Above is an artist’s impression of the future of train dining from 1947. Yet chowing down on a £6 egg mayonnaise sandwich in a train carriage so busy you have to position yourself next to the toilet is more likely to be a scenario we can relate to.
As the dry crusts stick to your throat, and fellow travellers tussle for space, the vision of romantic train dining (for one and all) could not be further away. In fact, it seems to have packed up and shipped out altogether, taking its crystal cut glasses and bone china with it.
Dining’s golden era
In his classic travel book The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux wrote that “the trains in any country contain the essential paraphernalia of the culture”. If that is to be true of Britain, then the outlook from the 10.04 Penzance to Paddington is rather beige indeed.
But, in the early days of long distance travel, when railways stitched countries together for the first time, train companies looked on the passenger experience with as much importance as the getting people from A-Z. This was a sentiment that Georges Nagelmackers, founder of the Orient Express – the much romanticised and fictionalised symbol of the luxurious belle époque – held close to his heart.
“The bright-white tablecloths and napkins, artistically and coquettishly folded by the sommeliers, the glittering glasses, the ruby red and topaz white wine, the crystal-clear water decanters and the silver capsules of the champagne bottles—they blind the eyes of the public both inside and outside,” wrote one of the guests, Henri Opper de Blowitz in 1868 of the Orient Express’s maiden journey.
With another Stranger event on the horizon, this time set on a 1930s steam train, the velvet-coated carriages of train travel’s heydays beckoned me back, to hunt down a selection of vintage train menus from around the world. From oysters to cocktails, here’s how hunger has been handled to perfection on the tracks.
Orient Express, 1925
Your overpriced sandwich pales in comparison. And that’s just the lunch menu!
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad co. , 1932
Probably pass on the jellied consommé, but that squab chicken…
Sante Fe dining Car, 1951
Oyster stew for $1, do you hear that First Great Western, $1?!
Intercity, UK, 1980s
The ’80s, when the continental breakfast really came into its own.
Inspired, and with a rumbling tum, we’ve decided to take our lead from travel’s golden age, and bring a touch of glamour to the tracks for Strangers on a Train, on the 3 November. Working with the chefs at The Kitchen, a restaurant that’s taken the Southwest by storm, you can expect a veritable feast on the tracks. Expect locally-sourced, mouth-watering fare served with a touch of class. And best of all, it’s all included in your ticket price.
If you fancy joining us, buy your ticket for Strangers on a Train now. They’re selling like hotcakes (served with a chilled Sancerre, as the scenery speeds by, of course).