Scotland, Europe, the world

On the gravy train

The days of soggy sandwiches are over as a new culinary journey begins. WOrds: Donald Reid

ncc upon a timc. whcn British Rail ran (or didn‘t run)

all thc trains. thc BR sandwich was thc infamous

hyword for uttcr culinary crapncss. down thcrc with motorway scryicc stations.

A dccadc or two on. with all thc hcnclits of priyatisation laid otlt hcl'orc us. what do wc hayc'.’ 'l‘rollcy dollics. ()n Scotrail it costs £1.30 for a plastic cup of dishwatcr tca and l'll'l' milk. .r\ltcrnati\'cly. you can spill your (‘osta cappuccino sprinting across thc station concoursc.

If airlincs hadn‘t alrcady donc most of thc spadc work. this might hc proof that any hopc of cating half dcccntly on thc moyc was lost hcyond rcdcmption. In a no-frills agc thc conccpt of trayclling in stylc is history. llcrc’s Virgin introducing thcir whoopy-do ncw trains to thc wcst coast linc. though you don’t hayc to hc a trainspottcr to noticc thc crccping airlinc incntality of gi/nios and gatlgcts at thc cxpcnsc of simplcr luxurics such as spacc.

So what is cast coast opcrator (Kl-ZR tip to'.’ Rckindling sonic goldcn agc'.’ 'l'hcrc’s thc old-fashioncd liycry. chummy staff and long. snaking trains rattling along somc of thc most sccnic mainlinc strctchcs in thc l'K. and what's morc it‘s still got a rcstaurant car. In fact. a couplc of months ago. it actually upgradcd thc scryicc. with ncw (i() liA'l~ nicnUs. promoting local produccrs and dishcs crcatcd hy thc hcad chcfs at llarycy Nichols. liycn with your standard class tickct. you can hump and staggcr your way down to thc rcstaurant car as thc train thundcrs along thc top of thc Northunihrian coastal cliffs and dinc in no littlc stylc on things such as onion potato cakc. goat’s chccsc salad and roastcd sca hass.

It sounds half ciyiliscd and. uncxpcctcdly. it is. You gct propcr winc glasscs. ncat whitc papcr tahlc cloths and china platcs. Thc rcstaurant car is part of first class. which mcans widc. comfy scats and rcasonahlc lcg room. You’rc scrycd at

118 THE LIST 1/” Nb. '0 {w

your tahlc and. as long as you don’t push your luck and thcrc‘s not a qucuc for scats. you’rc lcft to lingcr. (irccn liclds and yillagcs hlur past to thc stcady tingling of ncatly laid out cutlcry ncstling togcthcr as the train shooglcs south.

And thc food'.’ It’s not as rcfincd as llarycy Nicks and it's dclinitcly priccy (you won‘t spcnd lcss than £20 for a meal with a glass of winc). hut it has its niomcnts. 'l‘hc trains run with a chcf on-hoard. so at lcast parts of your meal will bc frcshly prcparcd hcttcr to choose an casily sautécd spicy chickcn hrcast (marinatcd but not cookcd whcn it comes on- hoard) than a slow-cookcd pork collar. ‘hraiscd with root ycgctahlcs‘ but not hraiscd sincc you 1ch Waycrlcy. lt rcmindcd mo of food in a four—star chain hotcl: littlc by way of flair. hut rcspcctahlc. plcasant and filling. You know the form hcttcr at thc old rcliahlcs. grcat puddings and grim coffcc.

'l'hc rcstaurant car opcratcs on most. but not all. scryiccs hctwccn lidinhurgh and King's Cross. offcring hrcakfast. lunch and dinncr. But thcrc's no dining car on wcckcnd scryiccs. when you hayc to foragc from thc rathcr lcss rcfincd surroundings of thc huffct. But to (iNl‘ZR's crcdit. it has madc cfforts to imprch thc quality hcrc too. with a dcccnt rangc of snacks and sandwichcs such as Yorkshirc ham and \\'cnslcydalc. or Thai chickcn wrap. But it‘s worth gctting to thc huffct car carly - I found thc hcst sandwichcs sold out hcforc I‘d had a chancc to sit down and work tip an appctitc.

It may not hc thc Ritz on rails hut its rcstaurant car is a slicc of hygonc indolcncc too rarcly found. You may hc conyinccd that no-frills is thc futurc. hut hc so kind as to not wakc mc up from my post-prandial nap to tcll mc.

So what is east coast operator GNER up to? Rekindling some golden age?