Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

I

Friday, 29 July 2016

Cycling overload. (River Kitchen, Wroxham)

The River Kitchen Cafe,
Wroxham,
Opening times Mon-Thur 9:00-16:00,
Fri-Sat 9:00-20:00, Sun 9:30-16:00
Recommended 
I might have overstretched myself in cycling based projects this summer. First, in 3 weeks time, I'm off to Italy to cycle up mountains with Big George, then in 6 weeks time I've entered a half ironman triathlon with son George and finally in October I'm cycling to St Andrews (Scotland) supporting Mrs Crusaders charity cycle ride. I foolishly promised each of them I would go cycling with them to aide in preparation for each event. This means a lot of cycling and diary juggling. Today I had managed to double book a Big George cafe ride with a son George 50 mile training ride. As a good parent I decided it would be excellent character building for son George to do a solo effort so I set him off with a route on my spare bike Sat Nav while I waited for Big George to arrive.

It was a longer wait than expected as Big George had forgotten to set the alarm and had over slept. However he did eventually get to Crusader Towers and we set off on our ride to Wroxham and the River Kitchen Cafe.
As always Big George had a puncture on the ride
Due to holidays and other cycling commitments I had not seen Big George since I complete my Ironman triathlon in June so I was sure that he could hardly wait for me to tell him all about it. Which I did, covering ever detail while he glazed over. Apart from the ubiquitous Big George puncture everything else went smoothly on the way to the River Kitchen cafe in Wroxham which we found be the river.
Outside River Kitchen, river is on other side.
The River Kitchen cafe has an outdoor patio seating area overlooking the river which was, not surprisingly, very busy on a fine day in high season. We managed to secure the last table before going inside (which was almost empty) to check out the cake selection and award the effective cake selection (ECS) mark.
Very busy outdoor seating area
It was a very good cake selection and very effective as I couldn't choose what to have. I therefore selected the cherry cake and asked if I could have two bits of the salted caramel brownie to take home for later. I have to get two pieces as history tells us that Mrs Crusader would be upset if I didn't bring her any take away cake. However my generosity was soon to cause a major takeaway cake transportation issue (MTCTI).
Excellent and very effective cake selection which attracted a high ECS mark
Big George, rather disappointingly, went for a fruit scone when there were many more exciting cake offerings available. He also went for a standard filter coffee.

We returned to our seats and enjoyed the views of the river while I got out the google map I had prepared of the routes I was proposing for our Italy trip. Big George had said he had also done some research and had some suggestions. I was keen to hear what he had found in order that I could quickly ignore his input and just get on with what I had planned. I clearly hadn't lost the team building skills that had made me such a 'successful' middle manager in my pre cake crusader days. 

While Big George wittered on and I feigned interest, our drinks and cakes arrived. My hot chocolate was fairly standard but Big George thought his coffee was a good one and awarded a good guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) mark. My cherry cake was top draw being moist, fruity and tasty so I awarded a high cake taste quality score.
Cakes and drinks
The River Kitchen was a very nice stop with a good view of Wroxham river action plus an excellent selection of cakes to enjoy so I recommend a visit.

Big George eventually finished telling me his Italy research covering all the places we should go, best roads to ride on and climbs we should do. "Excellent" I said "I will adapt the routes I have planned to incorporate your findings" (I won't) and folded up the map with team building complete and knowing he will be none the wiser once we get there.

Before we left I collected the salted caramel brownies which had been packed in separate large containers thus causing me a MTCTI as I only had cycle jersey pockets as a way of transporting. 
Rather large container (and there were two of them) causing me a MTCTI
After squeezing them into one box and with much container squashing I managed to force them into a cycle pocket. However I wont include a picture as they were in a bit of a state when I got them home, although it hadn't impacted the taste.

There won't be time for many more rides with Big George before Italy beckons but as there are not many mountains in Norfolk to practice on it probably doesn't matter. 

Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
6.0
7.5
8.0
8.0
6.5
7.20

Route

Click here to download 41 mile Norwich Wroxham loop GPX file for your gps

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Training plan. (Three Willows cafe, Bungay)

Three Willows Cafe,
Bungay,
Opening times Every day 10:00-16:00,
Recommended 

Chris (Mrs Crusader) claims she likes to play 'a bit' of golf. If the definition of 'a bit' is at least 5 times a week then I would hate to meet someone who plays 'a lot' of golf. Not surprisingly with this amount of enthusiasm for the game she has become this years lady captain at her local golf club. Apart from giving her the opportunity to play even more golf then, being lady captain, also gives her the opportunity to raise money for her favourite charity. Obviously her favourite charity is bicycle related being world bicycle relief. The money raised provides specially designed, locally assembled bikes to students and healthcare workers in rural Africa; connecting them with education, healthcare and economic opportunities.

Pretending I was keen to offer support I said I would help in the fund raising by organising a sponsored bike ride for her but I had an additional motive. She eagerly accepted my offer so she could concentrate on golf related activities and therefore had fallen into my trap. As well as raising money for a great cause it would be an excellent opportunity for some cafe cycle reviewing activity as well. I have never reviewed any cafe, or tearoom, above the Wash and wasn't sure what the cafe culture was like up North. I therefore came up with a plan for us to ride from her Golf Club in Bawburgh to St Andrews golf club in Scotland. After some research I found it was only a 574 mile ride which I'm sure we could knock off in a week or so and visit a good 10-20 cafes for good measure.

It transpired that her idea of a sponsored cycle (100ish miles over a day) and mine were an order of magnitude out in length but after pointing out the golf theme of the ride she agreed to give it a go. Therefore in October we are going to undertake this trip doing 72 miles over 8 successive days and see how much money we can raise plus add some northern destinations to my reviewing activity.

Since she signed up to the plan I have seen plenty of golf but little cycle training so I have therefore taken on the role as self appointed personal trainer in order to get Chris ready for the trip. Yesterday was going to be our first training ride so, using the latest sports science techniques, I decided 50 miles was a nice round number for training purposes. It would also be just the right length to revisit the Three Willows cafe, which is now under different management from when I first visited it exactly two years ago (see Some like it hot) so my review needed updating.

Despite her lack of recent cycling Chris is no stranger to two wheels so we made good time down to Bungay were we found the Three Willows Cafe at the Three Willows Garden centre although I still didn't spot the three willow trees.
Outside the three Willows cafe in my world bicycle relief cycle top
There is an outdoor gazebo based seating area which looked very inviting on such a warm day and an improvement on the big umbrellas provide by the previous management. 
Add caption
However before taking our seats I went to check out the cake selection. In was competent if not spectacular with two sponge cakes, lemon drizzle slices and brownies plus both types of scone. I therefore awarded a competent if not spectacular effective cake selection (ECS) score.
Cakes on display
I went for some Victoria sponge with my hot chocolate and Chris opted for coffee and walnut cake and a Mocha. These were soon delivered to our table for us to try. The drinks were both of a good standard with a nice froth on the top so got good hot drinks marks.
Hot drinks with good size froth
Our cakes were nice too although we both felt the coffee and walnut was the better choice.
Nice cake slices
I added up the scores only to find that the three willows mark under new management was exactly the same as under old management (allow a much more consistent set of marks this time) making it very easy to update my cafe scores spreadsheet. It was a very nice stop with cheerful staff and good quality drinks and cakes so I recommend a visit if you are down that way.

Chris claimed she was still feeling good after her stop but as we approached 40 miles, her normal maximum cafe cycle ride distance, things began to slow down as her body obviously had decided we were home. However we made it back in one piece and cycle training is now officially underway. If you would like to sponsor Chris on her ride you can find her sponsorship page here http://fundraiseuk.worldbicyclerelief.org/christine-frazer

Scores 
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7.0
7.5
5.5
6.5
7.0
6.70

Map of route
Click here to download 49 mile Norwich Bungay loop GPX file for your GPS

Friday, 22 July 2016

Got to catch them all. (Church farm tearoom, Hethersett)

Church Farm Tearooms,
Hethersett,
Opening times Mon- Sat 09:00-17:00,
Recommended 
I have visited the Church Farm Tearooms twice, once in summer 2016 as per the post below, and once with a group in Spring 2017 from which I have updated some of my initial comments.
Me and some of my cycling guests about to set off to Church Farm Tearooms in Spring 2017
Back in July 2016 I had been surprised to find that Peter, my student son, had voluntarily left his bedroom and gone outside for a walk. This was most out of character but after engaging him in a game of yes, no, fine, mhhm, I discovered he had started to play the new Pokeman Go game that had become a craze with young people. Apparently if you go out looking for Pokeman on a walk or bike ride then this gives you additional important stuff the further you travel. 

I decided this new enthusiasm for the outdoors gave me a series of opportunities.
1. To get Peter to come on a bike ride
2. To review the recently opened Church Farm Tearooms near Hethersett 
3. To try and understand the ways of the young person

On the promise of plenty of Pokeman action Peter, Chris (Mrs Crusader) and myself set off on my shortest ever cafe cycle ride, just under 13 miles, and
 opportunity number one was in the bag. 

On route we had to stop every few minutes for Peter to check that the Pokeman Go app was recording the ride. I was informed if we did 5k he would hatch a virtual egg, which is apparently a good thing. Sadly the 3G network in rural Norfolk is poor to non existent even on good days, and this was a bad day, so any potential Pokeman capturing and hatching on this ride wasn't going to happen. I tried to usefully point out that there were some real cows in the field but that didn't seem to help.
Peter seeing if there was any 3G signal so Pokeman could be found
As it was only a short trip it wasn't long before we arrived at the Church farm Tearooms at the Church Farm farm shop just outside Hethersett. Once again there was no 3G service so still no Pokeman activity was possible. 
Outside the Church Farm Tearooms
Personally I couldn't see the point of trying to collect virtual monsters on your phone when you could be doing something useful and interesting with it like me. The church farm cafe has a small outdoor seating facility featuring a table and 4 chairs. Using my phone, I recorded the detail on my outdoor seating areas data capture spreadsheet and snapped a photo to put in my outdoor seating areas picture album. If that's not using technology usefully I don't know what is. 
Outdoor seating area photo to be put in my outdoor seating area album
We decided to go inside and sit in the nicely appointed indoor seating area in a separate part of the shop. But first it was to the counter to check out the cakes so as to award the effective cake selection (ECS) rating. It wasn't the biggest selection but covered all the bases with cakes, brownies and scones. I therefore awarded a covering all the bases sort of ECS mark. 
A covering all the bases sort of cake selection
I had gone for chocolate and orange cake with my hot chocolate, Peter a brownie and a hot chocolate while Chris went for a Mocha and a cheese scone.

When they arrived I was shocked to see my pet hate that the cakes had been delivered served on their serviettes thus rendering the napkin useless for future crumb wiping activity! Remember #keepcakeoffserviettes. 
Cake served on top of the serviette
However I was soon presented with a new dilemma as when our drinks arrived we were given extra serviettes. Did this mean they had solved the #keepcakeoffserviettes problem. 
Extra clean serviettes
After careful consideration I decided this approach may have fixed the crumb wiping issue, as this second serviette could now be used for this , but the first one was clearly unnecessary and a waste of paper as it served no useful purpose other than to get tissue on your cake, which is bad. 
State of 1st serviette after the cake had been eaten
I therefore added the photo to my #keepcakeoffserviettes twitter campaign. I'm sure, like the majority of establishments I have highlighted this issue to, that they will see sense, save money and cut it out. (I'm sure you will all be glad to hear that this practice had indeed been 'cut out' on my return in Spring 2017 as the photo below clearly demonstrates.)        
Cake and serviette clearly separated
While I was tackling the serious issue of unnecessarily mixing cake with serviettes, whilst taking lots of photos of paper tissues, Peter had returned to his game to inform us it hadn't worked due to lack of 3G. He was therefore left with no option but to join in with tasting drinks and cakes. We decided that the hot chocolates were nice but could have been a little stronger, however Chris thought her Mocha was very good and awarded a high guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) score. The cakes all got our approval as they were excellent and so attracted high cake taste quality (CTQ) marks.

Cakes and drinks pre tasting
The Church Farm Tearooms had only been open a few weeks (although the shop has been there many years) but I was informed they had plans to keep expanding the tearoom range and are still learning the ropes and looking to continually improve (note my serviette suggestion). Despite the lack of Pokeman it was a very pleasant stop and I have high hopes for it's future on the cafe cycle circuit. I would definitely recommend a visit.


With opportunity two on the list completed we set off on the short trip back home which fortunately had a 3G signal most of the way although not enough for the game to be explained to me in ways I could understand. Surprisingly Peter said he was prepared to try a cycle ride again but this time the ride would have to be in more urban territory where a phone signal could be guaranteed. This is clearly the way of the young person so maybe I had cracked opportunity three as well.

The view of my cycling guests in Spring 2017 was very consistent with my previous visit and they were particularly complimentary of the coffee. In fact the ratings of the group were exactly the same as the ones I gave previously. Despite Barry trying to use 'alternative facts' when reviewing his coffee, it just went to show that my rating system was operating like a well oiled machine. They too would recommend a visit as they all said how much they had enjoyed their stop.

 Scores based on two visits
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
6.0
8.0
6.0
8.0
6.5
6.90

Route (In 2017 I managed to get my group of seven to do a more respectable 28 miles.)

Click here to download 13 mile Norwich Hethersett loop gpx file for your GPS







Sunday, 17 July 2016

Photo mad (Station cafe, Beccles)

Beccles Station Cafe,
Beccles,
Opening times Mon-Fri 06:45-14:45,
Sat 9:00-15:00, Sun 10:00-14:00
Recommended 
With the Tour de France now in full swing and the sun eventually coming out then Friday looked like the perfect day for a cafe cycle ride. Fortunately the country's number one Tour de France fan, Andrew (qui est notoirement difficle a satisfaire), had made himself available for today's trip. I had a 50 mile ride down to the recently opened Beccles station community cafe planned including a trip on the Reedham ferry.

Andrew has never been at the leading edge of technology and only recently got his first smart phone. As we set off he proudly informed that he had recently worked out how the camera feature worked and he clearly wasn't afraid to use it, at every opportunity.
Andrew photographing random Norfolk church
Because I had just returned from a short family holiday I had spent most of the previous day catching up on Tour de France highlights (5 hours worth). It had clearly affected me as I kept thinking I was in the race. As we rode along I checked for any weakness Andrew might show and if I spotted one I quickly changed gear and shot off into a break away. Unfortunately unlike the real race, where the race leader doesn't have to wait at junctions to make sure rest of peloton knows the way, I did.

We continued in this way to our river crossing at Reedham ferry where Andrew continued to make the most of his camera phone feature.
Andrew photographing the arrival of the Reedham ferry
From here it was only a few more miles to Beccles where we found the Station cafe conveniently placed right next door to the station. 
Outside Beccles station cafe
There was a nice little outdoor seating area outside which we decided to make use of as it was still a lovely day. Inside we were greeted with a very warm welcome leading to a good atmosphere and ambience rating.

I checked out the cakes, which at first looked like a small selection but on closer inspection was actually rather good as only a couple of pieces of each cake or slice were on display. I therefore awarded a decent effective cake selection (ECS) mark.
Cake selection featuring a couple of pieces of each cake on offer
To accompany my hot chocolate I opted for the Malteaser slice as it looked very rich, gooey and chocolatey and a bit different. I was informed it was the most popular seller so was a little ashamed of my cake selection predictability. Andrew had some flapjack with his cappuccino.

My hot chocolate was a solid example and Andrew (qui est notoirement difficle a satisfaire) thought his cappuccino was pretty good so gave a pretty good guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) score.
Cakes (slice type) and drinks pre tasting
My Malteaser slice was as expected, very rich, gooey and chocolatey. On returning the cups and plates I spotted a slice of carrot cake had been cut in to 6 as samples to try. I was encouraged to have a piece and it was absolutely superb. I took the plate with the remaining 5 pieces out to Andrew for him to try and he thought it was excellent too and then before we knew it we had somehow eaten all six samples. I returned the empty plate and said how much we had enjoyed the samples before sheepishly leaving as the lady stared in disbelief at her now empty samples plate. However as a result I upped the cake taste quality (CTQ) mark so it was probably worth it.
Last piece of carrot cake sample before I ate it
The Beccles Station community cafe was an excellent stop with good drinks and nice cakes (especially the carrot one). As it is a community cafe all profits go back into local projects and I recommend a visit.

On the return ride Andrew was still making good use of his camera phone as we were slowed down by the wind in our face.
Andrew taking photo of telegraph pole
We were then slowed further as Andrew managed to get a puncture. As always at these times I pointed out that it was now over 4500 miles since I had had a puncture on the cyclocross bike that I was riding today (this was a huge mistake)..
Andrew taking a photo of me taking a photo of him about to mend his puncture
With puncture fixed we set off again before being held up by road works as a section of road was being 'repaired'. Road repairs these days just mean slapping down some wet tar and then dumping chippings on top. Therefore it was not long before our tyres were covered in gravel stuck to the tyres. Sadly it was no surprise that a mile from home I punctured and my long puncture free run was over.

Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
6.0
7.0
6.5
8.0
7.5
7.00
route
Route
Click link to down load 50 mile Norwich Beecles loop gpx file for your gps

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Full. (Barnfields cafe, Castle Acre)

Barnfields Cafe,
Castle Acre,
Opening times Wed- Sat 10:00-16:00,
Highly Recommended 

In case I haven't mentioned it enough I recently did an ironman triathlon in Austria. As these things tend to take it out of you a bit I had spent the last couple of weeks in recovery mode so hadn't been able to go on any new cafe cycle rides. I was now ready to get back on my cafe mission so arranged to go out with Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) on a trip. As we would be going from Hard to Please House I asked Andrew to select the route and destination. I wanted to start my return slowly so was a little concerned when he had opted for a 50 mile route to Castle Acre.

My concern increased further when Andrew once again produced a tatty photo copied map with the route highlighted in crayon as our main navigation aid. After a few miles we were off familiar roads so the tatty photo copied map with the route highlighted in crayon was being produced at regular intervals. I asked him if he knew where we were and he had to admit he had no idea before we saw the name of the road we were on. It seemed very appropriate
With Andrew in charge of navigation it was no surprise we ended up here
As we continued to weave our way to Castle Acre it was time to catch up on all the recent news. Andrew was in full rant mode as we covered each subject but eventually he had to admit defeat on sorting out the worlds problems as there were just too many to deal with before we arrived at our destination, Barnfields cafe.
Out side Barnfield cafe
Barnfield cafe has a number of inviting outside tables but on closer inspection they all had reserved signs on them and then we saw a sign saying the cafe was full. Andrew said he knew we would have to book but hadn't because he doesn't like closure. 
Or were they?
I was less than impressed but he said he would try using his 'charm' and to my surprise managed to sweet talk the lovely waitress into letting us have an outside table. I had now shifted my opinion of Andrew to very impressed and when I saw an old couple looking dissapointingly at the full sign I must admit feeling a bit smug. But what was this they managed to talk there way in as well as did another three groups and anyone else who later turned up and tried. I was now no longer impressed with Andrews sweet talking abilities but curious to understand a marketing policy of pretending you are full only to then squeeze everyone in. On reflection it may be a good way of keeping the rif raf out in order to only attract really committed tea shop punters, which I'm all for.

While I considered this further I went inside to check out the cakes. There was an excellent selection including cakes, tarts, scones and slices so I awarded a high effective cake selection (ECS) score. I went for chocolate orange cake and Andrew fruit cake.
Good cake selection
For our drinks there was a choice of of Cadburys or Green and Blacks hot chocolate. Over the years I have found Cadburys is more of a milky sugar drink than a chocolate one so I splashed out the extra few pence on the Green and Blacks and was pleased I did as it was a very good hot chocolate. I suggest all visitors do the same. Andrew also thought his cappuccino was of a high standard. Our cakes were also nice too and got good cake taste quality (CTQ) marks.
Cakes and Drinks
As we sat their enjoying our refreshments in the sunshine it was clear Castle Acre attracted the older generation going out for the day, as there were a lot of them about. Fashion sense was not high as a number of the gentlemen seemed to think smart casual meant wearing jeans with a shirt and tie which is a look that can only normally be carried off by a good looking Italian in Milan rather than a tubby old bloke in Norfolk. Despite this Barnfields cafe had proved a very good stop scoring highly in all categories and I highly recommend a visit although you might want to book even if it wasn't clear if this was really necessary.

The way back continued to be a stop start affair with Andrew doing lots of looking at maps and admitting we had missed our turning on several occasions. It was therefore no surprise when it turned out that our 50 mile ride had become a 66 mile one. He claimed it needed to be a long ride for him to get all his ranting done but it was not really the gentle comeback I had requested although nothing an afternoon kip couldn't sort out.
Andrew seemed to have his photo copied map with the route highlighted in crayon out again
Scores
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7.5
7.5
7.5
7.5
8.5
7.70
route

click here to download 66 mile Alysham to Castle Acre loop gpx file for your gps