Restaurant review: Gloucester Services
- Credit: Archant
Katie Jarvis discovers that going out to dine on the motorway is a real blast from the past
Here is Ian. Here is Katie. Here is Ruby the dog. Ian likes Ruby. Katie likes Ruby. Here is the car. Ian likes the car. Katie thinks it’s crap.
“Like all your cars,” I say to Ian, ticking off the number of rubbish vehicles I’m meant to drive. “A 1994 Land Rover Discovery.”
“A classic,” Ian says.
“An old Peugeot.”
“A classic,” Ian says.
“And a Hillman Imp.”
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“A Singer Chamois,” Ian corrects, hurt. “A classic. Anyway,” he asks, “why are we talking in short sentences?”
“Because,” I explain, “we’re going out for lunch to the motorway services, like they used to, back in the 1960s. So I’m setting the scene. Because what I remember most about the 60s – apart from thinking the hymn we sang in assembly went, ‘Drown Him, drown Him, all you little children’, which seemed odd, even at the time, is Peter and Jane book 1A.”
Ed also thinks going to the services sounds fun and asks to come along. I say yes but, actually, I hesitate on two counts. Firstly, Ed replies “That’s bollocks, mum” to everything I say, which doesn’t seem very 60s. At the age of 17, I accidentally said ‘Damn’ in front of my mother, an incident I’ve never fully recovered from. The second issue, potentially, is cost: my favourite joke is the one that goes, “So I went to the motorway services, picked up a banana and a cup of coffee, and said to the cashier, ‘I’m sorry but I’ve only got a £20 note.’ She said, ‘Well, you’ll have to put the banana back, then.’”
Anyway. Back in the day – when my parents would take my brother and me from Manchester to Dartmouth for the summer, in a grey A35 van with no seatbelts; they’d make us up cosy-blanket beds in the back so we could dream away a journey where even a suicide lane was a welcome bonus – people would go to the services as a day out, especially for lunch. Seriously! I’ve seen it on The Changing Face of Britain. You’d turn off your television (which would still be showing a small white dot by the time you finally got home), get into your Ford Consul, motor up the motorway waving in jolly fashion to the only other car you pass along the way, before going into the services and sitting at a table with smart green cloth and silver cutlery. While awaiting your meal, you’d elegantly enjoy a couple of Embassies, carefully holding them so as to channel the smoke to the guests at the table behind. (Don’t you just love 60s cigarette adverts? From ‘Cigarettes are like women. The best ones are rich and thin’ to the sublime photograph of a beautiful blond asking, ‘Please… may I sniff your Klompen Kloggen?’)
So, Gloucester Services. They’re not your run-of-the-mill, we know that. They source local food; have a fab farm shop; employ local people; and feed money back into the surrounding community. What not to love?
We pitch up at lunchtime on a Saturday, which isn’t as squealingly busy as Ian – love-child of Eeyore – is anticipating. There’s a food-to-go space, opposite the farm shop; or a big, light and airy ‘kitchen’ (presumably the food is cooked in the dining room), full of mucky tables. Umm. Mind you, the outside is lovely with its landscaped water feature. So we clear a table by the window and make our way to the counters, where Ian picks up a frittata and salad as a starter; Ed takes a ham broth; and I have a squash soup. “There’s no bread,” I say. “That’s bollocks, mum,” Ed automatically replies, though neither of us can find it.
“It’s over there,” says the frittata man, gesturing all over the building. We look again and finally find it in a pot by the soup – small pieces (though of Hobbs, I think). My soup is luke-warm; Ed’s is hot; and Ian’s frittata is good.
The main-course menu is great in that it clearly marks gluten-free and vegetarian without anyone having to ask. There’s lasagne, fish and chips, beef burger, steak and ale pie, turkey and ham pie, and veg curry; and, for children, omelettes are among the options. The food is generally pretty good. Ian has a creamy, mild Thai chicken curry; I have a beef Madras, which isn’t particularly strong and could do with veg, but is nice. Ed doesn’t want any mains, which implies to me he doesn’t eat enough but, apparently, that’s bollocks.
The problem, it has to be said, is with the staff. “Is the meat local?” I ask the chap who serves us. “Yes,” he says. Which is great but – as a USP – would it not be good to enlarge? The lady next to me would like a lasagne. “Six minutes,” another server answers. “Would you bring it to us, please?” she enquires. “We don’t have time,” he replies. Is there any beer? “We’ve run out.” And they dollop the food out when 30 seconds of care would add aeons to the presentation.
It’s such a shame.
The puddings are limited and OK-ish but made on site (I asked) – a slightly soggy chocolate and Bailey’s cheesecake; a lovely parsnip cake; and a rather dry slice of cherry and almond. It’s just cheaper than a pub, with mains around the £9 mark.
Look, Gloucester Services, we’re very happy to have you. You support the community: you probably even have locally-sourced petrol, for all I know. You’re heads and shoulders above other service stations. But, hey; clean your tables, retrain your staff, and you just might get a few day-trippers as a result.
Ambience: 8 (for a service station)
Value for money: 8
Gloucester Services are between junctions 12 and 11a of the M5 northbound, on the outskirts of Gloucester, 01452 813254 (southbound to open in summer); www.gloucesterservices.com