On the A420 from Oxford to Swindon are some roadside services. In the past there was a Little Chef located there, but that closed in February 2012.
In June a new venture took over the location and opened the Cherry Pie Diner.
This is an independent company and this is their first physical location, they are expecting to open another soon in Grove. In addition they have a mobile trailer they take to events.
I have seen the diner a few times as I passed by, but never really had the time, the opportunity or the inclination to stop there for something to eat. No point in stopping if you’re not hungry. I usually catch the train to work, so I don’t drive much, and usually when I do drive, I probably use the A34 and then the M4 rather than the A420. The one time I did have some spare time to stop, it hadn’t actually opened.
However last Friday, knowing that the M5 would be a bit of “car park” took my time leaving Oxford and having missed lunch, decided to stop at the Cherry Pie Diner for a break and something to eat. The fact it was also the 4th July, made this visit a little special too.
Having parked the car in the large car park, I looked over the building. From the outside, despite some attempt to “Americanise” the exterior, you could tell that this was once a Little Chef. I went to try and find the menu in the window. When it comes to eating out, I can be somewhat indecisive, so like to look over the menu before committing. There wasn’t a menu in the window or by the door, so I was forced to commit, I needed to go in and ask! So I opened the door and went in…
Inside I looked around the tables, booths, red and white, it felt like an American Diner. Now I should point out that I have never been to the USA, so have never been into an authentic American Diner, the closest I have got is through the movies and the odd television show, such as the X-Files. The decor and ambience certainly met my expectations, this did not feel like Oxfordshire, it felt more like Arizona or Delaware. The tables, the chairs, even the uniforms, gave this a real authentic feel, much more so than places such as TGI Fridays where they try to do something similar and I think that place feels artificial, the Cherry Pie Diner felt real.
The place was full of people and all the tables and booths were full. There was a member of staff smiling as I entered, I explained I was in a hurry and asked how long service would take, she checked with the kitchen and I was assured that it was quite fast. In the end I sat on a bar stool at a high table and looked over the one page menu.
There was a lot of breakfast options, but this was Friday evening, so I wanted something more substantial. There was quite a limited choice. However I don’t see this as a negative, on the contrary, I found it rather reassuring. The problem with a four page menu, the kind of thing you find at Little Chef (or pub chains) is that it means the food is cooked to a system and very little of it would be freshly cooked. A more limited menu, generally means that the food is cooked to order from fresh, and not re-heated.
Alongside the breakfast menu, the main offering was hotdogs and burgers and variants of these. There were some sides on offer, as well as salads, ribs and a couple of vegetarian options. Though only a page, there was for me a fair bit of choice. As for drinks, there were two pages to that menu!
I was tempted to go with some buffalo wings, as for me that is a good test of the cooking in a place like this, are they cooked from fresh, or merely cooked in advance and then re-heated once ordered? However I knew I didn’t have a huge amount of time, so maybe later.
I went with the Cheesy Chariot Burger, a 6oz burger patty which according to the menu is made to a “secret recipe” using 100% locally sourced beef. It was served
in a bun with shredded iceberg lettuce, beefsteak tomato, sliced dill pickle and a “signature” Cherry Pie Diner relish. Alongside was a small portion of slaw and a bowl of fries.
The burger was nice and I enjoyed it. I think the burger itself lacked though a depth of flavour I was expecting from a such a good looking burger. The bun was good, full of flavour and tasted very fresh. The cheese was so much better than the “plastic” cheese you find in most burgers, as was the pickle and the salad. The fries were fresh and crisp, however the slaw was a little sharp for my taste, they needed a slightly sweeter onion perhaps.
I went for a “classic” coke alongside the burger (I was driving) and it came in a bottle. Personally I much prefer the bottled version over the pump post-mix that was also available. I was tempted to have a milk shake, but in the end went with the cola. It was nicely chilled and I was offered more ice in my glass if I wanted it, you know to be more authentic. I am not a great fan of having coke over a glass full of ice, it waters it down too much for my liking, so I left it as it was, just a few cubes of ice in there.
Overall the food was very good, and for a roadside service station I thought it was very good value for money, the burger and fries were £11 and the cola was £2.30. You could easily spend nearly that amount at a Burger King on the motorway services.
Where I think this place will win out, over other service stations, will be in the quality of the service. Here they need to do a little more work, they are so nearly there, but I am guessing there are still a few teething issues to resolve. Don’t get me wrong, when I first walked in I thought, oh this looks really busy and I don’t really have time to wait too long for food, but when asked and true to their word, they were pushing the orders out really fast. So I didn’t have to wait too long for my food once ordered, though there was a delay in ordering, despite me telling one of the staff I was in a bit of a hurry. There seemed to be too many staff hanging around, either welcoming customers or talking to them, or even just standing around doing nothing, with only a dedicated couple actually taking orders! As I said though, once the order was placed, the food arrived very quickly. My drink though arrived after the food… now they are missing a trick, as I probably would have ordered two drinks in the time I was there, but the first didn’t arrive until much later, so as a result I only ordered one drink.
I did find it amusing though, after placing my order I popped to the men’s room and when I came back, one of the staff, I think she was a manager or supervisor, said to me “thanks for coming, goodbye”. I thought at least let me eat my food first! She did come and apologise once she realised that I hadn’t actually eaten yet.
These really are minor quibbles, as the quality of the service was good, the staff were smiling, friendly, and though the place was packed out, it was speedy and quick.
I liked the environment, it felt like an American Diner and I will go again.