Vancouver to Banff











Riding the Rails in The Lap of Luxury

I was one of four fortunate food and wine media to clamber aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, and travel the tracks from Vancouver to Banff.  Based on previous railcar dining, and despite assurances to contrary, I remained disinclined to think of fine cooking in terms of train travel. But Rocky Mountaineer’s GoldLeaf kitchen team, with Executive Chef Frederic Cout on (formerly of the Cannery) at the helm proved me wrong.

Day One

The Rocky Mountaineer pulls out of the Vancouver station, snakes around mountains, rumbles through tunnels, and chugs over rough waters until it rolls into Banff. All the while the staff, service and cuisine excel. The train may sway but the feet in front of the stoves are firmly planted. Since early morning, chef and crew have been baking fluffy scones and feather-light pancakes; sautéing red-skinned spuds to go alongside scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, or prepping the mid-day meal which will put the best of BC and Alberta on the table. As well this trip also BC wine-themed. (Other trips may include photography, natural history and storytelling.)

GoldLeaf Meals are white-linen and silver service all the way. The breakfast (four choices–) is excellent. The train huffs and puffs past pastures and small railway communites. As mid-day approaches, Jurgen Gothe invites passengers to join him in the parlour car, a beautifully refurbished CNR carriage, for a little BC wine appreciation. Never stuffy or intimidating, the long-time host of CBC’s Disc Drive, and wine columnist for the Georgia Straight tours us through the Okanagan and gets guests laughing while they’re learning. They soon embrace Jurgen’s passion for Riesling (this one from See Ya Later Ranch). The world’s most misunderstood grape is the crowd pleaser.

Beginning with fresh-baked grainy bread my lunch starts with a composed salad of tender frisee, crunchy greens, polenta croutons, and “popped” wild rice, nicely dressed, then segues into prawns bathed in broth and topped with crisp julienne vegetables. Sumac Ridge Winery fruity but dry pinot blanc does very nicely with both courses. My dining buddy slices into a juicy pork tenderloin, which suits the winery’s merlot. Sinfully delicious pecan ice cream, an equally decadent chocolate brownie, and fresh-brewed dark roast gathers together the sweet and bitter, hot and cold.

Day Two

This morning I ask to order off the menu—eggs, toast and fresh fruit. No problem. My eggs are poached Julia Child perfect. After breakfast folks read or chat. No mobiles ringing. No computers. (I love that a woman is penning, in a perfect hand, several post-cards).

Jurgen hosts us with Sumac Ridge Stellar’s Jay, BC’s first sparkling wine, before joining us in the dining car for lunch. He discusses briefly, the wines to accompany the menu. Wild mushroom bisque precedes my choice of main (the other is Alberta beef), glazed BC salmon garnished with shaved fennel. Inniskillin Pinot Noir and See Ya Later Pinot Gris show that salmon can belly up to both red and white wines. A meltingly good Semifreddo is today’s grand finish. And, what would a ripping good BC repast be without ice-wine?

The magnificent Rockies strut their stuff under a setting sun. A snooze, more reading, and a cocktail or two in the domed coach round out the day. (GoldLeaf service includes all alcoholic beverages, save the specialty wine list). My shoulders are again a good six-inches below my ears.

This is luxury travel as it should be—unhurried, pampered, with fine dining, wine, along with little courtesies that add up to a lot of pleasure.

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