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Entries in George Pullman (1)


Restaurant on the Rails

  Only a fellow Foodie would understand that the entire "food experience" is what counts, the ambiance, the companionship (or not), the service. This morning's UK Telegraph brought me an article by Michael Portillo who can often be seen on PBS. Portillo offers us an insiders look at dining while riding the rails between Paddington Station in London and Plymouth, a distance of just under 200 miles.

American George Pullman may have perfected the concept luxurious overnight train travel depicted in all those 1950s film noir movies I love, love, love, but I bless the Brits for preserving it's heritage as only a nation and culture steeped in tradition can understand.

We head over to London on October 16th. While there, I think I'll book us tickets for a trip to Plymouth or Exeter for a day just so I can have that 1950s dining on the train experience as the gorgeous English countryside rolls by outside the window. On our honeymoon we took the Eurostar 1st class London to Paris. We sat at a small table with one of those little lamps with a pink glass shade like you see in movies about the orient express and ate breakfast served by a white gloved waiter going over and nibbled baby lamb chops for dinner going back a week later. It was a wonderful experience; but, there is little scenery to watch as the Eurostar speeds along at an average speed of 106 mph through the Channel Tunnel and across the English and French countryside. It's all a big blur and there is no clickety-clack of the rails. It's all modern and high tech. I'm ready for a good old-fashioned train ride. I'll pretend I'm Audrey Hepburn and that John is Cary Grant. Yeah, that will work for 190 miles. Wouldn't it be great if we could all get on that train together?




What is it about trains that makes food taste so good? Some of my happiest memories are of prolonged lunches between St Moritz and Zurich, Bordeaux and Paris, and even between Coimbra and Salamanca. Of course, it’s partly the scenery. No restaurant, however brilliantly situated, can give you the constantly changing views that you can see from a railway. Revolving restaurants at the tops of tall buildings try to compete, but spinning around is no substitute for speeding along.

Part of our brains must tell us that much effort goes into producing excellent food while hurtling along at high velocity. Certainly, we sense that there’s a particular luxury to dining on the move. The proffered bread basket, the vegetables presented on a salver and the uncorking of the wine, all acquire a special value, even significance, in a dining car, compared with a dining room. And while I defer to nobody in my love of train travel, let’s be honest: it can grow wearisome. Plymouth to London is more than three hours, well beyond the lifespan of a newspaper or cheap novel: but in the Pullman dining car, lunch extends to fill the journey, so that the arrival at Paddington comes as an almost rude surprise. “Excuse me. You’re hurrying my chocolate mints and espresso!”

I had thought the “proper” meal extinct on British trains. My youthful memories of rail travel carry a delightful (or certainly strong) smell of kippers, a miraculous hangover cure provided by breakfasts between Oxford and London. But in recent years, meals have been commodified, packaged and microwaved. The cork has given way to the screw top, the table cloth to the laminated mat.

Imagine my delight, then, at discovering the Pullman restaurant car running in either direction between Plymouth or Exeter and Paddington. It was like encountering that endangered giant tortoise in the Galapagos. Was there hope that from the surviving DNA of this West Country restaurant car we might clone fine dining across the network?

When you board, the dining car is being prepared. You catch a glimpse of wine glasses being polished, but you are ushered at first to a regular seat until the call for lunch or dinner, essential time in which the taste buds and enzymes do their anticipatory work. Then, at last, the summons! Whether you have a standard or first-class ticket, you are welcomed in the Pullman car, but hurry, because only the first 35 will secure a seat.