Friday, 30 August 2013

Motorway service stations are still worth missing out

Suppose you’re on your way back from a classic car show and feeling a tad peckish. Where are you going to stop?

It’s one of the questions I'm forever wondering when I'm out and about, cruising the highways and byways of Britain in all manner of classics in the quest to find a spot of decent en-route grub. The irony is that the usual place we end up stopping – motorway service stations – are largely locked in the 1970s.

Like multi-storey car parks designed for Austin 1100 owners, quaint farm entrances on the A1 and Little Chef restaurants, they’re a bit of Britain’s motoring empire which haven’t really caught up with the 21st century yet. If you happen to be shooting through the more scenic bits of the M6 in Cumbria you’re in luck – Westmorland Services, thanks to a combination of the nearby Lakeland scenery and its insistence on farm fresh local produce, is a joy to visit – but almost all of the rest are a not-especially-appealing exploration of fast food takeaways and overpriced fry-ups.

Of the alternatives, I’ve always had a soft spot for Little Chef, but the firm’s will-it-won’t-it skirt around potential demise makes us wonder whether we can count on an Olympic Breakfast in years to come. We’re also quite keen on the Route 66 vibe of OK Diner, frequented by A1-bound Elvis lovers, but we’d only make it an occasional joy unless we really wanted to emulate the Memphis rocker in his Vegas years.

Yet these aside – and the option of the shady butty van in a layby for the risk-takers among our resident food fanatics – stopping on journeys for a bite is almost always a succession of depressing service station eateries. That’s why one of the latest books to land at the Classic Car Weekly offices – Near The Motorways, by Hugh Cantlie, proved a bit of a hit with our hacks. Fed up with a succession of KFC Boneless Banquets, two-hour parking restrictions and toilets which all too often resemble that scene out of Trainspotting, it gave us hope that we might actually find a culinary delight to truly satisfy our post-show cravings.

The irony is that during the pre-motorway era of your mum and dad actually driving around A35s, Anglias and Minors the chances of getting a meal you’d enjoy – rather than ramming down your throat in under five minutes – were actually better.

Where do you stop for a bite to eat on your classic car journeys? I’d love to know whether you’re as keen as we are to give motorway service stations a miss

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