Lumo’s East Coast Main Line train service whooshed into the spotlight recently with super-cheap fares between London and Edinburgh (for those quick to click).
But significant changes are also afoot on Britain’s other high-speed England-Scotland railway artery, the West Coast Main Line, with Pendolino operator Avanti introducing a premium economy section on its tilting 125mph trains with more legroom, as we reported in May, and now an enhanced first-class offering – including (drum roll, please)... at weekends.
I travelled in this top-tier carriage on a recent weekend jaunt and can report that while it may not herald a new golden age of rail travel, it certainly puts a welcome shine on it, with a ramped-up complimentary restaurant-style food service to go with the bigger seats and plentiful plug sockets.
Pendolino operator Avanti has introduced an enhanced first-class offering
Pictured is one of Avanti's 125mph tilting trains powering through Litchfield Trent Valley station
There’s an impressive array of dishes and drinks available, proper stainless steel cutlery and a menu that even details where in the UK the food suppliers come from and the stories behind their businesses.
It feels VIP – but crucially right from the off.
One of the onboard team greeted my family and me at the door to coach K on a Euston-Manchester Piccadilly service on a chilly Saturday morning with a genuinely warm smile. And her colleague onboard was friendly in a similarly sincere fashion.
Mere minutes after the train set off we were offered water, juices and coffee, the former arriving in glassware and the latter in elegant cups on little white trays.
It was good coffee, too, courtesy of ‘Change Please’ in London, which trains people affected by homelessness as baristas and supports them with accommodation.
The West Coast Main Line skirts the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales and offers eye-popping views of the North Pennines, too. Above is a Glasgow-London Pendolino crossing Docker Viaduct in Cumbria
Left is Ted's picture of his full English, deployed to his seat in coach K shortly after leaving London Euston. Pictured right is the 'finger-licking-good Jammie Dodger loaf cake' he had on the return journey
Avanti fares for London to Manchester:
First Class - £108.80
Standard premium - £60.90
Standard - £35.90
First class - £217.60
Standard Premium - £121.80
Standard - £71.80
Typical journey time between London and Manchester is two hours and eight minutes. Avanti West Coast currently operates two trains per hour between London and Manchester. This will increase to three trains per hour in mid-December (tickets for these are available to book now). Click here.
The Midland Manchester offers rooms from £189. And has one of the best restaurants in the country - The French.
Then came the food order.
The menu options include a ‘classic bacon sandwich’, a vegan breakfast containing a ‘lightly spiced corn fritter served with smashed avocado, roasted tomato and portobello mushroom’, a superfood breakfast bowl, smoked Scottish salmon and scrambled eggs, and a fresh fruit plate.
I went for the ‘Great British Breakfast’, with smoked bacon and black pudding by Althams Butchers in Morecambe, parsley sausage, portobello mushroom and scrambled eggs.
We had toast, too, with moreish ‘chuckleberry jam’ by the London Borough of Jam company.
And offers of extra juices and coffees were issued with pleasing regularity.
On the return 15.55 Sunday service, the standards were maintained.
Alcoholic drinks were an option – including Manchester Gin and vodka and rhubarb by the East London Liquor Company - but we were back on the coffees.
Food-wise, by the time the train arrived in Crewe, I was tucking into thumbs-up-worthy potato gnocchi cooked in a white wine and wild garlic cream with pea puree.
For afters, I indulged in a finger-licking-good Jammie Dodger loaf cake with buttercream frosting and topped with a mini Jammie Dodger, by The Pudding Compartment in Flint, North Wales.
The (extra) icing on the cake? The train arrived in London five minutes early.