Raymond Blanc on the Belmond Northern Belle
- Credit: Pics; John Cocks
Cheshire Life readers joined the Belmond Northern Belle train for a gastronomic journey with chef Raymond Blanc
A wise man once said that it is better to journey hopefully than to arrive. As we awaited the Belmond Northern Belle at Chester station, the certainty was that we would arrive back where we started; the hope was that we would have the journey of a lifetime. Cheshire Life readers in their finery stepped aboard the little stately home on wheels to be greeted with canapés and Laurent-Perrier Brut champagne before settling back in timeless opulence to trundle into the night, we knew not where.
Moving through the carriages, bestowing his inimitable brand of bonhomie came Raymond Blanc OBE, chef patron of the two Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Here is a man who, since arriving in England in 1972 and buying a run-down manor house, has trained over 35 Michelin-starred chefs. It is difficult to overestimate the influence this one man has exerted over Britain’s burgeoning appreciation of good food.
But what wonders could he conjure up in the cramped confines of a locomotive’s galley? Rattling along the tracks on a crisp autumn evening, we were about to find out. Pumpkin soup arrived, full of soft autumnal ripeness, beside it a hazelnut biscotto topped with melting, pungent Cashel Blue cheese.
Second stop on the gourmand’s voyage was a leek terrine with Jerusalem artichokes and a truffle dressing, the leeks squashed together like a little green log pile, sitting amid a palette of flavours which perfectly balanced sweet, sour and the earthiness of truffle. To accompany this course came an intriguingly complex white Burgundy, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru ‘Morgeot’.Braised beef next: a gloriously friable serving of Jacob’s Ladder - short rib - with creamy mash and a red wine jus, washed down with a full-bodied red wine from the Rhone Valley.
After a splendid cheese board had passed through the train - as had a chanteuse, a French accordionist and a magician - it was on to a rich chocolate marquise with Tonda hazelnut and lemon butterscotch sauce. A Corsican red dessert wine - Domaine Fiumicicoli Muscateddu - was sweet, yet sharp, cleansing rather than syrupy.
The Northern Belle executed a large loop south into the Midlands before setting off back north. Near Beeston, the train stopped, carriage lights dimmed and the sky erupted in a firework display. We returned to Chester quite dazzled in every possible way.
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