The invite said don´t be late, so of course I was legging it through Victoria Station in order to be on time to jump on board the Venice-Simplon Orient Express for a preview Christmas Lunch trip round the Kent countryside. I arrived at the Orient Express departure lounge on Platform 1 to be greeted by a 1920’s jazz band, happy punters and actors gussied up as flappers, gangsters, gumshoes and, even dare I say, a faux Hercule Poirot circa Peter Ustinov in Death on the Nile. All part of the show as we prepared to step on board for a 5 hour tour.
Yes, I am talking about THE Orient Express, the glamorous train of the first half of the 20th century that moved royalty and the rich around Europe. The carriages have been restored and were first put back into service in the early 80’s after being hunted down by James B Sherwood at auction. He went on to find 35 carriages in total and has had each lovingly restored to their former Art-Deco glory. We were assigned to Vera, a carriage which had been taken a direct hit in WWII at Victoria Station, although you would never have been able to tell, the restoration was truly complete, to begin our Jazz age train ride.
We were greeted with glasses of Laurent-Perrier, which was a good thing as we were taking this trip in the middle of July and it was HOT! Probably the only hot day this past summer. I can imagine that the Pullman cars make a great place to be when the scene outside your window is covered in snow. We had to use our imagination as our view was not as wintery but the champagne definitely helped. The lunch included half a bottle per person and so I had a quick look through the wine list. There was a nice selection of reasonably priced red and white French wines and I chose a white Burgundy to go with our lunch of butternut squash soup, smoked salmon parcels, quail wrapped in bacon and a dessert tray of mini-pastries (the menu is subject to change, that’s what was on offer the day we went). The white wine was the house wine of Orient Express sourced from Paul Bouchard. A perfect example of what good value white Burgundy should be, oak well integrated with hints of lemony creaminess, a delightful food wine, as wine should be. We had promised to share our bottle with our neighbours on the trip, Niamh and her table partner but the wine was so good that before we knew it, it was finished. Luckily, the champagne was free flowing so we made to with that.
Throughout lunch, the character actors we had met on the platform would come through the carriage and regale us with tales of the history of our particular carriage as well as the history of the Orient Express. We even had Christmas crackers and we each received little gifts as a token of our ride on the Orient Express. I thought they were mighty cute little souvenirs although we might have gotten a little too enthusiastic in our “play time” with the little wooden men.
All too soon, the train was pulling back into Victoria Station but as we waved goodbye, I couldn’t help but be grateful that someone had taken the time and had the passion to restore these trains back to their former glory. If you’re feeling a bit flush, price is 300 quid per person, and would like a trip back to the ’20’s, take the Orient Express for a ride round the English countryside this holiday season, you won’t be sorry you did.
For more information, check out the Orient Express website for this and the many other trips they offer.