We hadn't been into a Little Chef in over 20 years but the fact that this branch, which we pass regularly on the A303 en route to London from Mere, has recently been under the jurisdiction of uber chef Heston Blumenthal proved too strong an opportunity to resist. The interior here still looks unmistakeably Little Chef-like with lots of bold red panelling and 1970s squeezy tomato ketchup bottles on the tables but the layout has changed radically with an open plan grill, mosaic bar, large dining island, smart wine-chiller (!) and attentive staff in bold red uniforms emblazoned with helpful labels like 'CHEF' and 'WAITER' (fortunately the 'BOG CLEANER' was nowhere in sight) and odd quotations on how best to eat spaghetti – this tedious theme is repeated on wall tiles explaining the origins of the British banger.
The food is also unmistakeably Little-Chef like with the Olympic Breakfast at £6.95 being the most popular item on the menu. Feeling un-athletic we opted for the more modest Early Starter breakfast – one sausage, one egg, two rashers of bacon, beans and toast. Much change and the Blumenthal influence are immediately apparent. The eggs are free-range and the bacon and sausages are made from pigs that were reared outdoors. The orange juice is freshly squeezed and the black pudding (£1 supplement) and kippers come from pukka producers in Scotland. That said, this is pretty basic fare but the surroundings are clean and smart and the food is actually cooked to order. The lunchtime blackboard menu boasted slow braised pork belly and lamb shanks which sounded promising. In short this is a vast and much needed improvement of an ailing brand and one can only hope that the panjandrums at Little Chef's head office have the balls and brains to roll out the Blumenthal model throughout the land.