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Little Chef has travelled a long way

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Yesterday I succumbed to suggestion to eat at Little Chef. Normally, such an option wouldn’t be entertained and the occasion blogged but this was the Popham branch of Little Chef, which has received serious overhaul by the Big Chef Heston Blumenthal.

Before going into details, let me just say that the food was far better than average, I’d venture to say it was better than 80% of restaurants serving similar dishes anywhere, and definitely unique amongst the motorway services eateries. Alec, whose idea it was to stop there on the way to Southampton, has written about it on his blog.

The menu was a combination of old favourites with a few surprising dishes like spag bol, coq au vin or tikka masala. Most of the reviews of this Little Chef online mention braised ox cheeks as one of best and most interesting menu items. So we had to try it. At £9.97 the portion was on the small side. On the whole, I’d rather that smaller portions at smaller prices, so my quibble is not really with the size but the price – simply value for money. This is where the location/venue of the meal consumed is rather relevant. The same dish in a restaurant in, let’s say, Chelsea would be a bloody good deal, but a motorway services diner doesn’t have the same location, location, location advantage. As for the dish itself, the meat was tender and very well prepared. The red wine and mushroom sauce was on the heavy side, with rich ‘brown’ flavour and an earthy tang, most likely to shitake mushroom found within. A definite winter favourite, it seems out of place on a (bit boring) summer day.

I was tempted to have the burger – a good burger is a worthwhile meal – but my standards for burgers are rather high and didn’t want to be disappointed. Alec’s recollection of the burger didn’t inspire my confidence, he seemed more impressed with the bun in which the burger came than the burger itself, though he insists it was a decent one.

I love fish & chips but what with having fish three dinners in a row this week, in the end I chose the Hereford steak & ale pie with mushy peas gravy, baked in suet. It didn’t come with any side dish but things worked out – I appropriated Alec’s mashed potatoes that came with the ox cheeks, whilst he ordered extra chips.

We opted out for tea rather than cold drinks. It would have been fun to see decent milkshakes or smoothies on the menu as well as appropriate given the diner slant and good markup on such drinks. The tea was just ok – a smallish pot at £1.79 I’d expect something better. Not a big quibble though.

The steak & ale pie was delicious to a fault, big chunks of lovely meat, in very tasty sauce, which did not overwhelm the stuff inside the pie. A few chunks of carrots added sweetness. The suet was perfect, especially as I much prefer baked pies to steamed ones. The tastiest part of the dish was the mushy peas ‘gravy’, that came as a pool of (lovely) green underneath the pie. It was flavoursome and light, with a hint of mint, which added sophistication not usually found in pies. Alas, the gravy was definitely lukewarm, most likely having waited on a plate for the pie to cook too long. And though the pie was hot enough to eat without sending it back, it wasn’t piping hot. For what may have caused that, see below.

Now, the above might not give as good an impression as this Little Chef meal deserves. Because of Heston Blumenthal association, I find myself applying to this little motorway services diner standards I’d reserve for a restaurant in London. Not fair for sure, but even that is a mark of how far they have managed to come, making this experiment a success.

Last but not least was the service. I was very impressed by the ability of staff to handle a difficult customer, which was the mood I came in. :) The time it took for our food to arrive was definitely out of order but what with the unexpected surprise visit by the Big H with a film crew, I will let the chef off the hook on that one. I was also gratified by one of our waiters striking a conversation with us as we were leaving, asking us about our experience. He didn’t do this with a ‘customer feedback questionnaire’ in mind, it was his own initiative and desire to see happy customers. Very good indeed. We also learnt that Heston dropped in like this, unannouced to check the quality of ingredients being used and see if the Little Chef HQ have been cutting corners. His inspection was filmed so there will be a documentary in due course.


In short, it was a more than decent meal, at decent but not ‘fantastic deal’ prices. I’ll definitely go back and if Little Chef rolls out the new menu to the rest of their restaurants, stopping at motorway services for a meal could become an experience worth planning.

iJam Apple style

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Tomorrow we are doing a Samizdata blogger bash and one of the Samizdatistas, Michael Jennings in a bout of generosity is kindly bringing a whole leg of Serrano ham to share. Another blogging groupie is bringing a ham stand and a knife. So the video below is particularly relevant and wonderfully silly:

via Alec

Dana street roasting company or coffee golem den

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This is the story behind the cafe in Mountain View, CA I am about to walk and have decent coffee (please read the whole thing):

Hours curled up into days and days into months and Chaput found himself growing weary of his new title. The cosmos were a dry, corporate workplace. The coffee was crappy and his coworkers would never shut up about the stupid little things their babies did. He longed for the adventure of yore. Chaput called upon his old friend, the golem, for help. The golem agreed, but only on one condition: Chaput could never abandon him again. After a period of contract negotiation and hardcore brainstorming, the two agreed the best future for them both was to conquer the dark, trembling arts of the Qahwat al-Bunn (wine of the bean, or coffee, for our non-Arabic base).

And yes, you heard me right. Walk! :)

Thanks to Ben for introducing me to it.

OneWebDay in NYC

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On Saturday had brunch with Charles Hope and Grace Piper at one of my favourite hang outs in NYC – Les Halles.

Les Halles

They told me about OneWebDay party that night at For Your Imagination loft, which was round the corner from the hotel I was staying. The venue was good, a large room with groovy images projected on the wall. People were mingling in the gloom and ambiance of low lighting.

OneWebDay party in NYC

OneWebDay is a good and necessary meme. The last night’s party was one of the many ways to celebrate and share it. Glad I could be there.

It’s easy to take the web for granted. But it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what the web could mean to humankind in the future. That’s the purpose of OneWebDay, held each September 22.

The idea behind OneWebDay is to encourage people to think of themselves as responsible for the internet, and to take good and visible actions on Sept. 22 that (1) celebrate the positive impact of the internet on the world and (2) shed light on the problems of access and information flow.

The internet is made of people, not just machines. It’s up to us to protect it.

Blue monster anti-trust

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Two FT articles I read this morning – Microsoft loses EU antitrust appeal and Microsoft launches a tipple for techies.

One has to do with an ongoing court case about Microsoft’s violation of anti-trust laws.

The European Court of First Instance rejected Microsoft’s appeal against a ruling by the European Commission that found the software group had violated competition rules by abusing its dominant market position.

The other was about release of the Stormhoek Blue Monster reserve, with Hugh’s cartoon.

Hugh MacLeod, a cartoonist, blogger and marketing strategist for Stormhoek, created the Blue Monster image after getting to know Microsoft employees.

The contrast between the FT pieces amused me. I get frustrated when people see and treat companies as uniform monolithic entities. When they don’t realise an obvious fact – that people working inside are just like them and most of the time they are not plotting the world domination. This goes for Microsoft and any other large corporation. To me, the Blue Monster is a battle cry for those inside Microsoft who want change and who share the desire for openness and direct connection with people outside.

But there is another obvious fact. That among those people working for Microsoft are those who do plot, if not the world, then certainly market domination, which they see as their main purpose. By any means available. This is why the Blue Monster has teeth. Those people believe in the rightness of their actions and see their drive as being commercial, business-savvy and mock any who would talk of, well, social objects. They want a monolithic and controlled brand because it bestows more power on them. They miss the fact that over time they will hollow out their company. By then, most of them will have moved on to another company or position.

Drinking the Kool-aid


Their drink of choice is the Kool-Aid, which often turns into corporate venom. So instead of Kool-Aid, let them drink Stormhoek. Kudos to Hugh for making that option available.


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Badoo Mac…

Originally uploaded by ( ¯`’•.ღ!~ღ NauGHtyAh ღ~! ღ.•’´ ¯)

There is not much I can say about this, that’s how loaded this picture is. Just wanted to share… :-)

Fast Food: Ads vs. Reality

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A cheap dig – nobody expects much from fast food or advertising for that matter – but still irresistible:



More reality checks here.

via Loic

Thresher meme hits again

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Quote to remember

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Happiness is finding two olives in the bottom of your Martini when you’re hungry.
- Johnny Carson, Oops, there’s an olive in my caustic soda, FT

Beating jetlag

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Today I returned from my regular trip to the US. Having landed at Heathrow in the morning, a good friend of mine thought that a lunch at Le Caprice was as good a method as any to beat the jetlag. A very good friend indeed.

Lunch after landing

To us Le Caprice means the best steak tartare in London. I avoided the food on the plane and my stomach didn’t object to such culinary escapades so soon after disembarking. The lunch was fabulous and I am pleased to report that the steak tartare was as delicious as ever. Dahling.

Place for ‘ladies who lunch’

L’Esprit Lafite or Lafite iz well fit

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Tis time for another post about wine and more tales of luxury and excess. This time in New York City, another visit to the Yale Club – Château Lafite Wine Dinner:

Explore the links between Bordeaux and the new world. Discover the spirit of Château Lafite encapsulated in unique grapes. Meet Martin Sinkoff, recognized expert on the wines of Bordeaux, and learn about the Rothschild family—their history and their excellent wine. Purchased by the Rothschild family in 1868, Château Lafite was then and remains one of the greatest wine estates in the world.


The food and company were excellent. I found out that my right hand dinner companion, a NYC attorney, spent a year at my old college in his youth. It was years ago, before the college accepted women, but the continuity was there as despite the time gap we manage to share the same tutor. Small world indeed. The wines were carefully selected and paired with food to an exquisite effect.

Read the rest of this entry »

The grinding reality of marketing blogs

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I came across this gem earlier today and a classic example of what Jackie and I call ‘re-inventing the bandwagon’…

Eight O’Clock Coffee Co. is energizing coffee drinkers and its brand with a new blog that invites customers to share their gripes and thoughts about life, work and coffee.

The blog, called The Grind, follows the storyline of a working mother of two who writes about her daily life, and invites visitors to share their own experiences. The first blog entry begins with a quick recap of the weekend and talks about the blogger’s boss, nicknamed "Snobicus," and asks advice on how the blogger can break the ice with the chilly boss.

The goal is to connect consumers to the brand in an interactive format, said Jeff Maloy, Eight O’Clock senior brand manager. The blog will run for six to eight weeks.

This is so bad. How shall I count the ways?

  • Working mother of two – what’s her name or is this just a target demographic that came highest? Doubt it so please, enlighten us… Hang on, I got it. Her name is Eight O’Clock Coffee, it sayz on the blog – posted by Eight O’clock Coffee.
  • Interactive format – comments are good, but no need to asnwer every crank in the comments section, especially it is the first comment on the first post and the answer is the second post on the blog. Or is it someone from the agency who set up the blog trying to ‘crank up’ (sorry) the new interactive engine of the Eight O’Clock Coffee Co? Oh way, I can download a coupon and watch two TV spots. I take it all back…
  • What’s with the used as blogging platform? It sucks. Really. The worst comments facility ever, even some more benighted users use Haloscan to get away from indigenous comments (dis)functionality. But I digress.
  • The blog will run 6-8 weeks? That’s marketing-campaign mindset talking. Sigh.

Perhaps time to be constructive? A coffee blog I want to see tells me about coffee, its history, flavours, pictures, coffee-making tips (OK, there are some on the Grind blog buried at the bottom in small print), baristas, growers, geeky facts about espresso machines etc etc  – themes and topics abound.

And then there is the Ristretto Roasters weblog, set up by Jackie Danicki and run by Nancy Rommelmann, the founder of Ristretto Roasters, an artisanal coffee roasting company with its own café in Portland, OR. I know which blog I’d rather read.

Update: Just noticed that the article in PROMO magazine says that Eight O’ Clock handles the Web site and blog in-house. I take a shot at the imaginary agency back. It still leaves plenty to gripe about… :)

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