I’ve always wanted to dine on a train. No, not a sarnie and a bag of crisps on the 1.45 to King’s Cross – I’m talking about eating in style with white tablecloths, fine china and weighty cutlery. I had that opportunity last month aboard Carriages, a series of refurbished vintage trains in a purpose-built railway station in Fen Drayton, less than 15 miles from Cambridge city centre.
Access to the railway-themed restaurant is through Bannold, a supplier of landscaping materials, where a staff member will lead you past the display gardens to the impressive station house and carriages.
There’s a railway station in Fen Drayton? Well, not quite. The trains are stationary so you’re not actually going anywhere, but a visit to Carriages does take you back to the 1920’s and 1930’s, the golden age of luxury rail travel. There are even moving train sound effects to complement the experience. Carriages is the brainchild of Bannold owner Michael Attle who was inspired to build the concept when he purchased a disused part of an old railway platform. The recreation is remarkable, complete with signal box and original Pullman style carriages.
The station house has been meticulously recreated with a booking hall, station master’s office, traditional waiting room, real fireplace, antique seats, cigarette dispenser, luggage trolley and old-fashioned suitcases.
The menu features cream tea (two scones, homemade jam or lemon curd and tea or coffee) or afternoon tea, which needs to be booked in advance for 1pm or 3pm. I made a reservation for afternoon tea to spend time with friends and celebrate Alison’s birthday. We loved every minute of it!
After passing through the waiting room, manager Alex Adomeit (also known in foodie circles as the owner of Holy Schnitzels food truck) escorted us to the first class carriage “Louis”. He took our coats and showed us to four plush seats and an impeccably-set table with branded bone china, silver service, fresh flowers and a beautiful table lamp. For an additional charge, a private 4-seater compartment can be booked in advance but we were perfectly happy with our seats.
One of the cars has a bar and there are wines, beer, fizz and spirits available. For the special occasion, we shared two perfectly chilled mini bottles of Prosecco, served in elegant champagne coupes. Cheers!
Afternoon tea was served with single estate loose leaf tea or single origin coffee, with flowering teas for an additional charge. The lovely art deco stands, decorated with roses carved out of fresh strawberries, were laden with freshly baked and prepared sweet and savoury items.
Some of the ingredients come from their kitchen garden with two Victorian greenhouses, which are used to grow their own fruit and vegetables. They even have their own free-range eggs.
The delicious finger sandwiches included smoked salmon with caper butter, ham and piccalilli, mature cheddar with homemade pickle and cucumber with dill cream cheese. Then there were the delightful sweet treats, featuring cakes (including a decadent mint-chocolate one), perfect macarons, a large strawberry & mango tart and chilled shot glasses filled with panna cotta topped with a fresh raspberry.
The test of a successful afternoon tea is in the scones and ours did not disappoint. Each stand included four freshly baked scones – two orange blossom with raisins and two plain – served with Cornish clotted cream and home grown strawberry jam.
Service was friendly and attentive throughout and it was no problem to take home the leftovers, which were nicely packed in a box.
Carriages isn’t just a place to have a good cream tea or afternoon tea, it’s an entire experience. It’s worth booking! It’s already quite popular so you need to reserve far in advance for a Saturday (shame they are closed on Sundays) but it may be easier to find a weekday slot. They’re open Tuesday to Saturday, 12:30pm to 5:30pm. Cambridgeshire is lucky to have such a special place so get on board!
The owners, managers or staff did not invite me to visit this establishment and were unaware that my experience would be the basis of a written review. It is based on my experience at my own cost and I did not receive compensation for my review.
Unless otherwise noted, I am the legal copyright holder of the content and images on this blog. Please contact me for permission if you wish to use, reprint or publish any material. Some of the photos in this post are courtesy of Paola Davies-Romano, Alison Lusis and Meggy Yip.