THE task of creating a bistro-style menu in a tiny kitchen travelling at 125 miles per hour is not an easy one. But a childhood fascination with rail travel led to Tom and Eugene McCoy accepting Great North Eastern Railways' (GNER) challenge to rid railway catering of its lowly image.
The project for GNER's first-class dining car began more than two years ago when the McCoy brothers (of McCoy's restaurant and bistro, Staddlebridge, North Yorkshire) began working on trains operating on the route from London to Scotland to gain an understanding of the problems involved in rail catering.
"Providing food on a train is more complicated than people appreciate," says Tom. "If you run out of something, you can't nip to the shop."
Deciding how much stock to carry was just one of the many difficulties of which the McCoys became aware. Lack of storage and work space - chefs have a space less than 2ft wide to work in - and the limited time the customer has to eat his meal all had to be considered.
The McCoys have devised four cycles of menus for the year, each cycle consisting of two lunch and two dinner menus, rotating fortnightly. Fresh food and restaurant techniques are used to put together the components of the meals for delivery to the trains by Rail Gourmet (the company also responsible for sourcing the produce), ready for cooking by one of the 60 chefs working on the route.
"The aim is to minimise the amount of preparation done on the train, because it is better to control that off the train; but there is still skill and cooking involved on the part of the chefs on board."
Each menu offers three starters, four main courses and three desserts. The choice of starters includes a soup, such as a spicy tomato soup with cucumber and herbs (£3.25) and a fish dish, such as a fishcake with lemon grass and chillies in a black bean broth with Oriental salad (£5.95).
Consistently popular at main course are the steaks - a sirloin grilled and garnished with parsley (£15.95), or served with a Dijon (£16.50) or pepper (£15.95) sauce. Vegetarians are catered for with a wild mushroom tagliatelle (£12.50) or chickpea fritters served on a bed of Mediterranean vegetables with basil oil and soured cream (£12.50). Accompaniments include rîsti potato rounds and puréed carrot with fresh mint.
There is always a selection of British cheeses with biscuits, celery and grapes (£4.95), as well as the likes of chocolate mousse with passion fruit sauce (£4.50).
The menus are available on weekdays only. The number of covers served can be as many as 70 during peak times, with an average spend of £18-£22, excluding drinks. n