UK Motorway Food: Leon at Chester Services

I hemmed and hawed over whether to include motorway services food here on the blog. The presence of this blog thus reveals three motivations. First, I was hungry and on a long motorway (freeway) trip. Second, the industry is worth many millions, so yes I’m interested. Third, I wanted to see if the reputedly soaring prices of UK motorway food services had an associated uplift in quality since the last time I had a Little Chef fried breakfast.

On my way from London to Wales, I noticed a new entrant on the block, adding to the offerings from M&S, Waitrose, McDonalds, Costa and more… that doyen of the wellness high-street, Leon.

Staff making coffee (and not taking orders)

I hit Chester Services at around lunchtime and Leon is at the heart of their updated multi-choice food offering. In truth, the queue at McDonalds was substantially longer but seemed to shift pretty quickly, and the delay at Leon I can’t put down exclusively to hanger.

McDonalds offers order-screens. At Leon, a charming but solo young woman takes orders but is also responsible for making on-the-spot coffee orders, meaning quite the delay between customers. The kitchen isn’t quite lolly-gagging but one chef, with a beard-net covering his lower face, was visible, leaning on the counter waiting for the next order.

Writing is a little small

The order screen flashes brightly with all of the options, even if they are hard for me to read (I like a bigger font due to mild sight loss). A jewelled salad is tempting but I can’t see if it includes rice or grains or just leaves, so I opt for an Aioli Chicken Rice Box with brown rice. I want a big punch of flavour and that sounds like it might deliver.

Luckily the table looks clean. Phew.

With a can of soft drink, the total comes to £7.99 which feels reasonable.

“Please don’t give me the bag…” Oh.

The meal is served in a fold over cardboard tray with recyclable cutlery, so far, so green. But it is packaged in a huge paper bag, which is of no benefit when I’m walking 5 yards to sit down and eat my lunch. There’s something amiss with that process.

The chicken appears to be chargrilled chicken thigh which, in my opinion, holds tenderness and the requisite chewiness for a tasty chicken dish. The container started with brown rice, a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, chicken chunks and aioli dressing. Apart from a thumb-sized piece of lemon, that’s about it. No other flavourings. The rice appeared to have no seasoning at all. This ‘hot box’ is saved by the aioli dressing which has a pleasant garlicky tang but the generosity of the hand squeezing your dressing will dictate the success of your meal. One corner was delicious and sticky, and most of the rest of the dish was dry as a desert sandal.

So much delicious sauce (and still not enough)

On the whole, if you’re on the motorway for a long drive and need to simply fill your belly, there are cheaper, saltier and tastier ways to do it. However, after a Leon meal, you can resume your journey with the smug feeling that at least one of your meals that day met nutritional guidelines and dream that, maybe next time, you’ll go for the full fry-up instead.

Patrick Hughes

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