IN REVIEW: American 1950’s style budget motel & diner opens it’s doors in Oxfordshire and I go to investigate whether it’s worth pulling over for…
The A420 at Buckland, Oxfordshire. Pretty much halfway between Oxford and Swindon, amongst the English countryside, that is where you will pass Mollie’s Hotel & Diner.
It’s definitely located at a place between places. I’m sure it’s not really a planned destination for most, unless the driving force of the name Soho House is an excuse to, erm, drive by.
But maybe that halfway point between two major map points is exactly what Nick Jones, founder of Soho House sniffed out perfectly for his first site of a brand-new budget Motel & Diner chain Mollie’s. A chain he is looking to scatter across the UK.
Let’s face it, long gone are the days of seeing diners like Little Chef on the less equipped A roads of Great Britain like the A420. As the number of Little Chefs dropped like flies, petrol stations had to start taking on more roles for road users who were looking for a break, a drink and a leg stretch and quite frankly, they suck.
No offence to chains like BP but no-one really wants to spend longer than necessary at your gaff. Even with partnerships with M&S and Subway or coffee shops or supermarkets. They are the epitome of an in-and-out as fast as an F1 pit team place to stop your car at. Grab your drinks, grab your snacks, fill the car and GO GO GO! And don’t touch the facilities on the way out, unless you really have to and even then, don’t.
But the Little Chef. I miss that place. It’s part of my youth. Whenever travel happened in the UK as a child, Little Chef were nearly always there. They were roadside, they weren’t expensive and they were open a lot of the time.
With the rise of the internet and platforms like Trip Advisor to help you find restaurants, pubs and accommodation near where you find yourself, you can go off your path of travel and find exactly what you need, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy to do that. Time when travelling is important and you can’t beat finding what you need on your doorstep.
Mollie’s Hotel & Diner (and drive thru – WAH?!) is really trying to satisfy everything you could need roadside in one go.
Budget motel accommodation that is simple but stylish and modern.
Diner that is inspired from American diners in the 1950s but with their own modern twist.
A drive thru.
I think the drive thru is the warning alarm that tells me Nick Jones is deathly serious about making this and many others a roadside success. How many businesses can you name that serve American food out of a window hatch into your car? The businesses you name are probably the ones that rhyme with Whack Chonalds and Murder Wing, and more recently Paco Hell. All of those businesses are also huge. One has some 36,000 restaurants worldwide! Is that what you’re aiming for Mr Jones?
Fast forward to yesterday and Mr LouBou and I set off from Milton Keynes to Mollie’s to see if this is the future for what we might see all over the country one day soon.
Mother Nature had a welcome and a half for us. The recent snow we experienced in Milton Keynes seemed to have filled Oxfordshire with many more inches than we had back home. We left MK with most of the snow disappeared it was a surprise to arrive and see how beautiful and snowy everywhere was.
As we turned into Mollie’s it felt like we might have took a rabbit hole somewhere faraway instead of an A road heading towards Swindon.
Mollie’s looks very American with it’s wide wall stance, a low roof pitch “hat” and the bright red signage. The snow that was covering it was the powdered sugar and cherry on top, that took it thousands of miles out of Oxfordshire.
It’s easily visible from the road so if you paranoid like me that you could miss the turning, you probably won’t. Probably. Don’t sue me.
We followed the carpark down to behind the diner and spotted the motel. Not quite as prominent as the diner at the front of the site but enticing enough with an all glass lobby frontage and matching red signage.
The M-O-L-L-I part of the signage wasn’t lit up, I presume broken bulbs? But Mr LouBou pointed out our nights accommodation had now been reduced to staying at E’s Motel. 😆
Lobby / Reception / Lounge
The lobby at Mollie’s Motel looks like it’s ready for a photoshoot for made.com than for a motel on the A420, but that perfectly manicured interiors look which might hold some truth to it.
Chloe Macintosh, one of the founders of made.com and design consultant has worked with Nick Jones and Soho House in the past. Is this her work? Or maybe she gave Soho House Co enough style to last a lifetime. She sure does have enough style to spare and I love her fondness for mid-century furniture that you find on made.com.
But the lobby, what a stylish home-from-home the interior design team at Mollie’s have created. The warm teak wood mid century furniture sits somewhere between Scandinavian-chic and visiting your nan, but in that warm relaxing way. Not in a forced to eat luncheon meat and watch Murder She Wrote, although I’d be down for that too.
The lighting is provided from a dozen different lamps, giving a really soft lighting to the room. The crisp modern floorboards, huge glass windows overlooking a garden space and the ginormous, oversized table in the middle of the room do keep you from feeling like you’re visiting one of those motels that was last decorated in the 70s and is in dire need of the 21st century.
It feels crisp and stylish but not sterile and definitely not unwelcoming.
The reception (I use that term loosely) is manned but they’re more like hosts than motel receptionists.
Check In is completed on the Mollie’s App, nothing to do at the desk except maybe grab some forgotten toiletries or a complimentary tea or coffee (above).
I enjoyed a pot of tea in the lounge whilst Mr LouBou scampered over to the BP garage (situated next door) for chocolate bars and sweets and all that junk-food Netflix accompaniments that are bear necessities.
There’s no key cards to collect either. The phone/device used becomes your card which you scan through doors to get into the hotel.
Yes, we definitely not in the 70s.
The phone app called Mollie’s on the App Store is also how you connect to the free wifi at the site, how you check in and check out and various other tings like making bookings.
After fumbling over my first time using my phone as a keycard / security door pass thingumabob to access the motel corridors, we made our way upstairs to find room 31. How did I know that was our room? Well, the app told me, of course!
As I walked down the corridor to the room we spotted this water tap and cups. Nice touch.
Another swipe of the phone over the door lock of room 31 and we got to see what the very modest £50 room charge got us.
And wow. If the downstairs lobby is where we started mocking up photoshoots for an furniture company, the bedroom is where we paid our money for the interior designer to visit our home.
Huge groove wood sliding door to the toilet and shower on the left. Sink area to the right.
I’m not a huge fan of a big door being between the toilet and the sink for washing your hands, call me old fashioned but ick, door handles! But it looks beautifully stylish.
I felt like Chloe Macintosh’s influence is evident in the bedrooms at Mollie’s too.
Look at those huge sliding wood panels, and the wood panelling around the bedroom. Then look at this article with photos of Chloe at her home in London. They look the same!
The bed is huge and has proper crisp sheets.
There’s an upholstered easy chair and a more upright wooden chair at a table by the window.
The window for the hotel is the wow for me. I love being connected to the outdoors and normally feel quite claustrophobic and anxious in hotel rooms with tiny sealed windows that you can’t even open. These windows don’t open but their size makes up for it. Really reminding you feel like the outside isn’t far away.
And, that view? The snow played it’s ace card again. We had a beautiful snowy view over the fields, with trees nearby for a feel of protection and a touch of nature (watching the birds in the branches was lovely).
There was light switches and plug sockets (double and usb) at both sides of the huge bed.
The rainfall shower is so powerful it made me flinch when I turned it on and then made me pout when it was time to get out. It’s heavenly. Definitely double your shower time to enjoy it.
There’s Cowshed hand wash, body wash, shampoo/conditioner and hand cream included in the rooms (extra touch of something special).
Big mirror too (LouBou not included).
We walked across the carpark to Mollie’s Diner and was seated around 5pm on Saturday where there was lots of tables empty.
Mollie’s Diner is long and feels spacious with it’s high white and sloped ceiling. It’s filled with booths that look straight out of the 50s.
I really loved seating along the kitchen too. Like an authentic American truck stop diner.
Mr LouBou and I sat in a booth for two people.
The tables are all well prepared. There’s a bottle of table water already on the table with glasses. There’s salt, pepper, tomato ketchup (in a squirty tomato 😁), two Mollie’s own sauces (Smokey & Hot Sauce) and a cup holding napkins and cutlery.
The Smokey Sauce is really tasty. The Hot Sauce is apparently really hot (Mr LouBou) and I was too scared to try it!
I’m a huge fan of the cutlery canteen. I hate sitting down and finding the cutlery and napkin getting in the way before you are ready to eat. I like the neat and tidy table.
The staff, just like the Motel were friendly and very welcoming.
We choose to start our evening with cocktails and beer.
I went for the Eastern Standard cocktail made with gin (below). Delicious!
Mr LouBou went for the Brewdog Dead Pony Club pale ale.
You definitely don’t expect these sort of drinks at a roadside eatery. I’m all for them though.
Whilst we perused the menu we ordered the Chicken Bites (above) and Cod Goujons (below) from the Bites section of the All Day Menu.
Both came out pretty fast from the kitchen, tasted good and were simply presented. Is there anything more depressing than a limp, untouched salad garnish on a plate?
For mains I chose the Salmon Fillet (above) with avocado and sweetcorn salad. I also had a portion of crinkle cut fries too.
Don’t expect a delicately grilled piece of salmon. This piece was cooked at a super hot heat, hard and fast, like diners are. The fresh avocado and sweetcorn salad was lovely. Proper chunks of freshly grilled sweetcorn were roughly chopped with chunks of avocado and coriander. Nice accompaniment to the fish.
Mr LouBou ordered the Chicken Sandwich (above) as a Dirty Deal (making the burger come with crinkle cut fries and a fizzy drink).
The buttermilk fried chicken was nice. Kind of how you imagine most chicken restaurants want their chicken burgers to be like before they regrettably become swilled in oil and grease. Mollie’s burger wins in the taste department with no grease to be found and at £11 for the burger, the fries AND a soft drink, they also win on price too. We recommend.
Crinkle Cut Fries were served seasoned and tasty.
Sitting next to the bar where the staff prepared the drinks and desserts, we got to see all the treats being sent out for pudding but with very little stomach room left, we already had set plans for our meal closer.
As we were walking across the carpark to Mollie’s Diner earlier in the evening, a gentleman who was just getting in his car asked us if we was heading in to eat. His words of advice were “you’ve got to try the shakes”.
Well, Mr Car Park Man. We had to listen to you.
These might not be Five Dollar Shakes but they are Five Pound Hand-Spun Mollie’s Shakes (£5 each). I ordered the Oreo and Mr LouBou ordered the Salted Caramel one.
Oh, Mr Car Park Man. You were so right.
Shakes so thick and creamy you can barely suck them up the straw. I don’t think I’ve had a tastier shake.
The Oreo was great but the Salted Caramel one should carry an addiction warning. It’s SERIOUSLY GOOD.
I was actually rolling my eyes at seeing another thing being salted caramel flavour. SC flavoured desserts are so popular in recent years, but I will unroll them now. You need to try this shake.
In the words from Pulp Fiction. The film that fed me American diner scenes and made me wish we had them in this country,
“That’s a pretty f***ing good milkshake. I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars but it’s pretty f***ing good.”
Then it was time to roll our over-filled selves out Mollie’s Diner doors and back across the carpark to the motel.
It was a great evening meal. A great atmosphere in the diner with music playing and the lights turned down low.
The prices are good value and the environment stylish and inviting, I think they might be onto a winning combination. The huge queue of guests waiting for tables as we left the building only supported that claim too.
Will Mollie’s Diner make a halfway house become a destination in its own right? It’s got great potential so far. I’d love to see the food menu push the boundaries slightly more (Mr LouBou votes for onion rings!) but maybe Mollie has something up her sleeve for the future? I really hope so.
Returning to Mollie’s for Breakfast
Returning across the carpark after a nights stay at Mollie’s Motel and the diner looks even prettier than I remember.
That sunshine sure helped the morning sparkle.
It’s that wood cladding again (below).
There’s a takeaway counter at the front of the diner (below).
The main diner windows look out towards the A420.
Mollie’s All Day Breakfast menu is to the point but seems to cover most breakfast cravings.
Both Mr LouBou and I went for the Full English Breakfast with extra sausage patty.
Glad we went for the extra sausage. They are tasty, look hand pressed and are full of flavour.
The bacon is going to split the British crowd. It’s proper American bacon rashers. Thick cut streaky steaks of bacon. I liked it, reminding me of ham hock more than bacon. Mr LouBou did not approve but he’s a fussy bacon eater at the best of times.
The mushroom was chewy and the poached eggs tasted of vinegar and was in that weird ball shape that made you wonder how it was cooked, which was a slight disappointment.
It never quite reached the memories of eating an Olympic Breakfast from a Little Chef but maybe nostalgia is making me look back with kinder eyes than what is here and now in the present.
Mollie’s is definitely everything you want in a place to visit and enjoy breakfast in and Little Chef, especially in the later years of visiting them before they disappeared from around our area, was never really a place you felt special entering.
Then it was time to bid Oxfordshire goodbye and start making our way home to Milton Keynes.
So, our first visit to the first ever Mollie’s Motel & Diner in the UK. Was it worth it?
From having a nose at the first publicly accessible restaurant and accommodation from private members club owner of Soho House, the stylish motel, fun diner with delicious shakes and cocktails, it was a visit Mr LouBou and I loved and all at a very reasonable price.
Word on the street is that Mr Nick Jones (owner) is eyeing up a whole bunch of other sites across the country to roll out more Mollie’s.
What do you think? Would you be down for visiting?
Date of visit:
2-3 Feb 2019
Mollie’s Motel & Diner,
Shrivenham Road, A420,
All photos and words in this article are mine. Any queries email at email@example.com