Train fine dining
10 February 2015
When Great First Western invited me to travel in style from London Paddington to Exeter St. Davids in Pullman first class style, I thought ‘why not?. It is definitely an experience, and something I wouldn’t ordinarily do. My alternative would probably be what most do, a quick basket dash in M&S convenience for a stockpile of sandwiches and snacks and just make do.
As a result of my experience, I’ve realised ‘making do’ really isn’t the best… if you have:
1) the finances
2) journey time is sufficient to enjoy a leisurely three course meal
3) missed a lunch or supper time service on destination arrival
If you’ve got a big tick next to all of the above, then you’ll easily be converted to the idea of train fine dining. Of course, the major clincher was the fact that Mitch Tonks (famed seafood restaurateur of The Seahorse, Rockpool and consultant for Hawksmoor Air St) created the menu, with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients from the south coast of England (train final destinations).
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A quick trip to the galley in the carriage next to our dining car, revealed Chris; our Chef for our service. He looked unflappable in the small, swelteringly hot galley (which couldn’t have been bigger than 6x 2 metres), I was in sheer astoundment how he managed to rattle off three courses for twenty diners in the carriage.
On to the food…
Starter: Dressed South Devon crab (£10*) ~ fresh and succulent flakes of crab from Brixham (as Mitch put it, more superior than Cromer’s finest)
Main: Ox cheek in Sharpham wine, Somerset quince jelly, roast new potatoes, courgettes and cauliflower cheese (£26*) ~ I am a massive slow cooker fan of cuts such as ox cheek and shank braised in this way. The meat becomes so tender it falls apart. The quince jelly had just enough bite to cut through the richness.
Dessert: ‘The Seahorse’ olive oil and pine nut cake with Blackmore Vale dairy mascarpone and grappa syrup (£9*) ~ a moist and light sponge laden with the hint of grappa , followed by West country cheese board (£9*)
Wine: Cornish wines by Knightor, selected by Mitch Tonks to accompany the menu (at £27* for 2013 Trevannion 75cl) as well as few more glasses of a fab Jean-Jacques Bardin Sancerre, Loire – 2013 (£19* for 37.5cl).
I learnt quickly that there is a certain knack to dining on a train, a sudden jolt, break or twist on the track, means your table components can roll or fly in directions (including your lap). Therefore, diners ought to have swift reflex manoeuvres, this did cause much banter between the brilliant serving staff (who were learning silver service literally on the job) and diners. Secondly, being spoilt with a sumptuous lunch or dinner might mean the onset of a ‘carb coma’, but do stay alert as you don’t want to miss your stop! I did wistfully wonder if Hercule Poirot might tap me on the shoulder or if I might sit next to a Peter Whitman type (Adrien Brody in The Darjeeling Limited) in the glamour and splendour of a vintage dining carriage but alas it wasn’t meant to be. Thankfully, the only crime on board, was the fact Exeter arrived in no time at all and I needed to hot foot it off the train.
I was informed by our waiting staff that breakfasts and late weekday journeys were the busiest of the services on daily journeys and is actually bookable for those with a first class ticket or ordinary ticket holders if seats are available. Click here, if you’d like to find out more about First Great Western’s Pullman routes.
*Please note: I received a complimentary ticket and dining experience on this occasion, where I have labelled prices, this is for your reading reference. Prices of the dishes are inclusive of mineral water, bread rolls from Pullin’s bakery, Somerset farmhouse butter, accompanying seasonal vegetables and coffee or tea.