I tried the ‘Rise and Shine’ breakfast at the new retro cafe on the A38 near Exeter
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Bristol-based café-bar operator Loungers have created something quite special with their latest brand.
On the A38 at Haldon Hill, opposite Exeter Racecourse, Brightside is the first in what could well become a national chain of roadside restaurants from the team who brought us the Lounge café-bars and Cosy Club restaurants. This first Brightside is sandwiched between a drive-thru Costa and a branch of McDonald’s. Talk about a prime location.
The low-slung building is surrounded by the sort of low, bright yellow-painted concrete leaf wall you might find in a caravan park or crazy golf course. The red and white sign on the roof has a bubbly 1970s font and this retro look continues throughout the diner.
Apparently, the Loungers team wanted to evoke memories of childhood road trips and the interior design takes inspiration from the 1970s and 1980s. This includes caravan-style features, rich cherry wood wall panels, a parquet floor and the type of vintage countryside view murals you would leave well alone if spotted in a charity shop.
There are booths with 1970s orange and brown bus/train seat fabrics (specially made by Bristol’s South West Upholstery on a trading estate in Novers Hill), art deco lights, ribbed glass partitions and creamy Formica tables.
It’s a nostalgic look that evokes memories of 1970s British transport cafes with more than a hint of classic American motel diners. Call it Carry On Camping meets Breaking Bad. Or maybe Little Chef for the Gen Zers. Chunky red mugs and canary yellow cups and saucers add to the retro look, as does avocado toilets and wash basins straight out of Terry & June or George and Mildred.
Brightside’s menu is all about comfort food and the sort of dishes you dream of when breaking a long, boring journey on the winding A-roads of Britain. There are sourdough pizzas and a modern take on the classic ham, egg and chips featuring treacle-cured pork belly and waffle fries with a charred pineapple and chilli salsa.
Other main courses on the menu later in the day include chicken katsu curry, vegetarian chilli and spaghetti and meatballs. Those with a sweet tooth can order huge sundaes and cakes, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free choices on all menus.
From the ‘Rise and Shine’ morning menu served until noon, I ordered the signature Brightside Breakfast (£12.50). Every component had been cooked with great care.
The smoked streaky bacon was crisp and crunchy as I like it, the plump sausage was clearly good quality, the fluffy potato croquettes added a nice retro touch, the egg was fried to perfection and the mushrooms and baked beans were as they should be.
The star of the show was the slow-cooked tomatoes, which were hot, sweet and juicy. I washed it down with a well-made flat white - the teas and coffees are all supplied by Bristol’s Clifton Coffee Roasters.
The breakfast menu also includes bacon and maple pancakes, smashed avocado toast and a breakfast bowl of granola, Greek yoghurt, berry compote and blueberries. Brightside has already earmarked two more sites to open before summer, including one in Honiton and one in Saltash. And then they are sure to be rolled out all over the UK.
The aim is to bring genuine hospitality back to A-roads and that will make a refreshing change from the usual grim service station meals travellers have to endure up and down the country every day.
By taking inspiration from the past, Brightside is a delicious taste of the future when it comes to roadside dining and it will bring a nostalgic grin to face of tired drivers and bored passengers alike.
Brightside, Haldon Hill, Kennford, Exeter, Devon, EX6 7XS.