The Great Gatsby on wheels
The British Pullman
As a child of the 80s, it is surprising that I feel nostalgic about the roaring twenties, an era that came and went before I was born. But then that's the magic of the British Pullman - the vintage 1920s trains currently used by the Venice Simplon Orient Express. Every evening onboard starts and finishes in an utterly exquisite manner, from the comfortable, expansive armchairs to the fine port sipped from tiny crystal glasses.
Orient Express has just started its first 1920s inspired evenings, that departs from London's Victoria station, moseys on to Guildford and the North Downs, and then trundles back four hours later. I hopped on for the ride, partly to see where on earth the exquisite Pullman lounge was located (I pass through the station every day and glamorous it isn't), partly because I'm obsessed with Hercule Poirot and the Pullman is quintessential Agatha Christie, and also because it was an excuse to dress up, sip fine wines and enjoy a brief interlude of time travel.
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Moreover, with filming for The Great Gatsby already underway - the film, due out next year, is directed by Baz Luhrmann and stars Leonardo DiCaprio - the 1920s are set to see quite a revival.
Past the grumpy commuters standing shoulder-to-shoulder on platform two, sits the Pullman lounge - almost like Harry Potter's Platform 9 and a half - you wouldn't notice it unless you were looking for it. I am greeted by a smiling, immaculately attired doorman, and then make my way through the lounge.
The carriage interior
It is rather like stepping ithrough a sepia-tinted photograph and into a fabulous world, where short-stemmed champagne glasses are pressed into your hand, martinis are poured and anticipation fills the air. Our fellow companions range from the more mature to young couples, middle-aged foursomes and giggling girls on a night out. The dress code passengers have chosen for themselves ranges from black tie to fur stoles, pearls and delicate flapper dresses, and everyone brims with excitement.
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Our tickets nestle in exquisite leather pouches, which arrived earlier in the week, informing us to head to the carriage named Cygnus at 7.15pm. As we walk to the train, my husband queries incredulously: "Hang on, so we're going to go and sit on a train for four hours? What do we do?" The answer awaits him once we step on board.
Each carriage is furnished differently, but maintains a similar theme - beautiful gilt fixtures, woven brass luggage racks, tasteful paintings, brocade curtains, plump armchairs and mosaic-tiled bathrooms. The table is less centrepiece and more masterpiece - sporting crisp white linen, an assortment of exquisite crystal, gleaming silver cutlery and silk lampshades.
Champagne is poured...
Tiny canapés to "tickle the palate" slip down too easily, but act as good cushioning for our first wine of the evening, a 2008 Riesling from the Mosel region, Germany. The idea is for us to partake of a grazing menu accompanied by fine wines - hard work, indeed.
Our neighbours are an 80-something couple, who are regular customers of the Orient Express. They love the etiquette, the attention-to-detail décor, the personal attention and the distinct lack of mobile phones (thank god).
The evening passes in a blur - but favourite snapshots include superbly pan-fried grouse accompanied by a 2006 Volnay, and a trio of desserts accompanied by a 2006 Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen Reisling. The food is utterly delicious - fresh, flavoursome ingredients - and the wine pairing is on the nose. They could possibly lose the slightly unsettling trained actors who passed through the carriage, and instead (as our neighbours suggested) replace with a few jazz singers. But it is the Orient Express' first 1920s outing, so we'll allow the organsiers some room for error.
There is another Orient Express package imminent on 1 December - 'Christmas shopping on the rails' - which frankly sounds like heaven on earth: a showcase of the best British luxury brands while dining on a four-course lunch with champagne and wine.
By the end, we are suitably soused. As we headed off the less glamorous reaches of Victoria station - platform 11, we were left with the pang that comes when you've seen a glimpse of a different, wonderful world.
It was ever so fleeting, but perhaps it's the sign of a great night and a compelling experience if, at the end of it, you can't wait to go back.
A four-course dinner, champagne and wine is £350 per person. For reservations call 0845 077 22 22 or visit the website.