As we sank back into the plush armchairs and watched the lush green English countryside roll past us, a smartly-dressed steward asked if we would care for a Peach Bellini. I don’t know about you, but personally I never say no to morning bubbles. I started sipping on my Bellini just as we came to a stop next to a South-Western Trains train, and as I nosed into the carriage adjacent to ours, it was striking to see the difference between the two side-by-side.
While we sat on the Belmond British Pullman, in a beautiful wooden railway carriage built in 1925, our bodies cocooned by huge armchairs with a white-clothed table in-front of us, the commuters in the 21st century train were sat on narrow hard chairs shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers. How had train travel evolved into something so hideous, when it began as something so special?
The train trundled through the countryside at a relaxing pace while we continued to sip on Bellini’s and dine on a breakfast of crumpets, scrambled eggs, caviar, and salmon. Pastries were served as well as a generous portion of fruit salad and Greek yoghurt. We were full to bursting and we hadn’t even dined on Raymond Blanc’s 4-course lunch yet!
During the journey you’re able to walk up and down the carriages to see the difference in design with each one. They were all built in different years, and although similar, they each feature unique woodwork and intricate designs. Gwen is without a doubt the most beautiful, with Ibis coming in a close second. Perseus and Cygnus are the newest having been completed in 1951, whilst Ibis is the oldest, being built in 1925.
Lunch at Raymond Blanc’s Two-Michelin Starred Le Manoir
When we disembarked the British Pullman at Oxford station we were escorted to three coaches waiting outside for us for the 20-minute drive to Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Raymond Blanc’s pride and joy. The next part of the day was a feast for the senses, with a sumptuous four-course lunch at Raymond’s world-renowned two-Michelin starred restaurant.
The hotel and restaurant are housed within a historic and absolutely stunning manor house. The grounds are used as the kitchen gardens, with as many vegetables, herbs, and fruit grown on-site as possible. Raymond even had a shady valley and bridge built in the garden specifically for growing wild mushrooms.
We were seated on large tables with other guests from the train journey, which we welcomed as it was really lovely to meet new people who also share a love for luxury travel and food. Our table didn’t stop talking and laughing the entire time, and we all raved over each course we were presented with.
The meal began with a Cauliflower soup with toasted almonds, curry, and lime, before moving on to Sea trout with cucumber, dill, and horseradish cream. The Sea trout was one of the highlights of the day, and although it’s impossible to choose a favourite as all of the courses were so impressive, the next course was one of the most incredible dishes I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.
It was a small portion of the most perfect creamy risotto with a subtle hint of truffle, and the wild mushrooms had all of us discussing how on earth it’s even possible to grow mushrooms with that amount of intense flavour. It was one of those memorable dishes that you’re unlikely to forget about in a hurry.
Finally we feasted on Braised Jacob’s ladder with smokey mash potato and wine essence, which was so tender the chunks of meat fell apart as soon as my knife rested upon its juicy flesh. As the last morsel of beef was consumed, a familiar face entered the restaurant. When booking at Le Manoir it is never guaranteed that Raymond himself will be there, but we got lucky. He walked in wearing his Chef’s whites and after thanking everyone for coming, he happily posed for photos and had a small table outside where he was signing books after the meal.
After petit fours we wandered around the garden. There are helpful maps at the hotel entrance to guide your walk, and if you’re a hotel guest there are tours available with the head gardener. The gardens are surprisingly large, and even feature a Chinese garden area.
The journey back to London Victoria consisted mostly of people napping in a food coma, waking for dessert, before falling asleep again. I don’t blame them however, the armchairs are very comfortable and I joined them for a little while, having a lovely nap after dessert until we arrived back into Victoria! We pulled in to the platform right on time, and disembarked knowing we would never be able to take a normal train again without feeling a little bitter and disappointed.
Our day on the Belmond British Pullman felt like a dream, and despite not being pulled by a steam engine (these are only used on select routes), the day couldn’t have been more perfect. Despite having eaten in numerous Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, the meal at Le Manoir was without a doubt the culinary highlight of my life so far.
The British Pullman day trips are ideal for a special occasion or as a gift, especially for anyone who adores trains, history, food, travel, or luxury. But who wouldn’t want to experience the golden age of train travel? It really is quite remarkable, and not something that should be confined to the movies.
By Catherine Lux