As our dear wine editor has written about with such alacrity, BYOB is by far the best way to go when wanting to drink on a long train journey; I’ve even seen people drinking a £475 bottle of 1997 Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St Jacques. Just as what to drink must be considered, so too must be what to eat, as the train clickety-clacks its way through cities, towns and fields as it rushes towards you destination – or, more likely at this time of year, grinds to a halt due to the wrong type of rain on the track or a leaf having had the nerve to throw itself from a tree into your path.
In the romantic old days of train travel, you could pop along to the dining car for a sumptuous meal. One Edwardian restaurant critic recounts a happy tale of dining on lobster mayonnaise, mutton cutlets reform, roast grouse, straw potatoes, salad, an omelette au confiture, devilled sardines and, finally, cheese, biscuits and coffee in the dining car of a Great Eastern train. These days to have such a luxury meal on a train you’ll need to fork out hundreds of pounds per person for a ticket on the Belmond British Pullman or thousands on its sister train, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express. The best you can really hope for on your intercity train is a small cooked breakfast or an anaemic, tasteless burger with an unmelted piece of plastic cheese coating it – and that’s only if you’re in first class, otherwise its overpriced and under filled pre-packaged sandwiches from the small kiosk that now passes as a dining car.
It’s just not worth buying food on the train if you want any hope of dining relatively well on your journey. Instead, BYOF is the answer.
Personally, I like to take a selection of hams, cheeses and a pate or terrine, to which one might add olives, bread, sundried tomatoes and possibly a really good artisan pork pie of Scotch egg, or if your local deli – or even butcher on the Continent – does them, mini cured chorizo or other cured sausages. Having had these picnics on a number of occasions while training across France recently, I can attest to how well suited a selection such as this is for a train picnic. The alternative way to go would be to create a sumptuous salad to take with you in a Tupperware box. One salad that works well for this is smoked duck breast, orange, beetroot, charred artichoke hearts, friseé salad leaves and a balsamic vinaigrette.
Whatever you decide to do about picnicking, there are a few simple rules or guidelines to remember to ensure that your picnic goes off without a hitch.
- Quality – What you spend is up to you, of course, but remember that quality is central to the picnic; after all, if you’re not interested in quality, you might as well have the train’s own offering. It’s better to buy just a few high quality things than to buy lots of cheaper fare.
- Quantity – Don’t buy too much as, of course, there are space issues. This said, if anything’s left over you can take it home with you, and there may be delays so a little extra won’t harm.
- Refrigeration – Whatever you take will be out of the fridge for sometime, so you don’t want anything that gets too affected by being out of the cold for too long. This is why I’m a fan of taking charcuterie.
- Drink – I would certainly suggest taking water, but it’s always good to have a drink with a good meal so make sure to take even just half a bottle of wine and a plastic cup to drink it from.
- Cutlery – You may not need a plate; that will depend on what you’re eating and you can create a makeshift table cover/plate from the greaseproof paper used to wrap up cheese and other charcuteries. However, you will need a knife and fork. These can be metal or plastic but make sure the knife is sharp no matter what it’s made from; this will make your life a lot easier given the confined elbow space trains tend to offer.
With a little imagination and these rules you can have a great picnic on a train, and, while it wont take you back to the golden age of train travel, it will make things more comfortable and refined for you. Plus, who doesn’t like making the other passengers envious as they tuck into their dry, curled up cheese sandwiches, or just go hungry!