Britain may have experienced a culinary revolution in the past couple of decades, but according to new research the food at our motorway services is still driving us to despair.
Thats the verdict of a survey* conducted by Europcar, the UKs leading car hire company, which reveals 95% of motorists believe the choice, price and quality of roadside food is unacceptable with 80% saying they have previously gone hungry rather than eat from the selection on offer.
To escape the tyranny of the motorway service food offering and celebrate the diversity of Britains local, independently owned eateries, Europcar has teamed up with the Guild of Food Writers to produce the free-to-download Roadside Gastro Guide.
Instead of offering yet another list of renowned, Michelin-starred, celebrity chef restaurants, The Roadside Gastro Guide tapped into the knowledge of some of our finest food writers and broadcasters including Antony Worrall Thompson and Valentine Warner to reveal 20 of Britains hidden culinary gems. All are just a short drive off some of our major roads.
Stretching from the Scottish Highlands to the Dorset coast, the guide includes everything from country inns, gastro pubs, farm cafés, beach cafés and tea shops to stately homes. All specialise in offering locally sourced, fresh, home-cooked fare ranging from tasty cakes and hearty pies and sandwiches, to traditional and modern British, game, seafood and desserts to die for.
A far cry yet a short distance from the motorway services, the guide reveals a foodie world of individual character, spectacular views, friendly service, converted barns, quirky décor, old-fashioned bone china, an in-house butcher to slice your chosen cut of meat, and quirkily named dishes such as the Wortley Wedge a beast of a sandwich made from the roast of the day.
The Skyreburn Teapot in Castle Douglas, Scotland, appears like an overgrown shed, but serves an outstanding full fry-up complete with potato scones and local black pudding; jacket potato stuffed with haggis and no fewer than two dozen homemade cakes and tray bakes. Located on the shore of Skyreburn Bay, it enables diners to sit out back and take in the breathtaking view across Solway Firth.
Antony Worrall Thompson selected The Crab at Chieveley, just off the M4 in Berkshire, as one of his favourite stop-offs when heading west, describing the crispy squid with sweet chilli sauce to be as good as it gets.
Other entries include Café Skylark in Wimblington, Cambridgeshire, which offers piled-high free-range Fenland eggs and chips, sourced from their own farm, for £2.99; the Tea Shop at the Watts Gallery near Guildford, which sustainably sources all its produce for homemade soups and salads from within a ten-mile radius; and Y Polyn, a country pub described in the guide as having some of the most honest food in South Wales and a sign on their website declaring Fat equals flavour. Live with it.
According to Richard Ehrlich of the Guild of Food Writers; Motorway catering may mostly be the pits for pit stops, but outstanding food can be found just a short detour from many main roads.
The establishments here cover a fantastic range. They cover much of the country, and include both celebrated restaurants and little gems known largely to locals. I hope they convey the message that being in the car doesnt mean giving up on good food. You just need to know where to look and downloading a free copy of the Roadside Gastro Guide is the perfect place to start.
Catriona Kempston of Europcar added: Whether its delivering a car to their door or simply helping them to avoid soggy chips and overpriced pies, were always looking for new ways for motorists to get maximum pleasure out of their driving experience.
The full version of the Roadside Gastro Guide contains detailed, individual recommendations by Guild of Food Writers members, including background information, personal insights, recommended dishes, contact details, opening times and, most importantly, directions from major roads.
The Roadside Gastro Guide is free to download from the Europcar website.