Sunday, April 12, 2009

Great Big Lunch Out Challenge no 2 - Welcome to Little Chef.

This is the second of our Great Big Lunch Out Challenges. The aim is to praise the best attempts by restaurants and cafes to feed children good value, good quality food. This time it's more of a Great Big Breakfast Out Challenge but it is the holiday season, a time when many of us spend hours on the motorway and sometimes it is hard to avoid motorway service stations. It was 9.30 am on the A38 outside Exeter in Devon when the portly figure of Mr Little Chef beckoned. I should have known that he was not to be trusted. If you look carefully, his chef whites look decidedly grubby. But I wanted to give Mr Little Chef a chance - especially after reading that Heston Blumenthall has been advising the owners on how to turn round the restaurant chain's fortunes. I have no idea on whether the chain is being refitted, whether it is about to alter its menu, but all I know is that none of the hype appears to have reached the A38 outside Exeter. We sat down at one of only two tables with diners. After 20 minutes a waitress decides to ask if we would like to order. We were more than ready. The children ordered the Early Starter Breakfast for £5.99. I plumped for the lighter touch - the healthy choice breakfast which offered me fruit compote, low fat yoghurt and crunchy cereal on top for £4.95. Another 15 minutes passed and the breakfast arrived in a curious order. First of all one glass of water arrived, then another, and then a cup of tea was plonked in front of my husband Chris. The tea bag floated appealingly on top. There was no saucer on which to place it. I suppose any sense of ceremony must have been extra. He asked for a plate on which to place the tea-bag and the waitress looked a little offended. Then the breakfasts arrived. A plastic pat of butter for the toast
sat on top of the fried egg - another strange touch.

Ok, so its clear by now that Heston hasn't stepped into this branch of Little Chef. (If any of you have visited one that is different please review it and let us know). I was still waiting for my healthy offering. Then the waitress came over empty handed. "I'm afraid we have run out of yoghurt,"she apologised. The thing is when you have waited so long for something so simple and everyone else is already eating their breakfast, you run out of sympathy. I must have looked disappointed because the waitress tensed up and grimaced at me. "Well since we have run out of yoghurt, we can offer you more toast instead."

"More toast? But the whole point of the dish is that it is fruit compote and yoghurt. Toast doesn't really work as a replacement. And how can you run out of something so simple as yoghurt? Why don't you just go to the local supermarket and buy some?"

"Well..." hesitated the waitress. "Well we ran out last night and we haven't had any more in yet. Would you like the extra toast instead?"

I declined. I know it's not the fault of the waitress and I wasn't rude but really, how hard can it be to make sure you have some yoghurt in the fridge? And if you run out, why not use some initiative and buy some more? And if that is too hard and you spot this yoghurt deficit the night before, why are you still taking an order for fruit compote and yoghurt? By now the children have finished their breakfasts which are unimaginative, and we leave. Their score for taste - 5 out of 10. Our score for value - 2. And Heston, if you are really involved in helping out the fat guy in grubby chef whites, please rush down to Exeter. Unless Little Chef is prepared to pay for us to try out their food at a refurbished branch, then we won't be going back. It was appalling.

Now I know that there is better out there for families - let us know about it. Wherever you are in the world, take photos, write a review, score it for value and taste and email us here. Because families deserve better!

Read our first review here

40 comments:

  1. Anonymous8:55 AM

    Mmmmm that experience is 100% consistent with my own unhappy meeting with the Little Chef, about 5 years ago. We were coming back from a week-end with one set of parents or the other - had missed the motorway caff - and this LC, on a dual carriage way (somewhere between Oxford and Northants?) was all we could find. Your blog brings it all back, with depressing clarity; the long wait before ordering, the longer wait before food arrived - contrasting sadly with the very swift realisation that the pitiful offerings in front of us were better left right there on the table. Cold, over salted, over cooked, over priced. Heston is wasting his time - this company deserves to become history, if they continue to show such utter disregard for any unsuspecting customers who come through the doors.
    Jo Fielding (happily exiled in a Little Chef-free New Zealand!)

    ReplyDelete
  2. HB will probably serve up something that looks like a Little Chef brecky but in actual fact is grilled seabass with snail porridge in disguise ;-)

    I'v only eaten at a LC when it's the only option when staying just off the motorway at a Travel Lodge. Noticed that for the 'Americam Breakfast' a 'stack of pancakes' equalled two!

    Happy Easter Monday!
    Celia

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  3. If you're ever in Manchester and looking for a great, freshly cooked, good quality breakfast, pop into the Jam Street Cafe on Upper Chorlton Road. I admit it's not handy on the side of the motorway, but worth a little detour.

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  4. To enjoy HB's Little Chef experience you need to head for Popham on the A303 - read Shreddie Kruger's review @ the London Review of Breakfasts!

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  5. Heston has only changed the menu for the Popham LC branch and he did a great job there, considering the budget and the staff inexperience. He tried to extend his menu to other branches but was unable to due to LC's narrow-minded profit-only driven managers. A real shame.

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  6. How disappointing! I have a feeling that it won't roll out at all! You were very restrained, I don't think I would have been. I hate bad service.

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  7. Now then stranger. Serves you right, you should have known better! Great story as always.

    Have you had any thoughts of prize donation for my newsletter?

    Cheers
    David

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  8. Is Heston's new menu as on the TV program actually being maintained / rolled out by Little Chef? I've not heard anything more about it, sadly.

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  9. You will not be tempted to such awesome breakfast...which is also the most important meal of the day?Thanks for the cool recipe...

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  10. I called in at our local LC recently just for a coffee. I ordered a latte and when it came it was lukewarm and undrinkable. I told the waiter and he fetched me another, but it was a lost cause - it was obviously just a packet mix and destined to taste of chemicals and dried milk. Surely a 'restaurant' can afford a real coffee machine?

    If this is what they do to coffee, I'd hate to eat the food.

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