Raymond Blanc serves up an Orient-Express style treat on the Northern Belle
PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 December 2013
Cheshire Life hopped aboard the Northern Belle, joining chef Raymond Blanc for a voyage back to a bygone age of stylish rail travel
Some philosopher once said: ‘It is better to travel well than to arrive.’
And it is difficult to imagine a better way to travel than aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express’s Northern Belle - a rolling homage to that golden age of rail travel in the 1920s and 1930s.
We gathered up at a chilly Victoria Station, Manchester, in black tie and evening dress for a glass or two of fizz while stilt walkers kept us amused until departure. Then it was all aboard the sumptuously-appointed carriages for a trip into darkest Lancashire...this was, after all, a November evening after the clocks had gone back.
Trundling northwards, we settled into armchairs and looked forward to a dinner hosted by Raymond Blanc, chef patron of the two Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire.
A glass of Laurent Perrier accompanied canapés of sushi and choux pastry filled with salmon and dill. Then came Essence of Tomato - a cup of clear cool golden liquid absolutely bursting with tomato flavour. A glance at Raymond’s Kitchen Secrets book reveals that this ‘simple’ dish requires you to chop and macerate the best cherry tomatoes, then hang them in muslin to allow their essence to drip out over the course of several hours.
Garden beetroot terrine - a shimmering Le Manoir specialty came next, followed by tartare of Scottish salmon with cucumber salad, specks of Oscietra caviar and horseradish cream, a beautifully fresh combination of tastes and textures, washed down with a Pinot Grigio from Alsace.
A slow-braised Daube of beef, with mashed potatoes, mushroom fricassee and red wine jus, was melt-in-the-mouth soft and satisfying. Then the cheese course gave us three versions of the same French hard cheese at differing stages of maturation: 12, 24 and 36 months. The meal was rounded off with a chocolate marquise with hazelnut and lemon butterscotch sauce. Yummy!
In the midst of all this fine dining, the train arrived at Barrow-in-Furness station and began the return leg. At Arnside Viaduct, the Northern Belle drew to a halt and we watched a spectacular fireworks display across the water. Onwards to Carnforth, where we had a leg-stretching break and imagined ourselves stepping, in best bib and tucker, into David Lean’s immortal movie Brief Encounter, filmed at this very station in 1945.
Well-dined and jolly, we arrived back exactly where we had started, in a wet and windy Manchester. Never mind; as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: ‘Life is a journey, not a destination.’