Roll out the menus
Memories of the world’s best meals on wheels
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.
HIRAM BINGHAM, PERU
Cusco (Poroy) to Machu Picchu (Aguas
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.
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.
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
The journey: The food:
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 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.
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.
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