The Penzance Night Riviera Sleeper
It’s not often I start a review at 23:45 on platform one of Paddington Station. But, this is the only way to travel – The Penzance Riviera Sleeper down to Cornwall overnight. I’m travelling down to stay at the much-lauded retreat that is The Mullion Cove Hotel. I cannot describe fully the sense of excitement and expectation that beats in my heart as we pull out of the station. All the classic movies are playing in my head at once, Strangers on a Train, Murder on the Orient Express, From Russia With Love and many more. They all have key stages on trains. I will be on until just before 8:00am.
My cabin is cosy and neat. The bed is comfortable, a hand basin cleverly folds away and I’m rather staggered at this there is a TV as well. You need to bring your own head phones though. Half an hour after setting off I find myself in the sleeper carriage bar. This is open all night, so if you wanted to celebrate till the sun comes up this is the place. Tonight I have only a few companions and they are all being well behaved.
When checking in (it’s like getting on a plane or the berth of a boat) I was asked what I’d like for breakfast, cereal, bacon roll etc. and what sort of drink. I have chosen Earl Grey. This is the start of a three-day trip to my favourite county reviewing The Mullion Cove Hotel and its food. I’ve had a glass of wine in the sleeper car and I’m starting to get dozy now so will trundle off to bed in my slim but comfortable bunk. If you are travelling as a couple you can have twin bunks or separate cabins, if with young ones you can join two cabins together. This is such a fantastic trip to make with children. Going to bed in London when it’s dark and waking to the beautiful countryside of Cornwall passing by in the morning and then alighting at Penzance. What a magical journey to make at least once in their lives. I can guarantee they will never forget it.
Fortified by my warm bacon roll and pot of Earl Grey I pack up and make my way off the train. I feel rather sorry to leave, although only travelling for eight hours I could easily travel some more, a seasoned driver meets me at the station, and we travel the short distance to the hotel. Mullion Cove is a sight of natural beauty, rugged rocks and swelling sea. A neat little harbour with a few fishing boats, Cornwall in a nutshell. It’s like the back drop to and Enid Blyton children’s adventure. The Mullion Cove Hotel sits proud and prominently on top of the cliffs, master of all it surveys. The feeling here is like a large country house. People stay all year round for the walks, painting, writing and the food.
The windows in my room, 210 offer me a superb vista of the cove. The view from this room has been in The Sunday Times top 100 best hotel room views in the world. Yes, it’s that good and with the sky constantly changing I could sit in one of the very comfortable leather armchairs and watch it all day. The room is also very large with an en suite, which also has the same wonderful view from the bath. This is a comfortable spacious hotel where everybody has plenty of room to breathe. There are three lounges one of which is dog friendly as are a couple of the bedrooms. The walks along the cliffs are astounding and on my visit blustery, nothing like blowing the cobwebs away.
The food here is by award winning New Zealander Fiona Were. Recently joining the hotel she is in the process of putting it on the culinary map. Something she has done everywhere she has worked. A natural forager and seasonal expert her graceful food can be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. This is a very popular hotel at Christmas, guests kick their shoes off for a few days and toast gently in front of the roaring fires breaking the routine only to head for the bar or restaurant and then to bed. A more detailed account of the food can be found here in my next review.
After my all too brief stay at Mullion Cove I head back to Penzance and the First Great Western for my journey home. While in Cornwall I happen to hear that this line is the only fast train to offer silver service for lunch and dinner. This was too good an opportunity to pass up.
The train slipped away from the platform at 10am exactly and settled into its smooth rhythm, I read the paper and did some work. As the train passes Plymouth I was expecting to hear a large clunk as the dinning carriage was coupled to the main train. Of course I hadn’t thought of how they might achieve the famed dining car any other way. They simply and neatly convert one on the smaller existing first class carriages. Crisp white tablecloths, metal cutlery, glasses and a menu lay waiting for me.
The charming staff organised some drinks (a very good Rioja) and took my food order. Everything is prepared on the train in a tiny kitchen. As there are limited seats I’d advise booking a seat in advance, a privilege extended to first class customers. It’s little differences that make this experience special. The waiter, Jon replaces the cork in the bottle after pouring me a glass quietly explaining that it’s a precaution just in case it topples over. It doesn’t but I was glad of the reassurance. First Great Western (FGW) has promised that 50 products in its newly launched on-board menus will be sourced from specialist producers within 15 miles of its railway lines, as part of its pledge to banish the memory of the dreaded British Rail Butty forever. This includes awarding-winning produce from a third generation family butcher, fourth generation family baker and fifth generation family cheese maker.
My dressed Devon crab was presented with white and brown meats, a little salad, watercress and a wedge of lemon. The crab was as fresh as it could be and the whole plate was very refreshing and tasty. Also a choice of fresh hot rolls came my way. The crockery has the Pullman stamp at the top of each perfectly served plate. This simple touch oozes quality and style. I was settling in and enjoying this lunch.
The prime Somerset reared fillet steak I ordered came with carrots, leeks and one of my favourites; dauphinoise potatoes. This plate of food was not only excellent in taste, but was served perfectly as well. It is hard to describe the fun factor of watching the world rush by as I sat and ate at my own pace sipping a glass of wine. All I could think of is why don’t more trains have this facility. As my last course I opted for West Country cheeses with quince jelly and biscuits. I had some wine left so didn’t need to order any port but I could have as it’s on the drinks menu. This menu varies slightly each day but always offers at least two meat dishes, a fish or vegetarian main course. The service is cheery, friendly and unstuffy but professional. These few ingredients are all that’s needed to make this service work like a dream.
As the train came to a gentle halt in Paddington I gathered my belongings, said my goodbyes to a fellow passenger I had been talking to and made my way down the platform to continue the rest of my journey refreshed, replete and little bit sad I was saying goodbye again so soon to this wonderful train.