Roll out the menus

Mem­o­ries of the world’s best meals on wheels

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION LUXURY - JONATHAN PHANG

VENICE SIM­PLON-ORI­ENT-EX­PRESS, EUROPE

A se­lec­tion of routes, the most fa­mous be­ing Lon­don-Paris-Venice or vice-versa; sig­na­ture jour­neys in­clude Paris-Bu­dapest-Bucharest-Is­tan­bul or Is­tan­bul-Bucharest-Bu­dapest-Venice; Berlin is a new des­ti­na­tion for next year.

Miche­lin-stan­dard, Euro­pean style. In L’Etoile du Nord (one of three el­e­gant din­ing cars), in­laid with pol­ished wood flo­ral mar­quetry, I in­dulged in a brunch of smoked salmon and scram­bled eggs, and Brit­tany lob­ster with chived duchess pota­toes, fol­lowed by a crisp and light tarte tartin served with Chan­tilly cream. In L’Oriental, chic and so­phis­ti­cated with Chi­nese black-lac­quered wall pan­els, I en­joyed a seafood fri­c­as­see in a creamy brandy sauce, roast supreme of duck with truf­fle foie gras and a dessert of crisp bit­ter chocolate and berg­amot.

Cote d’Azur is my favourite din­ing car, with its stun­ning Lalique glass pan­els, eau-de-nil drapes and pink lamp­shades. The meal was among the most mem­o­rable of my life: cau­li­flower veloute with a rolled steamed filet of sole, gar­nished with Bel­uga caviar and chervil leaves, fol­lowed by a rack of lamb roasted in Meaux mus­tard, an im­pres­sive cheese trol­ley and iles flot­tantes for pud­ding. Add to that the sil­ver ser­vice, fine linens, mono­grammed bone china, shiny an­tique sil­ver and gleam­ing lead crys­tal, and it’s no won­der the VSOE is a by­word for op­u­lence on the rails. More: bel­mond.com.

The jour­ney:

The food:

HI­RAM BING­HAM, PERU

Cusco (Poroy) to Machu Pic­chu (Aguas

The jour­ney:

Calientes).

Fine Peru­vian wines and pisco sours flowed as I took my place in the gor­geous din­ing car of the Hi­ram Bing­ham. Brunch was aji de gal­lina, a de­li­cious tra­di­tional creamy stew of chicken, boiled eggs, mashed potato and cheese, rolled and wrapped in a crepe, then chilled and served in slices. Af­ter that I went out to the open-air ob­ser­va­tion car, at the rear of the train, and dis­cov­ered where all the ac­tion was. A band was play­ing, guests were singing and the views kept get­ting bet­ter – colour­ful vil­lages, smil­ing chil­dren, herds of lla­mas and, as we de­scended into the Sa­cred Val­ley in the An­dean foothills, the rapid Urubamba River.

The jour­ney back was one of cel­e­bra­tion; I had ful­filled a life­time’s am­bi­tion to see Machu Pic­chu. We ate a four-course din­ner of seafood canapes, Vichys­soise soup, grilled beef fil­let and a vanilla cheese­cake served with fresh fruit and a rasp­berry coulis. We sang, danced and raised our glasses to an un­for­get­table trip of a life­time. More: bel­mond.com.

The food:

BEL­MOND ROYAL SCOTS­MAN, SCOT­LAND

A round-trip from Ed­in­burgh into the Western High­lands.

A cham­pagne tea served in the ob­ser­va­tion lounge was a great way to get to know fel­low pas­sen­gers, a process that con­tin­ued over meals. A jour­ney on this train is like a stay at a five-star Ed­war­dian coun­try house. There are two din­ing cars, each with a long cen­tral ta­ble seat­ing 16. Re­gional clas­sics in­cluded Scot­tish smoked salmon rolls filled with crab mousse, cullen skink (a thick soup of smoked had­dock, pota­toes and onion), Aberdeen An­gus fil­let of beef and, of course, short­bread of ev­ery va­ri­ety. The break­fast fea­tured whisky por­ridge, tat­tie scones, black pud­ding and kip­pers.

Ev­ery morsel was lov­ingly and freshly pre­pared on board. There was live en­ter­tain­ment in the lounge bar ev­ery night, and on our last evening we turned Dundee sta­tion into a mid­night dance floor and per­formed the Gay Gor­don be­fore join­ing hands and singing Auld Lang Syne. More: bel­mond.com.

The jour­ney:

The food:

IN­DIAN PA­CIFIC, AUS­TRALIA

Sydney to Perth (or vice versa). The on-board menus on this sil­ver steel train take in­spi­ra­tion from re­gional flavours and pro­duce. Each was won­der­fully mem­o­rable, as were the wines from the Mar­garet River re­gion and the Ade­laide Hills.

My favourite menu was cre­ated by Adam Liaw, win­ner of MasterChef Aus­tralia 2010 — it was in­no­va­tive and a treat for the senses, be­gin­ning with mud crab and bar­ra­mundi dumplings in a lemon and myr­tle co­conut broth. The main course of lamb loin and shoul­der, sous vide, with black vine­gar honey was sublime. Equally mem­o­rable over four days were Wood­side chevre blended with roasted gar­lic and served with pine nuts, crispy an­chovy and mi­cro herbs, and straw­berry-in­fused panna cotta with straw­berry coulis and fairy floss. Be­tween meals I mar­velled at the ever-chang­ing land­scapes: the greens of the Avon Val­ley, the wild west town of Kal­go­or­lie, the des­o­late Nullar­bor Plain, the ghost town of Cook, the rolling South Aus­tralian coun­try­side, the mallee scrubs of the out­back and the mag­nif­i­cent Blue Moun­tains. My “gold class” dou­ble cabin was spa­cious, if a lit­tle

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THE HOT NEW TICK­ETS Ire­land is the des­ti­na­tion for rail buffs to watch in 2016. Bel­mond will launch its Grand Hiber­nian on Au­gust 9 with itin­er­ar­ies of two or four nights, which can be ex­tended to six-night Grand Tour round-trips from Dublin to a range of cities that in­cludes Cork and Gal­way. The luxe train ac­com­mo­dates 40 pas­sen­gers in en­suite com­part­ments, fea­tures two din­ing rooms and an ob­ser­va­tion lounge, and daily ex­cur­sions range from cas­tle and dis­tillery vis­its to soirees in tra­di­tional pubs and sight­see­ing in na­tional parks. Touted as a sis­ter ex­pe­ri­ence to Bel­mond Royal Scots­man, there will also be golf­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and pri­vate es­tate tours in the mix. More: 1800 000 395; bel­mond.com/grandhibernian.

SUSAN KURO­SAWA rem­i­nis­cent of an 80s cor­po­rate ho­tel: taste­ful, func­tional and com­fort­able. More: great­south­ern­rail.com.au.

EAST­ERN & ORIENTAL EX­PRESS, SOUTH­EAST ASIA

There are a num­ber of itin­er­ar­ies, the core jour­ney be­ing Bangkok to Sin­ga­pore (or vice versa) with stops in Kuala Lumpur, Pe­nang and the Bridge over the River Kwai.

The tone of the train is art deco glam­our and the two din­ing cars are beau­ti­fully fur­nished and ro­man­ti­cally lit. Pas­sen­gers choose be­tween lo­cal and Euro­pean cui­sine; my favourites in­cluded an Oriental mack­erel starter and a Malay mild fish curry. Con­ti­nen­tal break­fast and af­ter­noon tea came to the cabin; the ser­vice at all times was friendly and pro­fes­sional. More: bel­mond.com.

The jour­ney:

The food:

THE CANA­DIAN, NORTH AMER­ICA

Van­cou­ver to Win­nipeg through the Rocky Moun­tains on board a 50s sil­ver bul­let train that looked straight out of Some Like It Hot.

Break­fast was amaz­ing, with eggs mul­ti­ple ways, pan­cakes and waf­fles, crispy streaky ba­con, Cana­dian back ba­con, home fries, hash browns, smoked salmon and bagels, pas­tries, muffins, warm crois­sants and lash­ings of maple syrup. It tasted even bet­ter af­ter the good night’s sleep I had on the wide bed. Lunches and din­ner, mean­while, were sim­ple but well ex­e­cuted, such as steamed shrimp with a pi­quant Bloody Mary dip­ping sauce, steaks, French-trimmed rack of lamb, scal­loped maple-glazed sweet potato and ap­ple pie a la mode.

The bars and din­ing cars are dec­o­rated in warm pas­tel shades, with glass etch­ings and soft light­ing, and meals served on sim­ple and el­e­gant white china by a pro­fes­sional and friendly team. The staff were knowl­edge­able and proud of their coun­try — and as for the scenery… I woke to the colour­ful in­ten­sity of au­tumn fo­liage, wind­ing rapids, cas­cad­ing wa­ter­falls and mir­ror lakes with the snow-capped Rock­ies as a back­drop. More: canadarail.ca; rail­book­ers.com.au.

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The food:

THE BLUE TRAIN, SOUTH AFRICA

The stan­dard route is be­tween Cape Town and Pre­to­ria, though I only had time for the three-hour all-in­clu­sive round trip, in­clud­ing lunch, from Pre­to­ria.

A spicy grilled cala­mari tube stuffed with veg­eta­bles and cous­cous, loin of lamb and a sum­mer med­ley of berry sor­bet, vanilla madeleines and straw­berry Swiss roll. The wines (all South African) were ex­quis­ite and the ser­vice un­ob­tru­sive and fault­less, making my trip short, sweet and mem­o­rable. The Blue Train has to be the most com­fort­able and lux­u­ri­ous in the world, with all the trap­pings of a five-star ho­tel. More: blue­train.co.za.

The jour­ney:

The food:

Jonathan Phang’s Gourmet Ex­press is shown on Fox­tel’s Life­Style FOOD Chan­nel.

TELE­GRAPH ME­DIA GROUP

Clock­wise from main, Venice Sim­plonOri­ent-Ex­press; Royal Scots­man; In­dian Pa­cific; Hi­ram Bing­ham; tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter Jonathan Phang

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