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Thursday 3 November 2011

Sluttery Travels: The Orient Express

Travelling on the Orient Express has ben a dream of mine since I saw Albert Finney in the original Poirot film (I do love me a bit of Poirot). I don't think there's a more elegant way of travelling. My Grandfather used to drive steam trains, and I've always been fascinated by them. They're just simply more fun than normal trains. The Orient Express isn't like travelling on a snazzier Virgin train.

It's a bit like travelling on the Hogwarts Express. But with gin martinis.

I do wish more train companies greeted you with gin martinis. Take note, South Eastern. We hadn't even got on the train at this point. Here's Kat looking beautiful (and slightly gin-drunk).

Now, we weren't so lucky to be going to Venice or anything like that (next time, perhaps). Instead, we were off for a trip around Surrey for dinner. It's not easy to convince a carriage full of train passengers that they're not passing through Croydon on the way. But within minutes we were totally immersed in the train, the interiors, the generally charmingness of every single person who served us. Especially Norbert, our sommelier, who apologised to Kat because her wine glass was empty. Nice crystal glassware too. Almost small enough to fit in a handbag...

Dinner was a heck of a lot of courses, including a rather spectacular celeriac soup. This is how spectacular it was:

Next came oysters (which I passed on, I'm not an oyster girl) and a rather tasty grouse. I've never had grouse before but it's become rather trendy recently. If Masterchef was on at the minute, everyone would be cooking grouse. I'm not the biggest fan of game, but I enjoyed this immensely. There was something very British about it (excellent roast potatoes, too). I'm actually astounded that they have just one kitchen carriage and manage to do all of that cooking on a moving train (with strategic stops for plating up).

Nothing empty about Kat's wine glass in that photo. At one point, because our wine was paired with each course, I found myself with three quite full glasses of wine next to me. I'd very much like that to happen again at some point.

Dessert was a curious mix. Honestly, I like the idea of dessert trios because I'm an indecisive little thing. But there's always one that's a let down. And after an interesting Singapore Sling jelly (which then prompted me to make my own cocktail jelly this week) and the raspberry and cream thing was fantastic. But the apple charlotte was terrible. I didn't eat it. Not much apple and rather sad-looking pastry. I was a little sad. I was also a disappointed that instead of a cheese course, we were treated to Welsh rarebit and Gentleman's Relish. If you like anchovies, I'm sure this is brilliant. But I really, really wanted cheese.

But these are little niggles in what was a brilliant, brilliant meal with some of the best wine I've ever tasted. The chef popped through the carriage to say hello and he even wears a tall white hat! Brilliant. We had a little explore and we've discovered that given that we were still on a train (it's easy for forget), the Orient Express might just have the sexiest loos in the UK.

Now that is a sexy toilet floor. There's a massive amount of pride with this train. There are three generations working on it at the moment - right down to the pot-washer. It's not just a job. The staff care so much about the history of the train. They love working here, and that pride is infectious. They know how special it is.

The Orient Express is a treat. One that if you're lucky, you'll do just once in your lifetime. I was worried that the experience wouldn't live up to the price. Because this isn't cheap. Dinner is roughly £300 per person (prices vary slightly depending on which train and whether you book for lunch instead). But while I'll probably never get the chance to go again, it was such a magical night and I think, worth the money. Even a rough tally in my head suggests that we'd have spent £100 a head on the booze we drank. If you want to spoil someone more than they've ever been spoilt before, take them on the Orient Express. You'll remember it forever. It really does live up to the dream in your head. And no one who looked like Norman Bates was murdered at any point, which is always a bonus.

Thanks so much to Kate and the Orient Express for a fabulous night. Kat was very much our photographer for the evening. I spent most of my time looking out of the window and waving at people on station platforms.


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