Little Chef, Popham, Hampshire
A303 Popham Services
Open from 7am
by Shreddie Kruger
What better way to start Valentine’s Day than to wake up at 5.30am and drive for two hours before dawn to a service station, where two other couples are meeting you for breakfast?
We arrived giddy with childish enthusiasm. Insanely charming Little Chef artwork in each of the parking bays had us smitten before we even got out of the car park.
When we got inside, things went from good to great. In an homage to Michelangelo on the one hand, and as a piss take of the prat in charge of Little Chef on the other, the ceiling tiles are painted to look like the sky. Other strokes of ingenuity include singing toilets, with tiles that offer up nuggets of cooking advice such as “use salt to take away bitterness, not sugar”. Who needs cookbooks when you’ve got... tiles?
With our team of 6 we divided and conquered. Girls gave thumbs up to omelettes, porridge, yoghurt, bacon sandwiches and scrambled eggs, even if they were a bit rubbery.
Boys manfully tackled the Olympic breakfast. We’d all opted for beans over tomatoes so when our heaving plates arrived with tomatoes balanced on the side we felt miffed. We politely murmured a complaint but were told we were wrong. Oddly this matronly service was brilliantly comforting.
Bacon was the perfect thickness and crispiness. We nodded approval at the thyme-infused mushrooms and sherry vinegar-anointed fried eggs, which poured out their yolky hearts like a kiss and tell whore having dinner with Max Clifford. Crisp toast, sliced from a fresh bloomer, mopped up their filthy stories with aplomb. Black pudding was a triumph. All was going so well.
Until sausagegate. Anaemic and grey, they tasted of the manufacturing rather than the pork. And we soon discovered the ketchup wasn’t from Heinz. Some raving psychopath had switched it for something with the acidic burn of battery acid and sweet kick of treacle. Predictably, our unwanted tomato was a let down too.
Putting sausage, tomato and ketchup mishaps to one side, however, this was a fine start to a great day. Because this was always more than just about breakfast. This was about hope. This is a new dawn for both Little Chef and - hopefully - the country as a whole. If somewhere as bad as Little Chef can turn itself around… then surely we can get Mighty Blighty back on track. All we need is a bad brief, some “blue sky thinking” and Heston Blumenthal’s genius. Who’s in?