Belmond Northern Belle – Review
Belmond Northern Belle
by Jen Grimble
Museums and movies maintain our connection to train journeys of the past. The National Railway Museum and classic films like Some Like it Hot and Brief Encounter, freeze-frame the decadent beauty of by-gone locomotives. Imagine art-deco wood panelling, gold-plated luggage racks and ornate decorative touches. It’s a picture not often associated with modern-day commuting. Yet in recent years the Great British Train Journey has undergone something of a revival.
Restored vehicles like the Belmond Northern Belle, which took to the rails 15 years ago, and its sister train, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, awake an archaic form of travel; a time of glamour and simplistic pleasures. As one of the world’s finest, most classically reimagined trains, the Belmond Northern Belle advocates the lavish opulence of 1920’s entertainment. It mixes fine dining with scenic country surroundings as it negotiates the English countryside.
As the train pulls into the station it demands and controls attention; a statue of elegance with a rich exterior burgundy coating, cream panels and gold detailing. Inside, the seven unique carriages are decorated with fine, draped fabrics and intricate ceiling art. Soft furnishings, comfortable arm chairs and subtle mood lighting make the dining carts cosy and welcoming.
It becomes quite clear that this is no ordinary Sunday Lunch, as the first glass of many is poured; Laurent-Perrier Brut NV, the Northern Belle’s signature house flavour. The fizz is the start of a five-course menu, curated by James Martin, for this special experience. The local celebrity chef is famed for his work on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen.
He has also worked with Marco Pierre White in some of the world’s finest restaurants. Martin creates a traditional menu with modern twists. A sommelier selection of wines accompanies each imaginative dish.
Before long the first course arrives, an amuse-bouche of Cauliflower Soup with Curried Vanilla Oil and Duck Bruschetta. Presented in Alice in Wonderland style teacups, the course tantalises the taste-buds as well as the imagination. Next a flawlessly cooked starter of Fresh Lemon Sole with local Dressed Crab is served with a vibrant salad of Pickled Cucumber and Wood Sorrel. It comes with a light, fragrant white wine from the Loire Valley. The dish explodes with flavour while simultaneously cleaning the palette.
The traditional Sunday Lunch staple stands as the star of this menu; Roast Sirloin of Beef, served with Yorkshire Puddings, Sautéed Vegetables and Roast Potatoes. The meat is cooked medium, with a pink, succulent centre that melts both under your knife and in your mouth. Accompanied by a rich red with hints of blackberries, there is a bitter-sweet finish to this classic dish.
Grilled Sussex Charmer with Tomato Chutney and a Watercress Salad is the pre-dessert. A glass of Vintage Port gives this cheese dish body and sugary warmth that prepares you for pudding; Vanilla and Vodka Panna Cotta. Served with Roasted Rhubarb and Warm Sugar Doughnuts, this dish personifies British summer time; vibrant and sweet, sharp and zingy, it dominates the menu as a piece of true flavour-craftsmanship. Dessert wine and coffee follows, accompanied by homemade Petit Fours for the perfect finale.
An archetypal British menu is lifted to new heights by a team of skilled chef’s. They work under the experienced eye of James Martin. Cooking in a kitchen the size of a storage cupboard, the quality and style of each dish is made even more impressive.
All this extravagance is not designed as a regular weekly activity. With prices at £395 per person, this really is once-in-a-lifetime dining. The Belmond Northern Belle offers many similar trips throughout the year. These include Sparkling Afternoon Teas from £195 per person, and Family Experiences from £340. From the beautiful scenic views as the train negotiates the course of the country, to the luxury dinner that accompanies it, an afternoon on the Belmond Northern Belle feels like a holiday in the past.
“Time machine to sentimental simplicity”
Don’t let the price tags put you off because this is sight-seeing and relaxation at its very best. The Belmond Northern Belle isn’t just about fine dining, nor just about a simple train journey, it’s an experience. This elegant train is a time-machine to sentimental simplicity of another pre-technology era. It’s a luxurious and decadent showcase of British scenery and gastro delights.
Belmond Northern Belle, the UK’s luxury touring train, departs throughout the year from over 60 regional stations. It offers a host of journeys to some of Britain’s most famous historic cities, castles, country houses and sporting events, as well as lunch and evening trips and weekend breaks. Prices start from £195 per person, for more information and reservations call 0845 077 2222 or visit belmond.com