All aboard for a touch of luxury
Sister to the Venice Simplon-OrientExpress, the Belmond British Pullman gives a chance to experience luxury train travel
BELMOND British Pullman is the creme de la creme of British train travel, transporting passengers to a world of pure indulgence.
Departing from platform two at London Victoria, Surrey is in arm’s reach of experiencing everything the luxury vintage carriages have to offer, even if it does come with a hefty price tag.
Gliding through stunning scenery to destinations all over Britain, including the Surrey Hills, guests can enjoy gourmet cuisine on day trips or weekend excursions.
While the famous Flying Scotsman runs a programme of trips around Surrey this summer, Belmond British Pullman has launched a series of celebrity chef ‘pop-up’ dinners featuring celebrated TV personalities and Michelin starred restaurateurs.
The first pop-up event was held on M ay 6, hosted by award-winning Italian chef, Aldo Zilli.
I was lucky to hop on board the train for an evening of glamour, culinary expertise and wonderful views of the Surrey Hills.
Suits and posh frocks attended a red carpet ceremony on the platform before the vintage carriages that once ran on legendary 1920s services such as the Brighton Belle and the Golden Arrow arrived. Champagne flowed, canapes appeared and excitement built in the exclusive VIP area.
When the iconic classic carriages pulled in to the platform at 6.30pm, guests put down their glasses and hurried to the track, taking photos with the magnificent train along the way.
We picked up another flute as soon as we stepped on board and the bubbles continued throughout our journey.
The stories of the carriages that make up the train are as rich as the legend of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express itself.
We sat in Minerva. Built in 1927, it has distinctively delicate Edwardian marquetry and a long prestigious history.
Put in storage during the Second World War, it was extensively refurbished in 1951 to join the new carriages for the Golden Arrow to celebrate the Festival of Britain and in the early 1950s the carriage was included in special trains for state visits and royal use.
Veneered panels feature exquisite art deco designs, art nouveau lamps shed soft light on polished brass, mahogany fittings create a warm feel and velvet armchairs make for intimate dining.
Impeccably well-dressed and professional waiters tended to our needs from the second we reached for our starter spoon to the moment we finished our coffee and chocolates.
Not only was the service first class, so was the food and drink.
Drawing inspiration from his native Abruzzo region, Zilli mixed fresh and lavish ingredients and presented them through six sumptuous courses with pairing wines.
The gastronomic feast started with a smooth, rich lobster and brandy bisque with warm bread.
The train ride was so smooth, you didn’t have to worry about spilling soup down your crisp shirt or gorgeous gown. Salty Parma ham and fresh, crunchy asparagus was up next, followed by truffle and mushroom raviolli (a spinach filo pastry for lactose intolerants like me).
The star of the show was the main course – pink lamb rack with soft minted new potatoes, caponata and a distinctive blood red rosemary jus.
It was faultless comfort food presented elegantly – and it tasted sublime.
Course number four was a generous Italian cheese board complete with grilled pear and truffle honey and dessert was yet another large sharing platter of sweet treats including pistachio cakes, tiramisu, panna cotta and lemon tart.
The six utterly enjoyable modern Italian courses were paired with six delightful red and white wines including Valpolicella Classico grapes.
Entertainment was provided on board by a live singing trio who were fabulous to listen to and watch and Zilli himself walked through the carriages to greet passengers and sign copies of his vegetarian book Fresh & Green.
Between each course we sat back in our plush chairs and admired the intricate furnishing and fittings of the cosy carriage and gazed out of the window as we passed through Egham, Addlestone, Woking, Shalford, Dorking, Betchworth and Reigate.
Shortly after 11pm, we returned to Victoria and the real world, having been transported to a more gracious era of travel filled with elegance, glamour and pure decadence. It was a journey fit for a queen and an experience that will stay in my memory for a very long time. n The ‘pop-up’ dinners continue with Richard Corrigan on June 11, Tom Kerridge on August 13 and James Martin on September 29. Tickets cost £510 per person. To book call 0845 0772222 or visit Belmond.com.
Dressed to impress for a journey on the Belmond British Pullman.
A beautifully-furnished Pullman carriage and, right, service to match.
Raise a glass of bubbly to the bygone days of the train.
Celebrity chefs such as Aldo Zilli and Tom Kerridge ensure the food is fit for a queen.