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Issue 58 - Meals on Rails

Scotland Magazine Issue 58
August 2011

 

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Meals on Rails

Sue Lawrence gets some luxurious pampering on the Royal Scotsman.

The short walk to the Royal Scotsman train is like taking a journey back in time. As you follow the piper, resplendent in tartan and belting out pipe tunes that would have roused the Scots to battle in years gone by, you have your first glimpse of the train.

The sight is surprising for it is far longer than you might imagine, for as well as five sleeping cars there are two dining cars, the observation car and of course the locomotive. The mulberry and gold livery is impressive and gives you an inkling of the elegance within. The Edwardian style carriages, with accommodation for 36 passengers, are joined to the observation car with its outside verandah where you can enjoy the breathtaking views in the fresh air yet under shelter.

Then there the two dining cars (called Raven and Victory) which are all richly decorated with mahogany panelling and intricate marquetry. There are flowers everywhere on the train and these always include Scotland’s national emblem, the thistle.

As you travel through the beautiful Scottish countryside – whether to the West Coast when the train stables for a night at Spean Bridge or The Highlands where it stables at Boat of Garten, the “Ooh Aahs” heard from the guests (in many different languages!) as they look out at the stunning scenery, are only matched by the “Ooh Aahs” at table. For one of the main attractions of the Royal Scotsman, with its unique house-party ambience, is the food.

The restaurant on board, now regarded as one of the country’s finest, is run by the talented Chef Mark Tamburrini. It is perhaps surprising that it is so renowned for its cuisine when you see the size of the kitchen. Probably about the size of a walk-in fridge in any other a restaurant kitchen, it is remarkable to see the quality of the memorable dishes emerging from its hatch.

Breakfast is served as you hurtle along the tracks, perhaps passing Ben Nevis on the “Western” trip or over the Tay Bridge from Dundee on the “Highland” trip. Every day a different local fish is suggested by the manager, so if you are on the East Coast it will be Finnan haddock or Arbroath Smokie and there is always locally smoked salmon on offer with scrambled eggs. There is also haggis, Stornoway black pudding and “tattie scones” if you want to kick start the day with a true taste of Scotland.

On my trip, I was fortunate enough at dinner time to taste roast halibut with asparagus, the fish having been landed in Peterhead n the north-east coast of Scotland. A lunchtime Bouilabaisse was packed with Scottish seafood including fabulous langoustines from the West Coast. And at another dinner, “Caledonian Crown”, fillet of Scottish beef, was served with a potato pancake, black truffle jus and roasted root vegetables. Desserts are also worth leaving room for. I scraped the plate clean after a divine apple and almond tart with rum and raisin ice-cream, and also a white chocolate and raspberry delice and cranachan with shortbread.

The Royal Scotsman shortbread is fabulous and hugely popular. It is served with afternoon tea, alongside fluffy fruit scones and moist banana loaf. The kitchen prepares an astonishing 100 shortbread biscuits every single day!

But don’t think it is all about the food: during each six month season, the on board sommelier will get through some 600 bottles of whisky and 1000 bottles of champagne! As well as fine wines during lunch and dinner, every time the guests reboard the train after an excursion (for example, to Rothiemurchas estate, Cullodon battlefield or Dalwhinnie distillery) they are greeted by the every-smiling staff in their trademark kilts bearing trays of drinks: Pimms with champagne and sloe gin or a white wine sangria with peach. No wonder guests never seem to complain of insomnia.

And with a staff to guest ratio of one to three, it’s hardly surprising that more than a whiff of luxurious pampering is in the air, that good Scottish air that invigorates during daytime excursions and ensures a good night sleep in the cosy elegant cabins. So is there any disadvantage to a trip on the Royal Scotsman? I can only think of one: every trip is too short!

Roast Fillet of Caledonian Crown,
Potato Pancake, Roasted Root
vegetables and Black Truffle Jus


2 Fillets of beef
2 Potato pancake
(made by mashing boiled potatoes with goose fat, thyme and salt
to taste)
Dice celeriac and carrot, roasted
Veal jus
chopped black truffle
Roast Fillet of Caledonian Crown,
Potato Pancake, Roasted Root
vegetables and Black Truffle Jus
Cook the beef according to taste, season then rest the meat. Place the
pancake on the plate, top with the beef then surround with the celeriac
and carrot. Mix some truffle into a veal jus, season to taste and serve
around the beef.

Cranachan

300 ml double cream, lightly whipped
Good handful of pinhead oatmeal, toasted
Whisky, to taste
Runny honey, to taste
250g Raspberries
Raspberry coulis
Mint sprigs

Gently combine the cream, oatmeal and a
good splash of whisky and a spoon or two of
honey. Taste as you go along, adding more of
one or the other.
Layer this mixture in serving glasses with the
whole berries and with the coulis then garnish
with mint and serve with shortbread.

Shortbread

500g butter, softened
260g icing sugar
260g corn flour
520g plain flour
Mix the butter and sugar until
creamy then add the flours,
and a little cold water to bind
the mixture.
Roll out the mixture, on a floured
board, to1cm thick then cut into
circles. If you have time, rest the
mixture then bake on buttered
baking sheets at 180C / 350F for
12 minutes until pale golden
then sprinkle with sugar while
still warm.