So today I foraged down to a recently reviewed branch of 'Little Chef' in the Popham Services off the A303 for lunch. The reason? This was the branch that Heston Blumenthal has revamped in an effort to save the ailing national chain. When one thinks of Heston, the first thing that comes to mind is molecular gastronomy; snail porridge, eggs and bacon ice cream, flaming sorbets, that sort of thing. I was most intrigued as to what he'd do to this traditional motoring institution.
The answer is, he's kept it very simple, and very good. All the food we ate was perfectly done; tasty, not greasy, and unadventurous. Which is exactly what you want from a Little Chef.
The spit roasted chicken I ate was tender and juicy, with a delicious barbecued edge on it. This was also detectable in the gravy; I suspect it contained smoke flavouring. Very good! A special on that day was a belly pork and tomato salad. This was my favourite dish- the belly pork was beautifully sweet, complimenting the tomatoes and contrasting with the salad dressing perfectly. Finally, the infamous 'All New Olympic Breakfast', as it was billed- fantastic. The bangers were good quality and the bacon had a sweetness to it. You can see in the photo that the eggs are just right and the toast wasn't burnt to a cinder. And the black pudding was well good!
This is not to say that the Heston-isms were completely undetectable. For instance, he's revived braised ox cheeks and mash, and my trifle was served with pots of toppings, including popping candy. (As an aside, after I finished the trifle I put the entire dish of popping candy on my tongue- I can confirm that it really is extremely effervescent.) A really nice touch was that we were all given mini packs of jelly beans with the bill- it wasn't too expensive (£40 for 3) but it made it all the sweeter.
The restaurant itself has been revamped. One could faintly detect the smell of coffee in the toilets, which also had handy snippets of food knowledge on tiles in the walls. For example, meat is more tender when carved against the grain as then, when it is eaten, you bite with the fibres, and salt is more effective than sugar at alleviating bitterness. One thing annoyed me- sensors dotted above the urinal kept playing 'food glorious food' at me. I can only hope these weren't present in the actual toilets.
Weirdly, I suspect the clientele went there specifically for the restaurant. It seemed only one table had chanced upon it. I overheard the server at the next table mention that someone had tried to book for 45- they don't take bookings but had recommended a time for them to arrive so they could be accomodated. The servers were friendly like that. A very good restaurant- one can only hope that this goes nationwide.
Overall, it's good, simple food cooked very well. I recommend!