I have plenty of happy memories of motorway service stations. Childhood caravan holidays, car packed to the rafters with food and entertainment for me and my siblings, pulling over for sandwiches made by my mum. When I passed my driving test, we’d spend A Level lunchtimes eating broken fried eggs and cold beans as part of all-day breakfasts from Little Chef. As an adult, I’ve transitioned from a healing Greggs Steak Bake on the way back from a festival, to M&S meal deals on the way to see friends’ newly purchased out-of-London homes.
But none of that has an ounce of glamour, and it’s certainly never inspired me to write. Until Instagram got its hands on the humble service station and created a perfectly curated feed brought to life by Soho House Group. After the success of opening Soho Farmhouse in the Oxfordshire countryside, the county has been the subject of another new project: Mollie’s Motel and Diner.
As we drove to Bristol after work one Wednesday evening, Mollie’s just so happened to be on the route our trusty Sat Nav was guiding us, and it’s neon red lights lit our way from the A420. The buildings give off a Hitchcockian feel, but pushing through the Bates Motel vibe and going inside, it’s full on Riverdale-style diner.
It’s cute, for sure. When I tagged Mollie’s in an Instagram post, I noticed that a whole heap of my foodie friends and beyond were already following them, their Soho House reputation blazing ahead with some stellar marketing. But the proof is in the eating, and well, it appears that it might be a matter of style over substance.
I ordered one of Mollie’s Trays, made up of rotisserie chicken and crinkle cut fries, coleslaw subbed for corn on the cob and a chocolate milkshake instead of a refillable soda. When it turned up, it was…small? The chicken thigh was on a huge tray but took up no space so it wasn’t massively impressive at first glance, but when I took my first bite I realised being underwhelmed was going to be the theme of the meal. The chicken marinade just tasted like regular BBQ sauce, the fries were far too salty, but there was a saving grace in the crispy and crunchy coleslaw.
Both my chocolate milkshake and my fiancé’s salted caramel one were made with real ice cream and were so close to being good, but they lacked a proper punch of flavour, despite the consistency being spot on. The staff were so attentive and friendly; they actively offered to put the rest of my milkshake in a recyclable takeaway cup which was very kind – you can be sure that a visit to Mollie’s will give you the warm fuzzies from the service you receive, there’s no doubt about that.
Aesthetically pleasing, sure. A nice place to hang out for a drink? Absolutely. But an exciting service station revolution? Sadly not.