Heston Blumenthal puts wizard tongue on the Little Chef menu – five reasons why Little Chef kicked the Happy Eater’s arse

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve popped into Little Chef to break up a long car journey and rued the fact there was no lamb thyroid hot pot with oysters or smoked salmon and scrambled egg cooked in a bag full of Lapsang Souchong tea on the menu.

Last night’s Big Chef meets Little Chef on Channel 4 saw the struggling roadside chain employ mad-cap kitchen boffin Heston Blumenthal to revolutionise its menu and employ “blue sky thinking” and “taste explosions” all within a budget of £6 per head. Predictably, Blumenthal’s ideas were so mesmerisingly insane that no one in their right mind, even Little Chef customers, wanted to eat them. They just wanted the Olympic Breakfast. Or the teacake. And then the lolly.

Let me nail my colours to the mast: I love Little Chef. Without it, the world would be a darker place, especially on the A11 at Attleborough in Norfolk, where its fluorescent lighting is the only sign of human habitation for around 15 miles.

Although concerned to hear of the chain’s plight, I am quietly confident that Little Chef will survive. After all, he already saw off the Happy Eater and sent its deeply disturbing mascot (a livid red, dead-eyed Pacman-like creature) packing in 1995.

Even without the logos, you could tell your Happy Eaters from your Little Chefs by the presence of pollution-caked play equipment bolted to a piece of unforgiving tarmac outside the former. It was here that your kids could choke down the passing fumes of 10 billion lorries while you ate the very antithesis of a good meal.

Little Chef, on the other hand, needed no such gimmicks.

If you were lucky, you got a picture and some stubby germ-laden crayons with which to colour it in – today, the illustration of the Little Chef is probably the kind of thing children are asked to look at before embarking on The Jamie Oliver Experience (a school lesson parents pay for in order for their kids not to eat some vegetables) to see what happens to you if you keep eating Turkey Twizzlers.

A visit to Little Chef was the highlight of any long journey by car, a time when you could sit and argue with your family in comfort and marvel at the strange things on sale in the ladies toilets (chewable toothbrushes, chocolate condoms and once, memorably, a china thimble – don’t tell Heston, he’ll freeze dry the lot and have it on the menu by dinnertime).

I once had a boyfriend who – and for once I’m not lying – took me to a Little Chef for a meal on Valentine’s Day. He requested a table by the window where we gazed out on a sea of traffic, an electricity pylon and some trees stripped to the bark by pollution while we ate fried things – it was like a BBC Four documentary or a Mike Leigh film.

We are no longer together.

But I digress. There are manifold reasons why Little Chef is fantastic, and here are but five of them:

1) When it opened in the 1950s, Little Chef boasted the first ever celebrity bulimic – a mascot/logo of an obese chef with two fingers pointing towards his throat, possibly a nod to the incredibly close proximity of the toilets to the restaurant {It has been pointed out to me by the sharp-eyed Becky that, in fact, the retching logo did, in fact, belong to Happy Eater. Little Chef is an obese man holding plates. My bad}

2) For a while, Little Chef was the only mainstream restaurant to offer a vegetarian burger which didn’t look and taste as if it had been harvested from a vomiting drunk outside a public house. Sadly, the burger’s life on the menu was cut cruelly short, but I have a long memory. Ah, happy days.

3) Most restaurants are wi-fi hotspots, whatever that means. This appears to encourage ashen-faced, heart-attacks-waiting-to-happen in suits and ties to set up their laptops while they consume an Olympic Breakfast, resulting in lots of hilarious “yolk on the keyboard” incidents. It’s the roadside equivalent of having a pianist in the dining room.

4) They don’t tell you when you can eat breakfast, in fact they positively encourage you to eat breakfast at 9pm despite the fact that IT’S NEARLY TIME FOR BED. Such disdain for traditional values and conventions puts so-called cookery rebels like Gordon Ramsey to shame.

5) Forget the loaf and the fish, a teacake from Little Chef could easily feed a party of 5,000, with seconds.

When I went to Little Chef, I used to order the Jubilee Pancake and steal the free copy of The Daily Express.


4 Responses to “Heston Blumenthal puts wizard tongue on the Little Chef menu – five reasons why Little Chef kicked the Happy Eater’s arse”

  1. January 20, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    As a child Little Chef was a real treat. I used to love reading the place mats, which each featured potted histories of random Little Chefs in far-off and exotic sounding places like “Scotch Corner”.

    And the lollies you got at the end! Nothing else tasted like those lollies!

    Slight correction to your piece: it was Little Chef’s arch rival “Happy Eater” that featured the “man about to induce vomiting” logo. 🙂

    • 2 womaninblack
      January 20, 2009 at 11:30 pm

      I can’t believe I confused the obese chef with the bulimic…
      I note that reality has kicked in and Heston is now ‘compromising’, ie making a normal cooked breakfast and then using a pipette to pebble-dash it in mermaid’s tears, or something. If he carries on at this rate, the all-day-breakfast will be thus named because that’s how long it takes to cook.

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