All aboard the gourmet food train headed through the gorgeous Douro valley! The Presidential offers a blend of delicious food and divine wines all enjoyed during an unforgettable journey through Portugal’s most famous wine region. Operating for only two seasons a year, during Spring as the grapes begin to ripen and a Harvest edition during Autumn this is an experience not to be missed.
On arrival at Porto Sao Bento station (a stunning place in itself) you are led on board and your cabin awaits. Relax on this former Royal train reminiscing of past journeys where Kings, Presidents and Popes enjoyed a glass of port or two before you! Speaking of port your hands will soon be holding a chilled glass of Niepoort’s white port as you eagerly await the feast ahead.
The special guest onboard each journey is your guest chef for the afternoon. We were lucky enough to taste delights created by Ljubomir Stanisic, executive chef of famous Lisbon restaurant 100 Maneiras and an expert in Portuguese gastronomy.
You won’t even need to leave your cabin for your tastebuds to start their own journey. A selection of exquisite amuse-bouche, dubbed ‘Take Off’ are served directly to your seat. Our selection of amuse-bouche included vine leaves painted with cheese and a touch of wasabi (yum), mini ice cream cones filled with goats cheese and cured trout and red mullet served with sardine paté.
As the train speeds full steam ahead East out of the city and towards the winding valleys of the Douro region, you will be invited through to the dining carriage for the main event.
Each chef invited aboard creates their own menu with their personal story shining through their dishes. Stanisic’s ‘Railway Menu’ followed his culinary career from his humble beginnings in Bosnia through to his successful restaurant in Portugal. Each dish is presented as a journey as our journey through the Douro progressed.
We started our journey with a selection of traditional Bosnian tastes, exploring Stanisic’s childhood. Lepinja, a traditional flatbread, was served with Ajvar (a red pepper condiment), Mileram (a type of sour cream) and Pasteta (a chicken liver pate) – all very delicious! A Bosnian vegetable garden also accompanied the appetiser complete with a bed of ‘soil’.
Alongside your meal you can enjoy a selection of Niepoort wines, all of which perfectly align with Portuguese cuisine. Naturally the first dish is served with bubbles, a fresh and floral Espumante Agua Viva 2013 that I couldn’t get enough of!
Being lovers of Italian cooking we were excited that Stanisic’s journey took us to Italy with our next dish. The burrata served with a ricotta foam and fake tomatoes (Heston Blumenthal eat your heart out!) really hit the spot! Our wine for this course was a 2016 Olo, a zesty blend of four local grapes from the Vinho Verde region, an easy drinking white.
Continuing on Stanisic’s journey through Italy and France, next we enjoyed a beautifully delicate shrimp served with chestnuts, fennel and truffle. The sweet and earthy flavours were perfectly balanced creating quite the flavour sensation.
Turning to a classic Portuguese dish next on the menu we were served sardines with tomatoes. Although not usually a fan of oily fish, I found that this classic pairing of salt and sweetness worked quite well.
Now was the course we had been waiting for, a delicious pigeon breast, cooked beautifully rare and stuffed with foie gras, served with pigeon leg, pine nuts and red berries. This dish proved to be the highlight of our ‘journey’, paired with a rich Conciso Tinto from the Dao region matching the depth of the pigeon’s flavour.
With our stomach’s nearly full we neared the end of our feast with a Brazilian pre-dessert followed by a Portuguese cheesecake, both paired with a fruity late bottled vintage port.
Travelling deeper into the Douro valley, civilisation begins to melt away as you finish your ‘Railway Menu’ with a selection of sweet treats. From beetroot marshmallows and passionfruit macarons to chocolatey goodies there is a treat (or several) to suit all palates.
Although your delicious meal is over, new excitements await as you approach your final stop. Nestled amongst the rolling hills beside the meandering Douro river sits Quinta do Vesuvio, the Symington family’s private estate. You’ll be grateful that the wander from the station, through the vineyards, to the Quinta is only a short one after that feast!
An incredible selection of Symington tipples are ready for your enjoyment within the strikingly beautiful farmhouse and gardens. Bask in the Autumn sunshine and serene riverside setting, sipping port amongst the vines.
After a moments relaxation join Gonçalo and take a sneak peek behind the scenes to see the heart of the winemaking operations. At Quinta do Vesuvio everything is still done in the traditional method, including pressing the grapes by foot!
As our visit fell shortly after the 2017 Harvest season we were treated to a taste of the freshly barrelled Port – sticky and unrefined but still delicious.
With our mini-tour complete there’s time for one more glass of Graham’s 20 year old tawny, before strolling back towards the station.
Sadly it’s soon time to re-board The Presidential and head back to Porto! There’s no need to drown your sorrows just yet as several surprises await you on your return journey. Wander along to the lounge car where you can sip a glass of wine or tipple of your choice and enjoy live piano music.
As the light fades and the picture perfect Douro hills disappear from view there are yet more delights for your tastebuds. Relax with a platter of delicious cured meats, cheese and traditional tinned fish as you slowly make your way back to reality.
On arrival back to where your adventure began at Sao Bento station there’s just one surprise left – a fabulous goodie bag! Filled with ports you can savour whilst reminiscing on your journey and a book filled with personalised memories, every detail of your day has been carefully thought out.
Find Out More…
The Presidential – http://www.thepresidentialtrain.com