Sunday, December 14, 2008

Best train food in the UK (and better than Selfridges)

Yes, I know that sounds potentially like the best hotel in Myanmar, but no - it exists, it is very very good, and so, is about to disappear.

It is on National Express East Anglia - between London Liverpool Street and Norwich. Not all trains, but around every second train at peak times during the week, including the middle of the day, there is a restaurant car on the train - available to all classes, serving excellent food with fantastic service. I've had breakfasts twice and dinner once on this service, and will have it for the last time later this week. You see National Express East Anglia has decided it can make more money replacing the restaurant car with a carriage with seats - not surprising - but it is sad for those who use it.

You see it has been full the three times I have used it. Last time I got on the train 10 minutes before departure, got one of the last seats, and the Christmas menu dishes had already been ordered. So it is popular.

and the food and service are worth it.

For £14.95 on the 0800 from Norwich on Monday 8th December, I got hot porridge, with an unlimited supply of toast and croissants, and selection of preserves including marmite. Well cooked and delicious. Apple juice and bottomless cups of coffee. Then came the eggs benedict, with two eggs, fresh smoked salmon with lemon on fresh soft buttery muffins and lashings of hollandaise sauce. I have had eggs benedict in restaurants in several countries, and this is seriously one of the best I have ever had. Better than the one I had for hotel breakfast two weeks before. The eggs cooked to perfection, the muffins lightly toasted and melting in the mouth, smooth lemony hollandaise and delicious salmon. It was decadently delicious, and with the coffee and juice, was quite a start to a day. There are plenty of hot choices.

Dinner lived up to standards as well, on the 8.30pm from Liverpool Street on 11th December, with a starter of lobster tails on rocket, a mains of grilled salmon fillet with beans and potatoes, and dessert of white and dark chocolate torte. Fresh ingredients, beautifully prepared and cooked. Salmon that melted in my mouth, a delicious sweet professional chocolate torte, as good as any I've ever had. All up £22 including drinks, complementary rolls and butter. I have had far too many meals in restaurants that aren't a patch on this food - cooked by a chef in a 20 year old train going at 100mph. All with silverware, crockery, and a total of six staff working in the carriage. For 30 patrons.

The service from the waiting staff can also show up those in many restaurants. Friendly, constantly helpful, grateful to be serving. I tipped them on the last trip generously as a result. It is only sad that apparently 40% lose their jobs with the change to the uninspiring "cafe bar" service. Clearly the price of the meals, given popularity, could've been popped up a bit to make more money - but tis a sign of the times - only one meal serving could be made in the carriage for the trip.

The restaurant car is removed for the last time this Friday - 19 December. I will be having my last dinner this Thursday evening on the service. It will be sadly missed.

By contrast, other food on trains in the UK deserves the reputation it has earnt. Virgin Trains between London and Manchester offers free food in first class, it has to be, you wouldn't pay for it. Breakfasts comprise a choice of orange and grapefruit juice, a couple of packet supermarket cereals, and then some cold toast, fried eggs, overcooked bland sausages and bacon, or slivers of toast with a small pile of (if your lucky) reasonably cooked scrambled eggs and a couple of slices of salmon. It is almost barely worth the effort AND the staff service ranges from the quite good to the utterly indifferent. Seriously - Virgin Trains should hire those National Express East Anglia catering staff that are made redundant, to teach its staff some simple courtesies - like looking like you give a damn about customers being happy.

However, I've used Virgin Trains so much my expectations are so low. £180 one way first class London-Manchester gets you 2 class service. The London-Norwich restaurant car isn't part of the fare, but anyone first or second class ticket holders, can use it. Beardie could learn something from NXEA. Virgin Atlantic in Upper Class is good, Virgin Trains has all the signs of a lacklustre monopoly.

So could Marco Pierre White. You'd think a restaurant carrying his name would carry his reputation for first class food, but Frankies in Selfridges (yes Oxford Street) was an ep


adamsmith1922 said...

Many years ago, pre privatisation I used to travel Manchester - London and return.

The food was very good, especially on the Pullman and the wine excellent


I'm quite enjoying M&S.