As we tucked into our grilled rosette of Aberdeen Angus beef with turmeric and herb crust, I pondered on those who had once dined at the very table by which we now sat. The French president Vincent Auriol had been a previous occupant of Zena (the name of our carriage) back in 1950, when he and Madame Auriol had enjoyed 'Filets of Sole Zena' before he retired to pen a letter of thanks to the King. What would he have made of the splendour of this 1929 carriage? Would he have been as impressed as we were or was it just another part of the elevated world in which world leaders float? Would Zena have been considered such a vintage delight to behold back then, or is only since its restoration that it has truly been appreciated?
No letters of thanks to royalty were required on our recent dinner on the British Pullman service by Orient Express although the odd gloating text message kept our family and friends updated on the food to which we were being treated. And it was excellent. Too often when a meal is presented as a luxury experience it is the food that is the let-down, but not in this case. The meat was wonderfully tender, the vegetables just right and the delicious dessert and cheese board providing a suitably decadent finale.
Each carriage has a name and each one has a very distinct history. Neighbouring Ibis was once used to carry wealthy Parisians to the northern casino resort of Deauville; further down Cygnus and Perseus were chosen to form part of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral train. A booklet at our table told the story of each car, sharing their claims to fame and in many cases their story of decline and eventual restoration.
Our journey took us around the Surrey Hills. A detailed map provided us with information about the places we were passing, although on a February evening it could have been describing anywhere. We were left to imagine how Feltham Young Offenders' Institution must look against a magnificent sunset while I now accept that I'll probably never pass Guildford Cathedral without thinking of the Omen movies.
To be fair the scenery was irrelevant and we could have sat in a siding outside Battersea Dogs' Home. The experience was all about the food and wine. Along the way we were regaled by a silhouette artist and a couple of musicians, while at the end of the meal we took the chance to take a look at the other carriages. Taking a sneaky look at train loos is not recommended on regular train services in the UK, but on the British Pullman the panelled walls and tiled floors are worthy of investigation and appreciation.
Orient Express operate year-round day trips that allow guests to dine in style on their way to special events, or just for the sake of the experience. If you're planning to go to the Grand National, Wimbledon or the Cheltenham Races, there's a train for you. Packages are offered that include premium tickets for the events once you arrive.
You can find details of all of the Orient Express UK day trips along including prices and dates for each itinerary.
Disclosure: We were guest of Orient Express on board the British Pullman Valentine's Day dinner train.
Images are courtesy of Venice Simplon Orient Express.