The instructions were precise. Please be at Coach Bay 40B on the Victoria Embankment 15 minutes before the departure time of 12.15. To allow contingency time for delayed trains, etc Clare and I agreed to get there well ahead of time.
We were; and consequently were there in time to watch, as almost to the second at 12 noon, a sleek dark grey double decker bus drew into the curb beside us. The passenger door opened, a young man leapt out, roped off an area of pavement, put down a black mat and welcomed us aboard the Bustronome.
We both love London, we both love meeting for lunch, we both love buses. But we had never before experienced anything like the Bustronome.
The Bustronome story
Bustronomes are actually a French idea, the brain child of Jean-Christophe Fournier and Bertrand Matthieu. The two men had been discussing pop-up restaurants and how good some of the food was, but what a shame there was rarely anywhere comfortable to sit to enjoy the meal.
Add to that the fact that they disliked spending too much time lingering over a meal when they wanted to be out and about exploring cities; the solution – a sight-seeing bus, and one that served quality meals and offered a fine-dining experience.
Bustronome has been introducing passengers who also enjoy good food to the scenic delights of Paris for some four years. Eighteen months ago the next step was to introduce it to London.
Inside the Bustronome
The top deck of this specially customised double decker bus, with its panoramic glass roof and windows, has been turned into a smart restaurant capable of seating 38 people at tables for two or four.
On the lower deck is the driver’s cabin, a cloakroom, a toilet and the galley kitchen. The kitchen has been skilfully designed and equipped with a small freezer for ice cream, an oven and a fridge plus everything else that a chef might need whilst cooking and plating up meals.
The bus has also been designed to be as energy efficient as possible.
A moveable feast!
Before we had boarded Clare and I had been discussing the logistics of keeping food and glasses steady on a moving vehicle.
(We had both decided not to wear white clothes for this lunch.)We needn’t have worried, clever place mats and special Perspex holders for wine and water glasses, plus audio pens, kept everything in place. The holders have also been designed to incorporate subtle lighting which comes on as required – it must look so pretty at night.
And an audio pen
Our other worry had been about the on-board commentary. We both know London history pretty well and the thought of being bombarded with a voice over commentary as we were trying to enjoy our lunch did not appeal.
Almost as soon as we had boarded and our lovely waiter Jerome had settled us at our table, he explained how to use an audio pen. ‘Point to which language you want to listen to’ – we had a choice of nine! We chose English. ‘When you want the commentary, point to the image that we are passing on the map’. Later as we passed St Paul’s cathedral, we switched on and pointed; as if by magic the pen gave us a comprehensive history of St Paul’s. Perfect.
We headed east with wine and canapes
Exactly on the dot of 12.15 our driver Claudio had inched the Bustronome out into the traffic heading east. We were on the lunchtime tour which includes a four-course meal. In the evening a longer and more leisurely meal is served, over a longer route.
A few minutes later Jerome was back serving the first of our two wines – a nice crisp Picpoul de Pinet, followed by slate platers bearing bread and excellent butter along with green olive tapenade canapes.
A four course lunch
Our starter comprised delicate slices of cured smoked eel and haddock along with heritage beetroot, cucumber pickle and lemon cream, the combination of flavours worked brilliantly.
It was good to see that the fish had come from Foreman’s, a company dating back to 1905 and London’s only surviving smoking and curing company. It is renowned for its smoked and cured fish.
The Picpoul, by now a happy memory, was replaced by another favourite, a Côtes du Rhône, that went beautifully with the very tasty garlic, rosemary and tomato cheesecake served with a splendid onion relish and our main course of ballotine of chicken stuffed with a lamb and tarragon mousse along with vegetables and a red wine sauce; the chicken the only hot dish of the lunch. We were full of admiration for Chef Dan working on his own in the kitchen cooking and plating up the dishes.
Coffee and dessert rounded off the meal, and indeed the tour. The dessert was a joy of deliciousness – blackberries and strawberries served trifle-style topped with white chocolate and with vanilla ice cream. We enjoyed all the meal, but our favourite courses – the fab savoury cheese cake and the terrific dessert.
As we got off the bus I popped into the galley to thank Dan; the surfaces had already been cleaned down and the kitchen was immaculate.
Clare and I agreed that it was a cleverly designed menu, and one that worked well with the constraints of a moving kitchen. The Bustronome has, as its Creative Director, French chef Vincent Thiessé renowned for his use of seasonal ingredients combined with subtle hints of herbs and spices.
The chef currently in charge of the day to day menu design is Olivier Ruiz and for afternoon tea, served between 15.00-16.45, Pascal Even. And of course the Bustronome has its own on-board chef working in the galley.
To the right, the left and over head
Whilst we had been eating Clare and I had also been enjoying the London sights – St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, the narrow streets of the City of London, the Tower of London. We were seated in the middle of the bus and we found the best views were to either side of us, but thanks to the glass roof we had dramatic views of the towers of Tower Bridge above us plus the new London sky scrapers like The Shard. Had our bus headed west we would have seen the likes of Piccadilly Circus, Harrods, the Royal Albert Hall, the South Kensington museums.
A great lunch on the move
Far too quickly we were back where we had started on the Embankment. Bearing in mind the cost of a restaurant lunch and the cost of an ordinary around London bus tour we thought the Bustronomome offered terrific value for money – the meal had been excellent and the service impeccable. It was a great experience and would make the most wonderful ‘experience’ gift.
Our very sincere thanks go to Claudio at the wheel, Dan in the kitchen, and our terrific waiter Jerome, for making our lunch and Bustronome journey so very memorable. We had enjoyed it so much, and with the menus changing seasonally, we shall be planning another Bustronomic tour of London.
Lunch: four-courses served 12.15 -14.00. Prices from £59pp
Afternoon tea runs from 15.00- 16.45, prices from £54pp.
Dinner: six courses served 19.15-22.00, prices from £95pp.
The set menus change seasonally, but some of the dishes might be modified slightly depending on what is fresh and available.
Special dietary restrictions or requests must be made at the time of booking, and should guests feel that they will require more wine than the menu allocation it too must be ordered in advance – the Bustronome does not have a licence for on-board alcohol sales.
A Christmas Bustronome
The Bustronome is also planning on making Christmas special too with a route taking in the sights and lights of London. There will be a festive menu – mulled wine, mince pies, duck, turkey, salmon; look out for the carol singers and Father Christmas might even be driving the bus.