There is something remarkable about dining aboard a train travelling at scenery-blurring speeds. I’m on the Grand Hibernian’s two-day Taste of Ireland tour. At the white-clothed tables of the Wexlow dining carriage (each of the train’s cars are named after Irish counties), our meal is accompanied by the light rumble of train on track. ‘There’s something about the sound of a train that’s very romantic and nostalgic and hopeful,’ Paul Simon once said. As I finish my roasted rabbit and just-crunchy-enough spiced carrots, I think I would also add ‘appetising’ to his list.
‘Farm-to-fork’ and ‘sea-to-table’ eating is currently all the rage, and Ireland, with all its verdant farmland and craggy coastline, is ideally-suited to being part of this foodie trend. The Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s first and only luxury sleeper train, aims to showcase Ireland’s culinary potential.
There are two-, four-, and six-night journeys available. I’m on the two-night tour called the Taste of Ireland, which starts and finishes in Dublin, with stops in Waterford and across the border in Belfast. There are daily excursions to keep us busy, but in truth most of us are here for the food. Twice a week, provisions are replenished in Dublin, but ingredients are sourced from throughout the Emerald Isle.
In a nod to the Irish reverence for community and conviviality, the dining tables are set up for communal meals. We’re meant to sit, talk and laugh with each other. We’re not to lock ourselves away in our sleeper cabins, however well appointed they may be.
Available in specs of twins and doubles, all en-suite, the sleeper cabins are practical but not without appeal. Families can choose interconnecting cabins, and the word on the train is most couples prefer the personal space of the twin beds to the modest size of the double bed. (Though puffed and poofed with natural Irish duck down bedding and Egyptian cotton, the beds can hardly be called spacious.) With 10 carriages (an observation car, two dining cars, five sleeper cars, and two for the staff), the Grand Hibernian is the longest train in Ireland. Less than three years old, there are already talks of expanding the network to explore other tucked-away corners of the country.
While we’re enjoying our three-course lunch, the glossy midnight blue train is heading north from Dublin to Belfast. After a welcome drink in Kildare, we are ushered off for a black cab tour of Belfast for our first excursion. The following day, the train “tootles off” to Waterford (in the words of our host steward). After a day of wandering around the former Viking port, famous for its crystal, and the somewhat-dilapidated Curraghmore House, we’re treated to a delicious Sunday roast on the train – tender beef wellington, made from meat from the much sought after Irish Dexter breed served with roasted hasselback potatoes.
That night, the train “stables” at a quiet siding to ensure a good night’s sleep for all. In the morning, while the train heads back to Dublin, we feast on a full Irish breakfast where marigold egg yokes hide under a duvet of summer truffle. (Yes, you can also find truffles in Ireland.)
On longer trips, the train travels all the way west to Galway and Westport, where guest are greeted with just-shucked Atlantic oysters; in Dublin, there’s the Guinness factory tour ; and down south by Killarney and Lough Leane there’s local venison loin to be had.
And what would a trip around Ireland be without a drink or two? There are plenty of craft spirits onboard to be imbibed. David, our bartender, suggests Yellow Spot, a single still pot whiskey that has been made by the same Dublin family for seven generations. There’s also artisan, small-batch Irish vodka and gins like those from the Dingle Distillery, made from rowanberries and other botanicals from the Wild Atlantic Way.
Ireland might not enjoy a worldwide reputation for its food quite yet, but on the Grand Hibernian there’s potential in every forkful. This is a country on the right track.
There are three Belmond Grand Hibernian journeys available: Taste of Ireland (two nights), Legends and Loughs (four nights) and the Grand Tour of Ireland (six nights). The all-inclusive two-night Taste of Ireland journey starts at €3,318pp.For more information and to book, go here