Over the past few months, on my daily jaunt down the highway to hell (the A420) I’ve witnessed the incremental progress of Mollie’s Motel and Diner. My interest was increasingly piqued as its structures emerged from the ground. I’m naturally drawn to the word ‘diner’ – an attraction probably derived from movies (Grease, When Harry Met Sally, Pulp Fiction etc.) I adore 50s design, and fantasise about the kind of calorific, no frills comfort food promised by such establishments. I then discovered that this was the brainchild of Nick Jones of Soho Farmhouse, and my hopes were vaulted ever higher. One thing didn’t quite make sense however – the motel. The cinematic source material for motels is a little more homicidal which probably didn’t help my suspicions. But more importantly, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where you’d be coming from or going to that would make the location useful. If it had come from the mind of anyone else I would predict a damp squib on that front but, I told myself, in Nick Jones we trust.
As all buildings seem to, Mollies shot up in the last fortnight of construction, and all of a sudden its welcoming red neon sign was shining through my bus window each evening. OX was cordially invited to the opening party, which I initially thought would be like other press launches I’d been to – full of overeager waiters with Cheshire Cat grins and PRs swirling, preening and plumping – before I again remembered that this was a Soho do. My attire suddenly felt a little inadequate.
Every aspect of Mollie’s pays off. Nick Jones has previously relayed his long-standing dream to update the tired roadside formula. Fittingly, his new venture is on the site of a Little Chef long since departed. The success of its replacement is in the details. The menu is of Goldilocks length, with all the satisfying plates you could hope for: mac ‘n’ cheese, burgers, waffles, steaks and salads, with enough to keep vegetarians and vegans happy too. Here, the wheel has been updated, modernised and embellished but not reinvented. It’s all reassuringly recognisable, heartening, satiating and exactly what you might need as a weary traveller. And here’s where the motel bit started to make sense. Mollie’s is led, figuratively and literally, by the diner. If I had to be somewhere the next day and was travelling late at night, the thought of stopping for a burger, brownie and a milkshake would be too tempting to resist. Then, taken in by the pitch-perfect design (replete with little touches like those greasy spoon tomato-shaped ketchup bottles) one might stretch to a beer. Then, the toss-up between getting back on the road and staying in one of their exquisitely appointed rooms for only £50 would be decisively won by the latter, especially as this would allow a run at the cocktail menu.
Money has been spent extremely wisely in the rooms. Mollie’s goes without the unnecessary yet ubiquitous tea and coffee making facilities and instead focuses on intelligent design (the mirror is revealed by the sliding door to the bathroom) and quality. I had an impeccable night’s sleep, even if the next day at work felt like my own one-man Tarantino movie, with handfuls of Rennies and ibuprofen in place of a yellow jumpsuit and Hattori Hanzo katana.
The final bit that makes Mollie’s one to watch is the drive-thru. The quality of ingredients matched with the brand’s personality at such reasonable prices is a triple threat that is to provide a welcome alternative to your standard gut-destroying fast food options. In all, Mollie’s does exactly what it needs to for the one-time customer and is full of enough quirks and comforts to have travellers reroute to include it. I’m told that other sites are already in the pipeline, so watch out – the American dream is coming soon to a motorway near you.