From plush accommodation to bespoke scenic routes, lavish interiors, and around-the-clock service, luxury trains make for pretty sumptuous travel. Also pretty sumptuous: the dining experiences that can be had on board.
Whether they’re crossing Europe or traversing Africa, a number of high-end convoys have in fact made their culinary offerings—from the food to the restaurant cars—a point of pride on their journeys, going to great lengths to serve up dishes that wouldn’t look out of place in a Michelin-starred restaurant, with the ambience to match. Christmas Candle Holder
Meals on these trains are a whole production, and a very valid reason to trade flying for railroad tripping—if only to marvel at the level of precision that can be achieved within the confines of a moving kitchen.
We’ve rounded up some of the most noteworthy trains where the dining car is the main event. Take note, and book accordingly when planning your next big adventure on wheels.
Chefs prepare local Peruvian cuisine onboard the Andean Explorer.
The Andean Explorer has two dining cars.
Peru’s first luxury sleeper train ticks all the boxes of an over-the-top ride: impeccable service and spectacular landscapes, Peruvian-inspired interiors and on-the-move pampering thanks to an onboard spa. But it’s the food—and the perfectly mixed Pisco sours—that really elevates the experience (besides, of course, the altitude itself: you’ll be 16,000 feet above sea level).
Two lavishly appointed dining cars—think leather seats, silver cutlery and polished macramé divider screens to keep things private if you so wish—serve seasonal dishes that spotlight Peru’s bountiful raw ingredients and flavors, with a menu specifically created by the chefs of Monasterio, A Belmond Hotel, Cusco. Highlights include trout filet with quinotto in a dill sauce with Pisco and Italian grapes and baked sea bass with Andean herbs, though there are plenty of vegetarian options as well. Whether before or after dinner, do make a stop at the bar in the observation car. With its open deck, it’s the perfect spot to sip your Pisco while gazing at the Peruvian sky. Tickets for double occupancy on a one-night journey start around $2,400.
If Europe has the Orient Express, India has the Palace on Wheels. The luxury train, first introduced in 1982 (it got an overhaul in 2017), is, quite literally, a railroad mansion, with decor fit for a maharaja, and a series of services designed to make the journey live up to its high price tag. That includes the cuisine on board.
The train’s two restaurants, Maharaja and Maharani, serve up regional Indian dishes in regal surroundings embellished with hand-carved furnishings and colorful wall lamps, intricate floral tapestries, and mahogany paneling. Sumptuously draped curtains add to the whole ‘royal’ aesthetic, though both dining cars have panoramic windows on both sides, to ensure you enjoy the breathtaking views with your meal.
On the menu, the focus is mostly on Rajasthani specialities given the Palace’s route through the desert state. Offerings change daily but always feature the star ingredients of local cooking: Rich ghee and sweet jowar (sorghum), nutty bajra (pearl millet) and earthy lentils, all rendered in tantalizing dals and curries. There are plenty of meat choices, too, from mutton saagwala to tandoori chicken. Guests can also expect North Indian and Mughlai classics, as well as Continental and Chinese options, which are alternated throughout the trip. The bottom line though: Everything tastes—and looks—phenomenal. Tickets start around $950 USD per person per night in the low season.
Art Deco bar lounge on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Stewards cater to guests' every culinary need.
A recurring name on pretty much any list of the best luxury trains in the world, Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has, unsurprisingly, really great dining cars (there are three in total: L’Oriental, Etoile Du Nord, and Côte d’Azur), and fantastic food to boot.
Dating back to the 1920s and since meticulously hand-restored, each restaurant features period details like floral marquetry, Lalique glass panels and lacquer decorations, transporting you right back to the heyday of luxury train travel.
Don’t expect the atmosphere to be stuck in the past, though: French culinary master Jean Imbert, who was recently appointed as the new chef for the iconic train, has brought in a new visual identity for the cars, introducing new mood lighting, bespoke art-adorned French porcelain dinnerware and menu designs that reflect the distinct color palette and history of each carriage.
He’s also revamped the food offerings, blending the Simplon’s gastronomic heritage with a renewed attention to seasonal and local produce (read: French and Italian, with a touch of Austria for the Paris to Vienna itinerary). Add to that the expert stewards and sommeliers who tend to passengers with a breezy manner that never feels stuffy, as well as some of Europe’s most spectacular landscapes, and you have got yourself one of the most enjoyable train rides there are. For a one-night journey, tickets start at $3,100 per person in an entry-level cabin.
Rovos Rail criss-crosses the African continent.
Four-course dinners are served to guests decked out in formal attire.
A gong heralds lunch and dinner aboard the Rovos Rail, Africa’s most luxurious train journey. It is a formal call signaling more formal things to come: The restaurant cars—one or two depending on the number of passengers, as itineraries vary from 48-hour trips to 15-day explorative tours—look straight out of the Edwardian era, with high-backed, tufted leather chairs and thick green carpeting, dark wood, and bell-shaped lamps befitting of an early 20th century private members’ club. In the evening, guests take their seats in long dresses and suits, and happily so: The frill is part of the experience on the high-end sleeper (lunch, while less fancy, is still ‘smart casual’).
Food-wise, things are equally elaborate. Four-course meals paired with a strong selection of South African wines are swanky affairs to be enjoyed leisurely and at length, as the train passes through craggy mountains and sprawling desert landscapes that can be admired from the comfort of your table. That is, if you manage to peel your eyes off the dishes in front of you: with a focus on fresh, local ingredients and regional cuisine—springbok loin and karoo (a mature hard cheese) crumble, amarula (a cream liquor) parfait and koeksister (traditional South African sticky donut)—the varied menu is all about spotlighting the continent’s culinary traditions and gastronomic excellences. Tickets usually start at $1,700 per person for short journeys in an entry-level suite, or $13,600 per person for long journeys in the same room category.
Jupiter, the dining car on board Seven Stars, serves local cuisine made with ingredients sourced from trusted farmers in Kyushu.
Getting on Japan’s most exclusive sleeper train, the Seven Stars, requires some luck—and we mean it. Aspiring passengers must enter a lottery months in advance for a chance to experience it. But manage to snag a seat, and you’ll be in for a truly outstanding ride. That applies to everything from the 14 cabin suites to the amenities and, of course, the dining car.
Called Jupiter, the carriage features a similar decor to the rest of the ride: rich wood paneling and beautifully carved screens, plush floral fabrics for the chairs and suffused lighting. Once seated, passengers are served seasonal cuisine from the island of Kyushu—the part of Japan the train travels through—crafted by a team of local masters that only works with trusted farmers in the area. The quality of the food is excellent and varied, as dishes are customized to each journey, although you can expect classics like fukiyose (an assortment of bite-sized vegetables, ginkgo, and mushrooms), and omusubi (Japanese rice ball) to make an appearance.
Besides the train, guests also have the opportunity to eat at some of the region’s most sought-after restaurants, from the French La Verveine to Kyoto staple Imoto, one of Japan’s best kaiseki restaurants. Tickets start at $2,550 per person for a two-day trip.
The Ghan, the legendary luxury train linking Adelaide to Darwin since 1929, offers a full-immersion into Australia’s wild outback. So does the food on board, which is essentially a celebration of Australian cuisine.
Guests get to enjoy not one, but three different restaurant cars, designed to have their own character and specific ambience. There’s the classically styled Queen Adelaide with its Art Deco details, which serves hearty breakfasts, two-course lunches, and three-course dinners. There's also the more relaxed Outback Explorer, a lounge-meets-social hub where you can sip coffee or beer over a board game. And, lastly, the more exclusive Platinum Club, accessible to Platinum Service passengers only (top-of-the-line ticket holders), with decor that features quartzite tabletops, timber flooring, and leather banquette seating.
Across all of the cars, the culinary team works closely with local suppliers, farmers, and providers to source ingredients from the diverse environments the train travels through, putting on the table a regionally inspired menu that includes local lamb, saltwater barramundi, Margaret River cheeses, and grilled kangaroo filet. Tickets start at $1,800 per person one way for an entry-level (Gold Twin) cabin. Platinum fares start at around $3,000 per person one way.
Fine china and tweed upholstery make the Royal Scotsman's dining cars fit for a monarch.
Another Belmond train—the Royal Scotsman really is all about the journey and giving guests one of the most memorable experiences of their lives. Leaving from and returning to Edinburgh's Waverley Station by way of the Scottish Highlands, the uber-indulgent ride places a strong emphasis on its dining offerings. There are two dining cars, Raven and Swift, appointed with mahogany-paneled walls and on-brand tweed upholstery (you’re in Scotland after all), stark white linen, and fine china.
The best of Scottish produce from both land and sea makes up the menu created by head chef Mark Tamburrini, with plenty of Scottish smoked salmon featuring alongside extravagant dishes like pigeon salad, kidgeree, and spiced roast halibut. At breakfast, the ‘Full Scottish’ is a must-try if you like meat—it’s a hefty combination of eggs, back bacon, sausage, black pudding, and haggis (a type of pudding composed of the liver, heart, and lungs of a sheep).
But it’s not just about the food. Together with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, the Royal Scotsman also does a five-day Scotch Malt Whisky Tour that, besides three-course lunches and four-course dinners (which you get on the regular trips as well), comes with tasting opportunities and distillery visits. Tickets start at around $4,500 per person for a twin cabin.
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