times Mon-Sun 10:00-16:00,
Recommended
One of my Cake Crusading missions is to spread my cafe cycle reviewing activities as far as possible. To make this a practical proposition it sometimes involves driving or railwaying to somewhere and starting the ride from there. As I had recently bought a Sustrans cycle map for Fenland I thought It would be good to ride out in the Fens for a change. Also, as a way of building bridges with Big George, I decided that this would be an excellent destination for him to join me as the cycling guest. You may remember that going up hills was the cause of our falling out when riding in Wales earlier this year, what with him being rubbish at getting up them and my motivational need to point this out. However as the Fens are a no hill zone there would be no such problems although I learnt that this would turn out to be a mistake for me.
Cycling in the flatlands of the Fens without a hill in sight
I decided we should drive to Castle Rising just north of Kings Lynn and cycle to the Orchard Tearoom just south of Wisbech as they are one of the cafes that follow me on Twitter. I had agreed to drive although when Big George turned up he was unhappy when he remembered I have a VW and was worried I would be polluting both him and the Norfolk country side. I pointed out I had only got the car as it easily fitted two bikes in the back and not for its low emissions (although if there is ever a class action against VW then I clearly did buy it for it's low emissions). We put on our anti pollution face masks and set off.

Once at Castle Rising we parked the car and were soon on our way which included a lovely stretch along the river tow path near Kings Lynn. We both agreed this would make an ideal site for an incinerator.
View from cycle path when leaving Kings Lynn
As we continued cycling along the flat roads, surrounded by small dykes and arable fields, I commented that it was just like cycling in Holland, something which I have done on many occasions (see Going Dutch). Big George agreed that it felt very Dutch before remembering that he had never actually cycled in the Netherlands and had only seen it on the telly.

With a bit of help from a light breeze and the flat roads we whizzed along for 30 miles before arriving at the Orchard tea rooms. Coincidently all around the Orchard tearoom were fields full of fruit trees. On arrival we parked our bikes round the back in the outdoor seating area and went through the indoor seating area to the serving counter were there was the cake selection.
Parking our bikes in outdoor seating area before heading inside
It was both a large and interesting cake selection including a number of cakes I fancied such as marmalade cake, bread pudding and several sponges, it therefore got a high effective cake selection (ECS) score. I choose a black current sponge and a cheese scone (as part of my cheese scone serving temperature research). Big George was still refusing to cake on our trips but did have a cheese scone to accompany his tuna melt.
Very effective cake selection
We decided to sit outside under one of the apple trees although I was afraid we would just become a wasp magnet and so I was very surprised when there weren't any buzzy around, apparently they had moved on recently.
Seats in the apple tree and surprisingly wasp free seating area
Our cakes and drinks soon arrived and I was pleased to see that the Orchard Tearooms had got the spoon and cup length combination right which is not always the case at every cafe stop.
Impressively long spoon for high cup
My hot chocolate was a bit too weak for my liking but Big George thought his filter coffee was of a good strength and quite liked it. The cheese scones had been correctly warmed and were very good as was my black current sponge cake.
Good cakes, scones and coffee
All in all we both agreed the Orchard Tearoom was a very good stop and had been well worth the effort of coming out to.

We now had to complete our cycle loop back to Castle Rising much of which would be into the wind. Despite the wind being very light today the fact that there is no shelter in the Fens means that even the gentlest breeze seems like a gale when riding directly into it. I wouldn't fancy riding here if there was a strong wind.  

For some reason this seemed to inspire Big George who was keen to gain cycling revenge by trying to break me on the way back. He had brought his posh fast bike, he confessed he had been doing lots of training and there were no hills, which he is a bit rubbish at cycling up, so today was his big chance as he set off like a maniac. It took all my effort to hang on and I was relived when we got back to the car still riding together as I couldn't have kept it up for much longer. I made a note to only take him on hilly rides in future so that this could never happen again. 

Scores for Orchard Tearoom
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
5.00
6.50
8.50
7.50
7.50
7.00
Map of route

click here to download 60 mile Kings Lynn Wisbech loop gpx file for your gps