Savvy planning can negate succumbing to a sad Ginsters sandwich and insipid service station coffee as you hit the road and criss-cross your way around the UK this spring. Of course, there are the A-grade service stations run by the Westmoreland family (at Gloucester on the M5, Cairn Lodge on the M74 and Tebay on the M6). This trio has revolutionised our expectation of a motorway stop and are worth letting your petrol gauge hit the red for: no Burger King, proper coffee and farm shops heaving with local pies, pickles and preserves. But plot carefully and there are other lesser known foodie stops that make the prospect of a day spent in the car a little more enticing, from fish trucks and bakeries to hidden cafes and upmarket diners, all on the road or just a short diversion away.
Sol Bakery, Wiltshire, A303
A worthy prize for weary drivers who have survived the snail-paced traffic crawling past Stonehenge heading west – or fuel for those bracing to brave it heading east. The brainchild of two Argentineans living in this corner of the West Country, expect empanadas with chimichurri (with the pasture-fed beef sourced from nearby Upper Leigh Farm) but also sourdough baked daily, brioche buns packed with Wiltshire sausages, eggs and bacon and the showstopper Sol BLT: beef, lettuce and tomato in house focaccia.
Mark Hix’s Oyster and Fish Truck, Dorset, A35
Parked up outside Felicity’s Farm Shop in Morcombelake in a converted Chevrolet ambulance is chef Mark Hix’s Oyster and Fish Truck: a fast-track way to keep your West Country holiday alive a little longer as you head for home. Stock up on fresh fish or some of Mark’s own Flodge smoked salmon to rustle up a welcome home supper for yourself (with the help of one of Mark’s recipes), or tuck into a takeaway lobster roll before hitting the road. If you fancy a longer sit down then a visit to the nearby restaurant in Lyme Regis is a must.
House of Bruar, Perthshire, A9
Welcome to ‘Harrods of the north’: a sprawling empire in the shadow of the fairytale-esque Blair Castle. Something of a Mecca for the hunting, shooting and fishing brigade, prepare for an onslaught of tweed, but also stacks of cashmere jumpers, leather overnight bags and highland pottery that you’ll be desperately trying to find space for in your packing. Make a beeline for the food hall which is the stuff of a fantasy hamper (think oversized scotch eggs, smoked fish, and an encyclopaedic cheese counter). Or head for the restaurant where soups, sandwiches and towering cakes are made onsite, and a rare topside of beef piled with Yorkshire puddings is a Sunday treat.
Worton Kitchen Garden, Oxfordshire, A40
Immersed in seven acres of gardens, overspilling with vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers, it’s hard to believe you’re just five miles north-west from Oxford at this hidden kitchen garden. Chef, baker and co-owner Simon Spence is behind the ‘hyper-local’ menu, where whatever can be foraged from the orchard, poly-tunnels and greenhouses takes centre stage (perhaps wild garlic and courgette bruschetta or pistachio and rosewater meringues with spiced plums). Stock up in the shop before you leave with woodfired sourdough, quiches, tarts and pastries as well as their own kimchi and sauerkraut.
The Pheasant Inn, Berkshire, M4
The kind of watering hole where you’ll want to linger longer than one drink, with an open fire and armchairs to sink in to – and crucially, it’s just under a mile off the M4. There’s a hearty menu of burgers (standby for the game changing Pheasant ale onion), battered fish and chips and Sunday roasts with lashings of The Pheasant’s famed gravy. With interiors by the trio of in demand designers Isabella Worsley, Flora Soames and Octavia Dickinson (expect panelling, cleverly chosen antiques and vintage prints) you’ll leave full – and desperate to overhaul your home.
Three Hares Deli, Cumbria, M6
A foodie emporium and café celebrating the best that northern farmers and artisan producers have to offer; there’s craft beers from Hesket Newmarket Brewery, sparkling meads from the Northumberland Honey Co, Mansergh Hall pork and sustainably sourced fish from Hodgson Fish. And when time is on your side, book a spot at its sister coaching inn, The Black Bull, for British, European and Asian inspired dishes (head chef Nina Matsunga was born to Japanese parents), where sourcing meat from within 20 miles from the kitchen door is a priority that’s taken seriously.
Mollie’s, Somerset, M5
Like stepping into the American roadside diners of teen movies, Mollie’s is all chrome open kitchens, cosy booths and neon light signs – with a sophisticated Soho House spin. Here’s a place where whining pint-sized passengers will be silenced thanks to an all-day menu of Mollie’s cheeseburger, chicken’n’waffles, mac’n’cheese and Oreo shakes that they’ll be dreaming of when you’re well beyond the M5. With the original outpost on the A420 in Oxfordshire, another is planned for 2023 in Manchester’s Old Granada Studios.
The Mount Vineyard, Kent, M25
A little galling for the designated driver perhaps, but here’s a haven less than five miles off the M25, which has been producing wine since 2008 in the micro-climate of the Darent Valley. Grab a table in the restaurant where sharing platters are designed to pair with the wine (try the English cheese board with Kentish Blue and Canterbury Goats Cheese) or opt for a stone baked pizza to fuel yourself for the journey. Pore over the Mount Vineyard wines in the Ten Acres shop, housed in a converted tractor shed, and top up your home supply.
Hawarden Farm Shop, Flintshire, A55
Until 2008, Hawarden Farm Shop on the Gladstone family’s north Wales estate was a modest wooden shack adjacent to 20-acres of pick-your-own orchards. In its place now stands a butcher, deli, café and food hall – where championing sustainable suppliers is their mantra. The walled garden of Hawarden Castle has been brought back to life, with its produce inspiring the seasonal menu crafted by former chef-director at Petersham Nurseries, Damian Clisby. For a proper stop, book in for an afternoon tea of Roebuck English sparkling wine, Nant Ucha Farm egg mayonnaise in a brioche roll, freshly baked scones and pistachio macaroons.
Two Magpies Bakery, Suffolk, A12
The mothership of this East Anglian bakery – that now has cafes spanning Suffolk and Norfolk – is perfectly positioned for waning drivers at Darsham on the A12. Get your fix of Allpress coffee and an almond croissant laden with filling, or settle in for the breakfast brioche with avocado, halloumi and chilli jam, or perhaps bacon and blueberry French toast. Time your journey right and you’ll catch their Friday night sourdough pizza (The Annie, with mozzarella, brie, locally smoked ham, honey and parmesan is worth making a detour for).