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Review: the new James Martin food on Virgin East Coast – plus the new First Class seat

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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.

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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(Want to earn more Virgin Points?  Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

Comments (50)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • 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.

  • Bob says:

    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.

    • Rob says:

      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.

      • Bob says:

        Ahh 10 more days!

        Thanks Rob.

        That will be very interesting to read her feedback.

  • 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.

  • 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

      • joelyp says:

        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!

        • Alan says:

          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!

  • Seat1C says:

    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….

    • Rob says:

      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.

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