Europe, Travel features

Five-course meal. Vintage rail carriages. Four-hour round-trip journey through pastoral English countryside. Everything about Valentine’s Day dinner on the British Pullman by Orient Express seems to say that the holiday can be about so much more than a mere dozen roses and box of chocolates. Indeed, from the moment we stepped on board the historic train, it was clear that this would be an evening we wouldn’t soon forget.

Luxury on your doorstep

Our evening on the British Pullman was proof that you don’t always have to travel to other European capitals to dip your toes in luxury. Much of the beauty of both this train and other Orient Express signature day-trip journeys is that they depart from platform 2 in London’s Victoria station, which is easily accessible no matter where you are in the city. As the 1920s-era train carried us through the countryside, we were amazed at how simple it was for this luxurious escape to happen in London.

An atmosphere of elegance

Named after George Mortimer Pullman, inventor of the Pullman sleeper or “palace car,” the British Pullman is made up of eleven carriages, each of which has their own unique style and history. We were seated for the evening in Minerva, which was built in 1927 and featured gleaming wooden marquetry on its walls, but part of the evening’s fun was wandering up and down through other cars. In all the carriages, there was no detail that had been overlooked—from the plush armchairs and silver place settings to the exquisitely tiled mosaic flooring in the bathrooms.

Impeccable service

From the moment our stewards Mitch and Rich greeted us on board with a Kir Royale cocktail, we could tell we were in good hands. Throughout the night, they carried themselves with an air of friendly professionalism, serving us to the highest of standards but without being afraid to smile or crack a joke. What we grew to look forward to even more than the decadent food they brought were the stories they shared. Mitch, who has worked on Orient Express trains for 17 years, regaled us with tales of meeting Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair and Glenn Close.

Five courses of perfection

Our five-course meal seemed designed to take us on a culinary adventure that mirrored our physical journey through the English countryside. From the vegetable terrine starter and white bean, celeriac and leek soup (made even more delicious with a drop of truffle oil and mushroom crème fraiche) to a main course of grilled rosette of beef with fondant potato and roasted root vegetables, we basked in the rich flavours and aromas that greeted us at every stage of the evening.

What was equally impressive was the chef’s ability to cater to a variety of dietary needs. Although my friend had requested no wheat or dairy, her meal didn’t suffer for it. Despite the restrictions, she was still served dish after exceptional dish—even dessert featured a light pomegranate mousse with rhubarb compote and gluten-free chocolate cake.

Mesmerising entertainment

While the evening would have been a delight as a train journey and meal alone, Orient Express went above and beyond to make every moment a memory. Just before dessert arrived, a guitar and saxophone duo appeared at the door of our coupé for a serenade, and to end the night, a professional silhouette cutter named Mike Herbert snipped freehand cameo portraits of our profiles:

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Many thanks to Orient Express and staff on the British Pullman for such a wonderful evening. For more information about the Valentine’s Day dinner as well as other signature journeys in the UK, visit www.orient-express.com.