Today, Monday 16th May, Virgin Trains East Coast have launched their new menu in first class which has been created in collaboration with James Martin.
The highlights are:
- The fried egg is back! Most breakfast trains now feature a fried egg and black pudding in addition to the other menu items.
- The cut down 'mid morning' menu has now gone, a full breakfast is available until 11am.
- The cut down 'afternoon tea' menu has now gone (which only offered sandwiches), the rest of the day menu will now be offered which includes sandwiches, hot options and also a sausage roll if you just want a snack.
- The evening meal (chef prepared menu) will still be offered on most northbound departures from 17:00-19:00. This includes all the items available in the rest of the day menu (except the sausage roll) but with the addition of an extra main course (which is lamb this week) and an improved dessert or cheese offering.
I'm glad to see the end of the cut down 'mid morning' and 'afternoon tea' menus. Lighter options are available on the breakfast and rest of the day menus so now you have the choice whether you want something light or more substantial.
The breakfast since East Coast went complimentary in 2011 has always been a bit unusual, but still enjoyable. The breakfast used to have a flan or an omlette instead of a fried egg. The reason was East Coast wanted to have exactly the same items available whether the breakfast was prepared by a chef or it was heated up by regular crew in an oven. This put the fried egg off limits. The menu does state that the flan will make an appearance on some trains, presumably this will be on services without a chef or if the train has a non-standard kitchen.
One of my worries when I first heard of the new menus was the worry that they may have used an improved rest of the day offering as an excuse to remove the Evening Meal menu, fortunately that's not the case. It means now every VTEC service will have the option of a full meal or a lighter option. As far as I know they're the only train operator to offer this.
This evening I tried the first rotation of the evening meal menu and chose the lamb and the chocolate cherry roulade for the dessert, they were both good choices and the lamb was cooked to perfection by the on-board chef.
So anything bad? Weekends have not really changed and some work needs to be done to make first class on a weekend more attractive. If the standard weekday first class can't be offered they should at least allow you to purchase items at-seat. If a train is busy having to fight through the crowds to go to the Foodbar is not a first class experience. As for the food options I think offering the sausage roll as an alternative to the sandwiches would be a small but welcome improvement to the weekend offering.
I have said that breakfast is one thing both Virgin Trains on the West Coast and East Midlands Trains have done better than Virgin Trains East Coast, this new menu is going far to address that, although I would love to see eggs benedict for the rare occasion I'm fed up with the full english. As for the rest of the day Virgin Trains East Coast have now made themselves undisputed leaders of the complimentary catering offering as they've made both a hot meal and light offerings available on any train.
I still don't think they're the best overall in railway catering, the Great Western Pullman will beat it for a fine dining experience but the Pullman is expensive (but worth it for the quality of food offered) and only serves a small number of passengers on each train. Although I do miss the restaurants on the East Coast, particularly from the GNER times, I am happy that VTEC have maintained and improved the best complimentary offering around.