Fast Food: First Great Western Pullman Experience Review
Mark Southern beat the crowded roads and discovered the best way to get to Cornwall is onboard Britain’s only high speed dining train carriage.
As originally published in Tempus Magazine, 2015
With its vast and unspoilt beaches, unseasonably good weather, and all round idyllic charms, it’s almost impossible to not want to move to Cornwall every time you visit. However, there’s no other way to say it, it’s a bloody long way away from almost everywhere in Britain.
For a lifetime city-dweller like myself, my childhood memories of Cornish summer holidays are lit with a beautifully warm sepia tone, playing grainy Super 8 movies of sandcastles and sunshine on the projector of my mind’s eye.
It was therefore with some surprise that when I talked to my parents about this recently I discovered that their own recollections of these same trips mostly involved tailbacks, traffic jams, and annoying kids (your’s truly) demanding the repeated playing of novelty cassette tapes on backed-up motorways. Indeed, the highlight anecdote involved a particularly memorable six hour standstill on a gridlocked M5, where a game of jumpers-for-goalposts football took place between motorists on the hard shoulder.
Since those hazy Eighties’ days, roads have become busier, overseas flights have become cheaper, and Cornwall’s essential tourism industry, worth nearly £2bn to the local economy, has suffered. That long distance can be a wanderlust killer.
It’s with this in mind that I was intrigued by First Great Western’s pullman train service from London to Penzance, which promises a far more civilised way to get out of the city and down to the Cornish end of the line.
Departing from Paddington, the service operates a lunch and dinner service across several first class dining carriages. Inside, tables are laid out in an impressive silver service style, with attentive waiting staff and a fully functioning kitchen nestled quietly into the coach.
Unlike the far too frequent commuting experience of rail travel, we were escorted to our table and presented with a glass of champagne just as the train moved away from the Paddington platform. By the time we had moved out of Central London we were presented with menus, with the rolling Surrey hills flowing past the windows.
The menu has been devised by Dartmouth based chef Mitch Tonks, designed around the South West of England, in which the train lines run through. Any doubts we had over whether a train kitchen could produce outstanding food dissipated when we first tried the melt in the mouth Devon crab, grilled in the half shell with fennel and lemon butter, and the poached pear, with Laverstoke burrata and honeyed hazelnuts.
This was followed by the West Country fillet steak, with Cafe de Paris butter, and the slow braised Somerset pork belly, with white cabbage and wholegrain mustard, with a range of side dishes to share. Sometimes it can be difficult to get a perfectly cooked steak in Michelin starred restaurants, so imagine my surprise to taste one of the best I’ve ever had on a high speed train travelling through Berkshire.
Dessert was the spiced apple crumble, with Shipwreck cider brandy and ice cream, and the West Country cheese selection, as the train glided through Somerset, before the highlight of the journey when we reached the inviting blue seas of the South coastline, passing into Devon over coffee and chocolates.
Throughout the journey matched wines were brought out for every course, with each again having strong regional relevance to suit the local flavours.
As the train continued along the sea wall for hours we passed through quaint fishing villages, stark clifftops, and dense woodland, with the ocean backdrop framing every window. As we rolled onto a magnificently engineered iron bridge across a harbour it occurred to me how unremarkable the next achingly dull ‘static’ restaurant would be, without a different view every second.
By the time we arrived in Penzance, in less time than it took the motorway football match to play out, I was already in holiday bliss mode, and deeply satisfyingly fed. Next time you’re thinking about getting down to the South West, don’t miss out on something quite unusual, and perfectly created.
The First Great Western pullman service goes from London Paddington to Penzance for lunch and dinner service. Find out more at www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk.
As originally published in Tempus Magazine, 2015. For full article see below: