Whitlingham: Cafe Cafe

Rowan MantellCakes, lakes, fresh air and fresh food - a perfect combination for out and about this Spring. ROWAN MANTELL found her appetite well and truly whetted at Whitlingham.Rowan Mantell

Cakes, lakes, fresh air and fresh food - a perfect combination for out and about this Spring. ROWAN MANTELL found her appetite well and truly whetted at Whitlingham.

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Whitlingham's Caf� at the Park is pretty much perfect. Not only is the food good, affordable and generously portioned, but it also includes a choice of home-made cakes - ideal whether you are there for morning coffee, brunch, lunch or afternoon tea.

And then there's the setting, in a restored flint and glass barn beside lovely Whitlingham Broad.

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Despite being barely a mile from the city centre, Whitlingham gives a very good impression of being a world away from urban streets and shops and traffic. Instead there are trees and meadows; reeds and waterbirds; lakes, lanes and the long, lazy curves of the river.

And Caf� in the Park even has an answer for that guilt you get when you go out somewhere lovely and are tempted to eat more than is probably wise, what with calories and cholesterol filling your mind (and stomach.)

Whitlingham is perfectly placed a short bicycle ride from Norwich, and has its very own two-and-a-bit-mile circular walk around the lake - just the kind of length of brisk walk which would justify you sitting down with a large plate of homemade quiche and salad, say, or an enormous chunk of iced toffee cake, or both if your wander around the Great Broad had been particularly energetic.

But you don't have to cycle or even walk down. There's a large pay-and-display car park alongside and the caf� is very popular with people who have come down to exercise dogs, or toddlers, or both.

Some people, I believe, simply sit and soak up the atmosphere and views, inside or out, and enjoy a drink and a bite to eat.

However, my friend and I are made of sterner (or wobblier in my case) stuff, and decided to cycle down and walk round.

Which meant we had no qualms at all about ordering quiche and coffee. And then cake and coffee. In fact I even specifically asked for the even more enormous piece of cake among the selection of enormous pieces of cake.

The menu is not so enormous, but that can be construed as a positive because it means that much of it is freshly prepared.

Pies, quiches, soups, sausage rolls, salads and sandwiches are staple.

Our vegetable quiche and salad (�4.75) came as a huge quivering chunk of veg and egg and pastry and was delicious. And the salad was very good too - lots of different textures and tastes and coloured, topped with a dressing. For pudding there are the cakes, or some particularly delicious flavours of ice cream. Gooseberry anyone? The cakes (�1.99) are made on-site, daily - iced carrot cake, iced toffee cake, chocolate sponge, flapjack, brownies…At some point fairly soon I'd like to be able to report that all are caketastic, and positively beneficial if eaten as part of the healthy active lifestyle that Whitlingham Country Park promotes. This time we could only offer our opinions on the brownies and the toffee cake, which go something like this: 'Mmmmm, yummmm.'

We sat outside, to make the most of being out in the almost countryside, in the almost summertime. The paved outside seating area segues into a huge field which, in the summer proper, is alive with people sitting, playing, sunbathing, chatting and generally making the most of a fantastic facility. In fact the outside seating was pretty full on a bracing spring day, so more chairs and tables, perhaps overlooking the lake, would be great.

My only other quibble is the toilets. Nothing wrong with the loos that are there, but there simply aren't enough and while customers can peruse the leaflets and notice boards while they queue it's not ideal.

The barn doubles as a Broads Authority visitor centre so there is lots of info about Whitlingham itself, and many more places to visit.

As well as the caf� and barn, Whitlingham Country Park has footpaths around the lake and into the woods, an outdoor education centre where you can learn to sail or kayak and try archery or climbing. Explore further and find the ruins of a monk's manor house, ancient chalk workings, a bat cave, evidence of ancient flint working, a brand new low-ropes activity course and a (potholed) cycle path which is part of the major Hull to Harwich route

And after all that fresh air and action what could be nicer than recovering in the caf�?

Especially if, like us, you remember that the ride down was, well down, and need to gird yourself for calorie-crushing pedal back up to the city.

t Caf� Caf�, Whitlingham Country Park, Trowse, Norwich, 07855 923786, www.cafecafe.biz

t Open: Daily 10am-4.30pm until October.

t Wheelchair access: Yes

t Vegetarian options: Plenty


Food: ****

Service: ****

Atmosphere: ***

Family: *****