We've been told that Virgin Trains East Coast is launching a new menu and a collaboration with celebrity chef James Martin (although the press release makes it sound like he was born in York station we don't think that's the case). The first class menu will launch on 16 May 2016 and standard class will launch in the autumn.
The good news is a proper breakfast is set to return, black pudding is mentioned alongside sausages, bacon and eggs. The current breakfast, although nice, was a bit unusual as it was designed to be identical whether it was cooked freshly by a chef or just reheated this meant no fried eggs on the menu. Apart from that there's not much mentioned, one example listed was lemon and herb chicken, but that sounds like the Nando's menu!
I have been told that the meal bands will be simplified. Currently we have:
- Breakfast (full breakfast range)
- Mid morning (lighter breakfast options, e.g. bacon rolls)
- All day (generally a mix of hot/cold items and sandwiches, doesn't need a chef)
- Afternoon tea (sandwiches and cake) - those who expected all day menu would be upset
- Evening meal (all day menu + addition of chef prepared items and better dessert) - peak northbound only
- Weekend - prepacked sandwiches with lots of E-numbers, despite the difference with the weekday offering it's still possibly the best weekend service in the UK. Most other rail operators don't bother!
The mid morning and afternoon tea options are being removed. This means those that travel in the afternoon are sure of the more substantial all day menu and I'm guessing for the mid morning some services will become breakfast and others all day menu. For the evening meal service it has not yet been announced which trains will offer this service. This information is normally printed in the timetables but is missing in the new booklet, presumably they had not finalised the new catering details when going to press. As for the weekend I've not heard anything about that, let's hope for a nice surprise.
Alison Watson, Customer Experience Director at Virgin Trains East Coast, added:
We’re confident the menu James is designing with our team will be the finest dining any UK train operator can boast and will be another step in making our customers’ journeys even better.
My prediction is the new menu will be good, but I doubt it'll be "the finest dining any UK train operator can boast" although it may be the finest complimentary dining any UK train operator can boast. Although even when you consider complimentary offerings Arriva Trains Wales does an excellent menu on their 'Business Class' services (although only a few run a day). My favourite on-train dining has to be the Great Western Pullman service this is truly restaurant quality food, presented in an amazing way, it's certainly not complimentary (a main course can be around £20-£30) but it does live up to its price tag.
So I'm looking forward to trying out these new James Martin inspired menus, I think they'll be good, but not Pullman good.
Hopefully Virgin Trains East Coast will be publishing details of which menu is on each train shortly and hopefully also the menus nearer the time.