WHEN settling down for lunch on a long-haul train trip, most people are probably expecting dry pre-packed sandwiches, or a squashed sticky muesli bar, rescued from the depths of their bag.
But a plate brimming with fresh and colourful local produce? Fine dining options that range from snapper, to steaks, to quinoa salads?
That just seems crazy.
Not so on Great Southern Rail trains – The Ghan and Indian Pacific.
In fact the latter, which winds across the country from Perth to Sydney and vice versa, has gone so far as to whet passenger appetites with a Food & Wine train.
In the second half of 2015, the Indian Pacific Food & Wine Train will chug across the country again, bursting with local produce, new ingredients and a foodie focus.
So while you’re watching eagles soar across the arid Nullarbor after a stop at Kalgoorlie, or gaze at stretching kangaroos and mountain ranges in NSW, you can also be savouring some of the best food from the area.
For chef Jenny Taylor, who’s worked in the South Australian kitchens of Stella Restaurant at Henley Beach and 1918 Bistro & Grill in the Barossa Valley, it was a pleasant surprise to see just how seasonally driven the food on the Indian Pacific is.
‘‘When we go through Port Augusta or we go over some section of land we try to get the produce from that area so there’s a story behind everything we eat,’’ she said.
So the grilled Southern Bluefin Tuna on the menu is sourced from Port Lincoln, the chook in the tarragon chicken galantine is from South Australia, and if you choose the cheese plate for dessert, you’ll be getting one from every state – a Hunter Belle Blue Moon, Alexandrina Mt Jagged cheddar and Margaret River brie.
Mouth watering yet?
The guy who dreams up the train’s tantalising menus is Chef de Partie Joseph Cobiac, who says it all starts with the produce.
The trick is not getting too carried away.
‘‘Let those flavours do the talking,’’ he said.
And when it comes time for the Food & Wine train to roll in (and out) of town, the chefs really get to have some fun – because they’re not the only ones bringing something to the table.
On the inaugural trip, celebrity chefs Adam Liaw and Mark Olive were on board for the ride and Cobiac says it really injected a burst of enthusiasm into the kitchen.
Not just there, but in the dining car too.
Passengers feasted on menus designed by the famous chefs, with highlights including Liaw’s lamb loin and shoulder with black vinegar honey, which was fall-apart tender.
Meanwhile Olive got the taste buds tingling through a platter piled high with delicious smoked meats of the native variety – emu, crocodile and barramundi.
Taylor says there are many different options to cater to everyone’s tastes.
‘‘[Someone once told me] being on here gives you the chance to try something you wouldn’t order off a normal menu,’’ she said.
‘‘It broadens their horizons.’’
And probably your waistline a little bit too, with all food and wine included on the four-day journey for platinum and gold ticket-holders (red service has a different dining area and menu). But as the train puffs to your final stop, regardless of what you chose to do or eat, you know the Food & Wine train is definitely an indulgent treat.
The Indian Pacific Food & Wine train will return in the second half of 2015. Exact dates are yet to be confirmed but keep an eye on the website for dates and prices (greatsouthernrail.com.au).