Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Eurostar, Standard Premier food

By now, many of Brussels' expat residents will have headed back home - some by car, some by plane, and some by the (usually) trusty Eurostar. Regulars on that service will know that the vagaries of the booking system mean that, once the cheapest Standard class fares have gone, sometimes it's no more expensive to travel in Standard Premier. For your failure of organisation (or willingness to pay more in the first place), you get extra legroom, a small selection of magazines, and a meal. I realise this isn't quite the same as assessing a paid-for restaurant experience, but this year's final In Brussels, Will Eat review will do its best.

Now, I am bourgeois enough to eat breakfast at a fairly early hour, which means that it felt a bit strange to be consuming a croissant and orange juice on a train that left a few minutes before 11am, but in Standard Premier you get breakfast before 11 and a main meal the rest of the time (if you want more flexibility you need to pay 250E for Business Premier, where they serve hot breakfasts, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. And champagne). Still, as late breakfasts go this was serviceable. The roll and croissant (and mini pain au raisin that arrived separately) were obviously not straight out of the oven, but they were fairly fresh, and the yoghurt was delicious and exceptionally creamy. The orange, with its stalk and leaves left on for what I presume was aesthetic effect, that came last of all was also a nice touch (although a towelette to wipe my hands would have been helpful), and in fact more fruit or some sort of cheese or ham, as well as strawberry jam, would have made for a more balanced meal. This was quite carb-heavy, especially as there was nothing to do afterwards other than sit and digest it.
I could say that same about the meals I've had later in the day. This cheese plate included a serving of taboulet that was genuinely tasty, packed with sultanas and herbs, although it perhaps wasn't the most obvious accompaniment to two slices of cheese. In my notes on said cheese I've written 'but what?', although on at least one other occasion the member of staff serving a cheese-based dinner did give its provenance, and the same sometimes happens with the wine. I appreciate there's a fine balance to be struck between sophistication and getting the food served as efficiently as possible, just as Standard Premier is a sort of intermediate point between Standard and Business Premier, but perhaps a printed menu card would help. The Gü dessert was a partial success - the bottom layer of raspberry compote was fine but the white chocolate mousse that sat on it far too sweet - and, again, the absence of fresh fruit or vegetables was notable. This may well be for logistical or cost reasons, but a pot of fruit salad would have made both these trayfuls more digestible.
This final example did contain a complete meal, with vegetables, of a sort, but it included unmemorable cold salmon and potato salad with potatoes that were slightly undercooked (I think they'd run out of the cheese plate which is normally the other option). I liked the raisin bread roll, although it was a little stale (you're normally offered a choice of different kinds of roll, which is a definite plus point). Profiteroles, unorthodoxly presented with the chocolate sauce in a separate heap, were fine. 

This is the only one of these three examples without a named 'brand' from one of the countries served by Eurostar, apart from the ever-present Président butter. It's true that I wasn't so keen on the Gü dessert, but I really liked the Pur Natur yoghurt that turned up at breakfast (where there was also Tiptree jam) and might even buy some when I get back to Belgium. It strikes me that these meals offer a really good opportunity to showcase products to a captive market, and if I were Eurostar I'd play up this aspect of the food served on board the train (as well as make friends with a greengrocer). I'm not sure people will ever choose Standard Premier for the quality - rather than the mere existence - of the food alone, but you never know.


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