Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Finer Diner

I recently enjoyed watching the Channel 4 documentary "Big Chef Takes On Little Chef" where Heston Blumenthal tries to breathe some life into the Little Chef restaurant chain.

Yes, that's Heston Blumenthal; the 3-Michelin-Star chef of Snail Porridge and Bacon & Egg Ice Cream fame. And Little Chef; the purveyors of ultimate greasy filth.

This week I've been Travelodging near to the original new-style Little Chef on the A303 near Winchester. It's now Thursday and I'm heartily sick of eating supermarket sandwiches in my motel pod-room. And so I thought it was high time that I ate out.

The interior reminded me of a funky staff canteen. Red plastic chairs and a Blue Sky ceiling complete with clouds. It was clean and newly fitted out. Only a portion of the restaurant was open that evening, but there was definitely some atmosphere. More life than in any service-station restaurant I've eaten in anyway.

The staff were ill-trained but so helpful and friendly that it was impossible to hold a grudge. I ordered one from a choice of four bottled beers and had to spell the far-from-exotic "Carlsberg" for the waitress. Just as well I didn't order the Gew├╝rztraminer.

One of the joys of the documentary was watching the regulars try to come to terms with Mr Blumenthal's bizarre creations. Fortunately/unfortunately most of the really out-there dishes have been ditched, although they did still have the braised ox-cheeks and I still wasn't remotely tempted. I ordered the steak and ale pie. With a green salad - just to see what Little Chef's definition of a "green salad" was.

The food came before I could make much headway with my crossword and it looked very good. I couldn't eat it though because the waitress had forgotten to bring me any cutlery.

Eventually though I cut into the pie and found tasty, high quality meat and a lovely savoury gravy contained in a suetty (if that's a word) casing. Not as good as the pies at "Porter's", my favourite pie restaurant in Covent Garden. Maybe not even as good as at the better gastropubs. But way better than you would dare to expect from a bypass-adjacent caff. The salad turned out to be herby and fresh with a light dressing.

A few questions about the toilets :-
  • Why would anyone want their urinal to suddenly start playing a Rolf Harris song when they are attempting to widdle into it?
  • The sit-down toilets speak. Isn't this likely to give small children nightmares?
  • There's nothing wrong with toilets smelling of real disinfectant. Why make them smell of fake coffee ?
Maybe I just didn't enter into the experience, but maybe I didn't want an experience - maybe all I wanted was a pie and a beer and a toilet that shut the flip up.

I'd definitely recommend the place if you're on the A303 and hungry but it's probably not worth a special trip otherwise.

Unless you have kids that is.

Kids'll totally love the battiness of the place, the simple food and the rather excellent-looking dessert menu. Plus they'll adore the little packets of "Jelly Belly" jelly beans you get with the bill.

Speaking of the bill : my good steak pie, salad and beer cost me £11.35 which I reckon to be pretty good value. I dread to think what muck you'd get for that price at the nearby services on the M3.


Fiona said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stan said...

Fi - I had to remove your comment - don't particularly want to advertise my real name. Actually, I may change it to "Stan" by deed poll one day - I think it suits me.

Since you ask, the Rolf Harris song was "Someone's Pinched My Winkles", which is the scariest noise that a non-drug-user could imagine coming out of a toilet.

2 Robins said...

If memory serves the coffee smell is to tempt those people who just come in for a widdle and normally leave.

I might wander up there and see what it is like.

A healthy salad - things have changed!