New ‘Interludes’ package aims to give guests one-of-a-kind experiences – Claire Dodd checks out Eurostar’s latest culinary offering
Having to be rescued from the loo by one of Paris’s top chefs isn’t an ideal way to end an evening. But when the door handle breaks, and you’re being hosted in the chef’s own home, your options are limited.
Eurostar had promised me an intimate and unique weekend of surprises and exclusive culinary experiences. And I guess this fits the bill.
I’m in Paris to try the Channel operator’s new experiential trips. Named Interludes, the 36-hour city break packages are the company’s answer to growing demand from travellers for curated, exclusive and, dare I say it, Instagrammable travel experiences. And guests on this, the inaugural trip, are indeed made up of a significant number of social media “influencers”.
But the intricately planned trips are also intended to quite literally open doors for travellers, allowing them to experience the city in a way only locals usually can. And this, the first trip, is themed entirely around food.
“With Interludes, we’re bringing people and cultures together,” says Guillemette Jacob, head of marketing and brand for Eurostar. “[The trips are] designed to appeal to travellers with a sense of spontaneity and adventure who want to relish the opportunity to dine with Parisian chefs, connect with fellow travellers and mingle with locals.”
What exactly that entails is left a deliberate mystery. While the theme of the trip – in this case gastronomy – is known, the finer details, from where you’ll be staying to what food you’ll be sampling, are kept a secret right up until you board at St Pancras International. Other themed trips and destinations will be added when the packages fully launch in 2018.
Skipping the long lines to check in at the Business Premier desk, guests travel in specially reserved private coaches, with special events planned for the journey. Sure enough, when I board the 8.31am service, there’s a shiny gold envelope waiting for me on my seat.
Eagerly tearing it open I learn that I’ve got priority passes to the “Beyond the Stars” exhibition of landscape paintings at the Musée d’Orsay. The next card reveals I’ll be staying at the Hôtel Providence. Located near the Place de la République and featuring a mix of vintage furniture and pieces by the House of Hackney, it’s described as what you’d get if you crossed Studio 54 with an opulent 19th-century château. Not bad.
Bearing detailed instructions to arrive at a private address at the city later that night, the final card reveals the highlight of the trip is to be a private dinner with fellow foodies, held in a Parisian home and hosted by a top chef. While others on the trip will be cooked for, by and at the homes of Bertrand Grébaut, Taku Sekine and Giovanni Passerini, I’ll be dining with Michelin-starred chef Sven Chartier.
I better save some room. As four chefs enter the carriage to introduce the breakfast menu they’ll be preparing as we speed towards the continent, it becomes clear this is going to be a weekend of gluttony.
Moko Hirayama and Omar Koreitem from Mokonuts in Paris and Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich from Honey & Co in London are on board to cook for us. And the menu is, quite frankly, decadent. Devouring a mezze selection of broad bean hummus, roasted peppers, a savoury cheese cake with roasted vegetables, some orange blossom tea and saffron and lemon cream with rose scented raspberries, I also snaffle a miso and sesame cookie and a Fitzrovia sticky bun with sour cherries for later.
Arriving into Paris by noon, I’ve all day to explore. And I’m armed with a special city guide from Eurostar – again, intended to give travellers a local’s view of the city, it’s full of tips for boutiques to seek out souvenirs, the best bars, spots to soak up a bit of culture, and places to linger over lunch. But with the sun beating down, it seems most appropriate to do what the Parisians are doing and bask by the Seine.
The evening draws in fast, and having been a tourist in Paris a number of times, it feels special to have an invite to someone’s home. Following the directions, I find myself ringing the buzzer of an apartment overlooking the Jardin du Palais-Royal. As the sun pours in across the parquet floors, laughter and chatter from those lingering in the gardens makes its way through the vast windows. Here, Chartier takes time out of the kitchen to welcome us. The table is laid out with dried hydrangeas.
From the reputations of his two Parisian restaurants, Saturne and Clown Bar, I’m expecting big things. “It’s interesting to do an event outside of the restaurant,” he tells me. “This is really enjoyable. It’s a challenge to make it as well as in the restaurant, so it’s fun.”
Sticking with dishes from Saturne, we’re treated to eight courses, all paired with a wine (natural and chemical-free as per the restaurant’s philosophy). Beef tacos served in a shell of dehydrated orange; a strawberry and almond salad followed by blue lobster served with spring potatoes, egg yolk and summer truffle; and turbot with fava beans and a garnish of lemon verbena all follow. To finish, there’s salted cacao, served with black fennel. Our chef introduces each dish and it feels like a very special privilege.
And after being liberated from the bathroom by the man of the moment, it’s time to head back (slightly red-faced) to the hotel. And when your room has a full bar, complete with an array of designer copper bar tools, it would be rude not to make oneself a cocktail before bed.
Eurostar’s Interludes trips are launching with a competition that will see 50 handpicked travellers from London join a gastronomic-themed break to Paris in November. The competition is open from 20 September. Enter by visiting interludes.eurostar.com.