Review of the surprisingly good James Martin food on Virgin East Coast – plus the new seat

This is my review of the brand new menu and relatively new seat in Virgin Trains East Coast First Class.

I had to dash up to York and back yesterday which gave me my first exposure to Virgin East Coast trains since the seating and catering was overhauled.

I went up on an InterCity 225 and came back on an InterCity 125 which was nearly as old as I am.  The 125 has the new Virgin East Coast First Class seating:

Virgin Trains East Coast new seat review

It was, well, new.  I’ve sat in different variants of this seat for 30 years now and there wasn’t anything revolutionary that Virgin could do with it.  I had no complaints though – it was big and comfortable.  None of your Eurostar-style thin seats here …..

Let’s talk about the food.  Note that the discussion below only applies to the Monday to Friday menu.  You will find the weekend offering less ambitious.

The new James Martin-designed menu launched around six weeks ago in First Class.  I found it very impressive indeed.

For a start, ‘proper’ food is always available.  British Airways – if we use that as a comparator – serves fairly lightweight mid-morning snacks and afternoon tea outside of main meal periods.  I am actually quite fond of the BA afternoon tea but I think I am in a minority.

Virgin East Coast serves a full menu all day.

Until 11am, you get breakfast.  This comprises:

Selection of bakery items (bread, croissant, cinnamon swirl, muffin) with bespoke preserves


Fresh fruit

plus either

A ‘full English’ of sausage, bacon, black pudding, mushroom, tomato and free-range egg


mushroom rarebit


a bacon roll


Greek yoghurt, toasted muesli and rhubarb and ginger compote


porridge with banana and maple syrup

That is a pretty good selection in my book.  However, I missed it as I was on the 11.08 outbound!

For the rest of the day, the options are:

Chicken and bacon caesar wrap 

Cheese Ploughman’s sandwich

Gourmet sausage roll

Vegetable tagine

Chicken curry with rice and a miniature naan bread 


Seville orange drizzle cake


fresh fruit

Some cold items are served from a trolley whilst others are brought to your table.  All hot food is brought to you.

On the outbound I had the curry.  The portion size wasn’t huge but it was hot and tasty.  The naan bread was also good.  See here:

Virgin Trains East Coast new menu food

Curry never photographs well!  However, I liked it so much that I had another portion on the return journey!  I also had half a wrap as they had some spare on the trolley – this was also very good.

There is also a long drinks menu.  Everything is free except for prosecco which is charged at £6, presumably for a mini-bottle.

All in all, I was impressed by the new menu.  If the price difference between Standard Class and First Class is under, say, £25 to York or Leeds then I would recommend it without hesitation.  For a journey to or from Scotland from London I would happily pay a larger premium.

Virgin has also changed the lounge access rules at Kings Cross.  ALL First Advance ticket holders can now go in for free as long as their ticket costs over £10.  In the GNER days First Advance ticket holders had to pay £5.  I didn’t have time to go but Anika is there later in the week and will hopefully be able to take a look for me.

You can find out more about the new menu on the East Coast website here.

Remember that you earn Virgin Flying Club miles or Nectar points if you book East Coast tickets via the official website.  Booking direct with Virgin is now the only way to get free wi-fi if travelling in Standard Class.

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  1. I had the curry too, but my naan was round.

    Yes it was quite nice but only about half the size of a proper meal. Though you can have more or less as many crisps and muffins as you like.

    Yes the seat is probably as good as it can be and spacious enough (usually the opposite seat is free if you choose wisely on the website). I wouldn’t pay £25 but at the times I book the 1st tickets are often cheaper than the standard. I’m prepared to pay maybe 33% more than the standard class price, although if a 1st ticket isn’t available at that level then the standard tickets are probably into the hundreds and I am more likely to fly or drive anyway

    • Raffles says:

      You are saving at least £10 on coffee and lunch, especially if you visit the lounge too. If you have a drink or two you are up to £15 saved, and that is before you price in the value of the far bigger seat and emptier carriage. Easily worth a £25 premium.

      • Yes well, I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t pay for coffee (except when my colleagues make me go to the canteen which serves real coffee for 90p), and I usually make lunch at home. The bigger and fewer seats are nice, but don’t actually have any value. I suppose I feel the same way about a J seat on a plane.

        I’m usually in 1st class on Virgin trains anyway though, I just never pay £25 for it :)

  2. Agree with you on all fronts Raffles! I had two wonderful first class journeys in June and was really impressed with the quality and taste of the food. Mushroom Rarebit on the way up and the vegetable tagine with couscous on the return journey.

    It is remarkably better than any other intercity operator in the UK for consistency throughout the day. On Virgin West Coast unless you’re traveling in the peaks you are stuck with cold food.

    I wonder if they will keep this offering when the new Azuma trains come in to replace the 125 & 225’s in the next few years.

    • I think the buffet cars are to be removed from the new GWR variant, and it is the same train.

      Just off to a meeting with the train manufacturer as it happens

    • My frustration with VWC is that I normally travel at the weekend, so only get the snack box and no booze instead of real food. If I do go on a weekday, it’s nice to get the bacon roll and G&T.

  3. Free wifi in standard if booking with Virgin – this just EC, or WC as well?

    • Genghis says:

      It seems to just be EC. You get an email after booking on EC with a wifi code

      • Definitely just EC. Travelled standard on WC last weekend and was disappointed to find they still don’t have free WiFi.

  4. I agree it’s worth a £25 premium. if you’re going all the way to Scotland you’ll get two meals, as they serve one each side of Newcastle (or they used to pre-Virgin; don’t see why that would have changed since the change).

    • If you go from London to Aberdeen you can get 3 meals! I had about 5 wraps and 10 muffins….

      I don’t think many people would do this route entirely by train though.

    • Unfortunately, this does seem to have changed. I travel this route regularly, and in the last few months I have no longer been offered more food after Newcastle.

      • That sounds strange and is not what I experienced twice in July.

        If you travel this route regularly then you know the crew changes there so they shouldn’t know if you’ve had food or not (maybe they write it down when you order? But you could switch seats…) And if you’re starting at Newcastle you’d be pretty unhappy not to get any food…

  5. It’s good they finally sorted the food out. I travelled up and down to Leeds each week for about a year and a half on the old EC then VTEC and at first Virgin actually made the food worst. This looks like back to when EC was first re-nationalised and I can remember getting roast lamb in first class. To contrast, when VTEC took over they were offering some nonsense plate of a couple of slices of cold meat, olives and a bap and trying to pass it off as a meal.

    Not quite enough to make me wish I was still travelling up to Leeds but definitely an improvement.

  6. Lucky you! I came back from Leeds first class on Sunday but due to staff shortages there was no cooked food, just sandwiches and crisps. Seat was fine as you say. More importantly both trips were on time!

    • Not sure you get any hot food on weekends?

      At least it’s better than West Coast’s abysmal weekend offering, yet there is no shortage of people paying £20+ to upgrade on the train

      • I am usually surprised how few people seem to upgrade at weekends. You see people in overcrowded Standard whilst First is pretty dead. Whilst some people may be sensitive over the extra £15 I doubt that many are too bothered – and you get some of it back just on free drinks.

        • Last few times I’ve travelled at weekends it’s a reduced offering, just sandwiches and crisps, no alcohol. Same price premium though.

          Has that changed?

          (I can’t imagine an airline offering a much reduced standard of first class at weekends!)

  7. Probably worth noting that the catering offered over the weekend is different to during the week. No hot food.

    • Genghis says:

      Or free booze

      • But they do offer a “Weekend first” upgrade for a flat £25 per part of journey so it’s a no brainer for me doing NCL->KGX at the weekend having bought the cheapest advanced you can…

  8. Agree the seats are better but it’s interesting to see that the curry and sausage roll are still on this week’s menu, that’s three weeks in a row of the same menu! I’ve had the curry 3 times now.

    • James67 says:

      IIRC it’s just the main dishes like the curry that changes so effectivelly less variation than the old menu.

  9. The only problem is when trains are busy and your journey doesn’t commence in London, then food items can run out. Virgin have pointed out that all food is ‘complimentary’ and not included as part of the ticket price. Therefore should Virgin under-estimate the numbers, you might end up with a very limited or even no choice, depending on the time of day (we’re talking afternoon Peterborough to Newcastle here) and seemingly no grounds for complaint!

    • James67 says:

      Yes, this is an issue but for those of us travelling on to EDB or north, we have option of further choice if we can wait until Newcastle where they can load more food.

  10. avioshunter says:

    Opps, looks like I’ve stumbled upon trainspotters for geeks! lol!!

  11. Free Wi-Fi in standard class is also available through TMCs, for those who’s company travel policies mandate booking via a TMC. You should get the code on the email confirmation.

  12. I’m a fan of BA afternoon tea too:)

  13. The_Real_A says:

    On the topic of James Martin meals, had one on Thomas Cook airlines to NYC last month. Its was outstanding, and this was in economy!

  14. Nick Moss says:

    OT: I want to refer my wife to a gold AMEX but can’t see an easy way on the website, can anyone help?
    Thank you!!

  15. OTT due to fly out of gatwick north in the morning should get to the no.1 lounge at 0645 should I be booking or at that time will I be ok?

  16. Andrew Stock says:

    Eurostar please take note!

    Last time I travelled Virgin from London to Wigan in first class on Christmas eve on departing Euston hot sausage baps were served with tea and coffee, then cakes and crisps with more tea and coffee. Then a cold wrap / salad with another cake and drinks service including alcohol.

    Not bad for a £30 one way fare Inc use of the lounge at Euston. Comp Tea, coffee, soft drinks, fruit, crisps and pastries.

  17. James67 says:

    I love EC, I now use it over BA for all trips to London and agree it’s great value when you can get a decent First Advance fare which is more often than not. That you can now access the KGX lounge on these tickets is a big plus too although it would be great if they could improve the food offering just a little. The new menus are fine but I liked better the predecessor which was more varied and depended less on snack items. The problem with the new menu rotations is that they are dominted by options containing cheese and it is sometimes difficult to avoid them so it can be a problem for those with intolerance like me. On one such occasion I had to settle for the sausage roll only to be pleasantly surprised by the quality, it is an item I almost never eat. I think the lesson BA could take here is that it is quality not the quantity of the food that is important, but alas BA now fall short in both respects.

  18. I am waiting for the La Compagnie review from Anika.
    The review is maybe planned for tomorrow.

    The London service may be stopped according to this tweet:
    I write the comment not to forget the link for the tweet.

    The JDD is the Journal du dimanche. I have not checked the JDD.

    • Not tomorrow, holding all her NY stuff back until the start of my holidays so another 10 days. Ignoring the cost issue, she was not overwhelmed.

  19. McSalty says:

    They also have an app that allows you to stream a selection if films (mostly ‘Classics’ though) to you ipad or iphone, maybe Androids too.

  20. barnaby100 says:

    As someone who lives on EC trains I am not overly impressed with the changes in the past 2 years. The 1st class prices are at least a third more than before it was re-franchised.

    In 4/5 journeys in past 2 weeks there has been no electricity in L and on the other no aircon in K. At least 3 times in the past month there has been no breakfast due to staff shortages and twice no evening meal due to staff shortages.

    The difference in 1st to 2nd is rarely as little as £25 (although oddly on a rare occasion 1st can be cheaper) it is usually closer to about £70 different on a peak fare in or out of London heading to Yorkshire.

    The leeds line is much better than the york line as many york trains are heading north but they almost terminate in leeds (exceptions 1 a dayish to skipton, Harrogate etc)

    The wonderful east coast rewards is gone- now you get a paltry number virgin miles.

    The new Kings Cross lounge is dire. It is too small. The customers tend to be older but cant sit on the trendy furniture. The furniture is already badly stained and some is torn. The chargers don’t work despite only being a few months old. There is a stupid massage service that is in the business section for some odd reason- thats a new addition- hopefully a passing fad.Only the staff seem to partake of the massage!

    They have limited time you can spend in the lounge at certain times of the week to 2 hours. Have to say that after many years my ticket is never checked but they made my husband wait for 7 minutes before he could go in- he just left and hasn’t been back since.

    The Kings Cross loos are lovely. Most of the staff are the same and most are great (some have been in lounge 10 years I think). You get prosecco on a Friday.

    The sausage roll on the train is 1 of lifes mysteries. It can be quite good but I have also had one that was as hard as rock and several that were soggy(probably had about 20 by now which indicates that a menu change is needed) . The cheese remains great- often the same cheese as BA 1st.

    The evening meal is much worse than it was before the new menu when they had some really great rotations. Guinea fowl, lamb, beef. Cant remember what I have had recently- some chicken thing which was not a patch on the old food and much smaller portions. Plus at least twice the dinner was unavailable due to staff shortages.

    So EC is probably a nice change if you only go occasionally but to those who remember the old dinner trains of pre 2011? or even the dinner service of only few months ago it is a feeble shadow.

    • James67 says:

      Barnaby claim for the air conditioning. I got 3 full refunds for this last summer. Some interesting comments, I too got the feeling fares were higher but don’the use it often enough to know. Fortunately, I have not so far received lack of service due to staff shortages but I have come across increasing surliness amongst staff of late and wonder if they have a morale issue in the company

      • On KGX->NCL now. Made the mistake of sitting in coach M (nearest the back). By the time the trolley reached me, “chicken curry, rice and miniature naan” had become “chicken curry in a bowl, if we can find one”. What was received was ptifully small, so overheated it had splashed up the sides of the bowl, and distinctly lonely. I was told they’d supplement with a wrap, but then they forgot and subsequently denied they’d offered! They didn’t bother to offer snacks for some reason. Then drinks arrived – warmish can of diet coke, and no ice (that had also run out between buffet car and me). No offer to go and get ice, and distinctly surly as per James67’s comment. I travel every week with them (and have done so for years under the various different operators), albeit normally in standard class unless first is a good deal, and have to say that the previous almost infectious enthusiasm of staff does indeed seem to be on the wane. I have previously been very complimentary about the first class service and food offerings. Today I even overhead one staff member complain to one of the others that she was immediately starting food service again having arrived at the end of the train – seems there was an assumption that they’d be a healthy hiatus!
        Another passenger complained about the food, and was given a small bottle of prosecco, and I overhead a comment to her from staff that food running out was a recurring issue on the services which stop more frequently (which the 14:30 from Kings Cross does) due to volume of passengers joining within an hour of Kings Cross.
        I realise this is all first world problem stuff (!), but I didn’t load up on lunchtime sandwiches at the station as I was looking forward to being fed, and I get grumpy when hungry!

        • I’ve always ended up going for a seat in the buffet car if possible, especially on shorter journeys, as a way of guaranteeing I’ll be served in time!

  21. I’m not sure I understand the comparison Raffles is making to BA food – surely the only routes that VEC competes with BA on are the flights to Leeds-Bradford, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen and on those all BA offers (after breakfast time) is a drink and a biscuit, bag of crisps or nuts. The comparison to afternoon tea seems irrelevant to me.

    On the other hand I got a VEC train yesterday in first and had a really nice cooked breakfast. Agree with the comments up the thread on the sausage roll though….

    • The comparison is because readers of this site know what BA food is like, and if I say something is better or worse than BA food it provides a benchmark. It has nothing to do with a route by route comparator.



    Virgin Trains East Coast new menu and seat review