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TV chef works his magic at roadside restaurant
ONE of the country’s biggest names in cooking has been rustling up breakfasts at the Little Chef near Popham.
Culinary wizard and inventor of snail porridge Heston Blumenthal was using the cafe on the A303 as a test-bed to help the famous roadside chain reinvigorate its menu. And on Friday and Saturday, the TV chef treated customers to his take on old classics in a bid to gauge public reaction. Mr Blumenthal explained: “I’ve been given the task of rebranding Little Chef, which will start at the Popham branch. It’s going to be redesigned but, more specifically, we are looking at the breakfasts, with the idea of giving better-quality products.”
Mr Blumenthal’s input is part of a drive by the chain to revive its fortunes. Depending on the results, the Popham restaurant will be used as a model for other branches across the UK and the changes will be formally launched in November. It was chosen because it is regarded as a typical branch and is near enough to the chef’s world-famous, Michelin-starred restaurant, The Fat Duck, in Bray, Berkshire. Channel 4 is filming him for a documentary, following his progress as he adds his magic to the chain.
A film crew followed him on Wednesday, drumming up support for his breakfast menu at construction sites at the Limes Park housing development, behind Basingstoke hospital. The highly-experimental chef – famed for his TV show In Search of Perfection – has hit the headlines with his strange culinary innovations, such as bacon-and-egg ice cream.
But his trial menu at Little Chef was a little more down-to-earth.
The restaurant’s iconic Olympic breakfast remained, but with an emphasis on specially-sourced produce such as black pudding and hand-reared Wiltshire-cured bacon. For the health-minded there was a choice of a strawberry yoghurt and granola breakfast toasted with hemp and pumpkin oil.
The menu, which cost the same as the current one, was the taste of things to come, but was only available on the Friday and Saturday trial sessions.
Diners leaving the Popham restaurant gave his menu good reviews. Housewife Nicola Neve, of Essex Road, in Basingstoke town centre, decided to have the Olympic breakfast.
She said: “To be honest, I was expecting more from Heston Blumenthal, but, for a Little Chef, it was lovely.”
Her husband, Paul Neve, 44, an IT analyst, made the same choice. Iain Wood, a 42-year-old pest controller from Winterthur Way, Victory Hill, Basingstoke, is a regular Little Chef customer and went for traditional oak-smoked kippers.
He said: “It was okay. I would give it eight out of 10, but I always like the breakfast here anyway.”
But some of the older customers were less than sure about Mr Blumenthal’s dishes.
One of them, Maurice Buchan, 74, from Ashford, Middlesex, said he opted for traditional teacakes rather than the special menu.
He said: “Anything with fancy toppings puts me off.”