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Saturday, 4 December 2010

Christmas Aboard the Orient Express

At the beginning of July, I was invited aboard the Orient Express for a preview of their Christmas Lunch menu. It was a sweltering summer's day when I made my way to London Victoria to board "Vera", one of the 11 British Pullman carriages making up the Orient Express train.

The trip was named "The Golden Age of Travel". In keeping with this, at the check-in desk, a Jazz band welcomed travellers, while actors, elegantly dressed in period costumes, were there to greet us. The nearly 4-hour journey was circular, passing through the suburbs of London towards Guildford and along the North Downs to Redhill before returning to London Victoria.

Vera, built in 1932, is a stunning carriage - lined with diamond-shaped panels of sandalwood with a mahogany border, the carriage has some impressive Art Deco features. Dining tables are beautifully set with white linen, crested crystal glasses, crockery and silverware. It feels luxurious without being intimidating, and very glamorous. For this occasion, it was also decked out in full Christmas regalia.

Actors were milling around through the carriages talking to us and telling us a bit of the history of the train, which gave us a real sense of place and occasion.

The Christmas Menu, devised by head chef Matthew Smith, was rather autumnal - hearty and flavoursome. We had a 5-course menu in addition to the canapés, including a starter, soup, a main, cheese and desserts.

"Duo of Salmon and Crayfish Parcel" accompanied by a lemon and grain mustard dressing.

"Roasted Pumpkin Soup" served with chives and cinnamon crème fraiche.

"Roasted Stuffed Quail, Chicken and Chestnut Sausage" served with creamed leek and broad beans, caramelised swede and roasted potatoes with a red wine jus.

"British Cheeseboard" served with homemade chutney. Despite loving cheese, I felt this was the weakest course - the cheeses were simple varieties lacking in complexity or depth of flavour.

"Trio of Orient Express Desserts" - Christmas pudding served with a brandy sauce, apple and mincemeat pastry stack and Cranberry junket.

The Christmas Lunch trip is priced at £330 (steam-hauled) or £290 (electric) per person. Clearly, £600 on lunch for two is extravagant and better, more reasonably priced food is available elsewhere. However, in my opinion, this price reflects a unique experience which is about much more than just the food. There is a great sense of theatre, history and occasion about the whole event which I think is unparalleled.

Like the Carnival in Rio or a visit to the Grand Canyon, a trip on the Orient Express is one of those lifetime experiences I think everyone would treasure. Personally I would find it hard to justify spending this amount of money on myself but think this could be a fantastic gift to celebrate a special occasion for a loved one.

On the day we were travelling, a wedding reception was taking place in the carriage next to ours. We stopped by and had a brief chat, it looked like a wedding to remember.

UK Day Trips are priced between £180 and £350. Meals, wine and sometimes Champagne are included in all trips on the Orient Express. Some of the trips I thought interesting were "Murder Mystery with Lunch" @ £300, "Brunch and High Tea" @ £250, "Valentine's Day Dinner" @ £275, or New Year's Eve @ £350 (5-course dinner with wine and champagne, departing at 19.30 and returning at 1.15am). For more information on the available trips and prices, click here.

If you enjoyed reading this, you might be interested to know that there is a one hour documentary being aired on ITV1 at 21:00 by David Suchet, details below.

Sunday 19th December 2010
21.00-22.00 - ITV1

“I am on a journey of a lifetime. I’m travelling across Europe, in the footsteps of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, on the Orient-Express. But this is not just a train ride – I’m on a journey through time. And the Orient Express is not just a train – it’s a legend.” David Suchet

David Suchet boards the world's most iconic train to unravel the mystery of the Orient-Express for a brand new ITV1 documentary. ‘David Suchet on the Orient-Express’ features the actor immersing himself in the romance and escapism of a train immortalised in the Agatha Christie novel, Murder On the Orient Express, whose protagonist, detective Hercule Poirot, David has so memorably portrayed on screen.

David resolves to uncover why the Orient-Express has been the world’s most talked about train for over a century and why Agatha Christie, the world’s most celebrated crime author chose the train for her most ingenious murder mystery. On a journey that takes him from London Victoria, through Austria and Switzerland to Venice and finally to Prague, David experiences the glamour, history and luxury of the train, while making new friends along the way.


  1. What a beautiful experience and lunch to be had!!

  2. This sounds like me down to a tee, especially at Christmas, the fur would be out! At that price though it would definitely be a treat I'd have to bring the sugar daddy too.

  3. It's quite an extravagant price, but certainly looks fun for a special occassion

  4. @ Godsavelesfilles - indeed it was, one of those lifetime experinces I think.

    @ Vintage Macaroon - sugar daddy?? You are moving fast back in Australia?! Hope you are well.

    @ Greedy Diva - absolutely, particularly the NYE dinner or to celebrate an important anniversary or birthday.

  5. I watched the Celebrity Masterchef episode on the Orient Express back in the summer, it was very informative to see how the food on there is prepared.

    it's hard to imagine feeling very "Orient" rattling around Kent! Not sure I'll ever manage to do this but as you say it would be perfect for a memorable occasion.

  6. The orient express is really excellent, so a trip with this train would be much enjoyable and unforgettable.


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