Restaurant Review: Take A Culinary Trip with the Atlantic Express Train Restaurant, Cape Town

Earlier this month, one of my closest friends treated me to a carefully planned (she may even have been done a restaurant poll…) all-expenses-paid (at least, by her…) ‘girls day out’ at a truly unique and very charming restaurant, located just outside the Mother City’s epicentre… enter, Atlanic Express Train Restaurant.

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Having one remaining day off from uni., in the midst of our frantic final test week, she wanted to spoil me once more before I was to head back home two days later for our three-month holiday… As such, we eagerly travelled quite bright and early to Sea Point, with our intended destination kept a surprise from me until just before we arrived in Sea Point’s famously busy Regent Road where the traffic never stops.

Stepping out into the dappled sunshine and crisp, sea-salt-tinged air, I encountered a familiar sight in the unforgettable ‘Blue Train’ Restaurant… My friend was worried I might not like the place but I think all her previously held fears were instantly dispelled when I literally cooed at the quaint and timeless looking actual blue-and-white train carriage, a real grand old ‘dame’, standing tall and proud a few metres away from us.

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I have seen the train in the past when I’ve driven through the area and we had both heard good reports about it but I never thought I would get to dine there myself!

I instantly whipped out my smartphone and she patiently waited on the busy street while I snapped photos, hoping to use them for a later review, which she also kindly had in mind, knowing how much I love to review and visit new places for my travel blog and just generally, to placate my insatiable wanderlust.

Eventually, after I had admired every street-side inch of the well-known Atlanic Express Train Restaurant, including the golden writing, symbols and outside menu painted on its navy flank, we finally stepped inside the literal former S.A. Railways carriage.

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Inside the snug interior (which we had solely to ourselves during our entire brunch visit, with the exception of one couple), you find yourself automatically transported into a luxury, previously first-class coach, with only a few out-of-the-ordinary features such as the small kitchen right at the end of the carriage (the bathrooms are also somewhere down that end but we never used them) and the carefully set tables or cake holders giving evidence to the slight twist in the plot… And what a great one it is too!

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I have only been on a train twice before when I caught the Metrorail to and from the Cape Town Stadium for my FIFA World Cup 2010 match experience so having the unique chance to enjoy being in a real, luxury train coach (albeit a stationary one…), with the prospect of a great meal to come, was certainly an instant drawcard for me personally and truthfully, I instantly fell in love with its old-school elegance and beautifully maintained coach.

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After my taking yet more photos, we finally eased ourselves down into the comfy, plush blue velvet seats opposite each other and took a moment to enjoy staring out our window panes at the street ‘below’ us.

Although one remains subonsciously aware of the fact that you are in a stationary carriage in the middle of one of Cape Town’s busiest suburbs, the real charm of this unusual little restaurant is that, for a moment in time, when you become engrossed in your food or companion(s), it is terribly easy to imagine yourself anywhere in the world, enjoying a train trip to some other place and what’s more, the sights and sounds of the street, despite the open door, take a firm backseat as the fine, polished wood and comfortable carriage surroundings draw you in and protectively shelter you from the outside world.

It would be remiss of me to continue any further without sharing the background history of this most charming, wonderfully restored place, which, according to the restaurant’s laminated blue-and-white menu and popular word of mouth in the city, is a “prominent landmark and highly successful restaurant situated in Sea Point’s busy Regent Road.”

The carriage itself – wherein the restaurant has been located since the 1980s, changing hands before finally uniting with present-day owner, Mr Showket Sonday (who maintains an unobtrusive, yet pleasantly welcoming presence) – was first manufactured in England by the Birmingham Carriage and Wagon Company in the early 20th century.

Upon its arrival on South African shores, the carriage was assembled at the S.A. Railways’s Salt River works before officially being placed under service on December 4th, 1920.

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After which time, this particular coach known as ‘L14’, which was one of ten, operated mainly on the Cape Town main line.

The ‘L’ indicates that it served as a luxury, first-class coach, whilst the ’14’ reveals that its style was upgraded fourteen times in the past to reach its present ‘state’.

Then, some sixty years after it was first commissioned into service, this part of the Atlantic Express Train opened its doors as a restaurant, serving “attractively presented meals to the public of Cape Town,” and building up a steady following among Cape Town residents and visitors alike in the process.

Today, the popular, famous landmark is fully Halaal and “serves only the finest cuisine to a broader audience,” offering food for every palate, including Western, Eastern and vegetarian.

What’s more, aside from a good and rather wide selection of breakfasts, starters, salads, (toasted) sandwiches, light-, seafood/fish-, chicken- and beef-based meals, as well as hot and/or cold beverages and tasty-looking desserts (their pancakes are particularly well-loved and quite famous), the Atlantic Express Restaurant – otherwise fondly referred to as the ‘Blue Train Restaurant’ – also caters for special events, functions and picnics.

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(The Atlantic picnics – with an optional basket for R70 – must be ordered one day in advance to allow for timely preparation and include the following options: the Gourmet Picnic for 3 (R249), Chefs Gourmet Picnic for 2 (R299) and the Snack Box option (R79), all of which sound positively great! This is definitely something I’d personally love to try in the future. For additional info., please see their menu or website.)

Something else that I really liked about the place is that its staff (our waitress was extremely patient, especially considering that she had to deal with possibly two of the most indecisive orderers on the planet… Though I am pleased to say for once I was able to reach my decision first. :P) are unobtrusive, yet instantly present whenever you need them.

Furthermore, the tables are clean, yet unfussy and basically furnished, keeping with the train coach vibe and although the passageway inside is quite narrow and the coach isn’t huge, it is spacious enough and the comfy seating is certainly far from cramped. We had ample leg room too and although we kept our handbags on our seats, we did make note of the luggage compartments above each table… I am sure you could safely and easily store your paraphernalia there whilst enjoying your meal.

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I also liked that the windows (we both took a window seat as we chose to sit on the right side, otherwise you are against the wall and further from the windows) are kept clean so you can easily see out if you so choose as you enjoy your pretend train ride.

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The restaurant would undoubtedly charms its adult visitors and although I am sure kiddies would love being able to experience a proper train coach, I have a feeling it might be hard to keep younger children sitting still… I’m glad we were virtually the only ones there, as I am sure the restaurant gets very busy at night and on weekends and it could feel slightly claustrophic for some when crowded. If you are someone who likes to be “far from the maddening crowd” as they say, it would be best to visit this delightful restaurant at a quieter, less busy time of day or night.

It has very flexible and great opening times throughout the entire week, as it is open from 7h45 till 23h30, Mondays to Thursdays.

On Fridays, whilst the same is true, it is closed briefly between 12h45 and 13h45, after which time its door(s) re-open until 23h30.

However, on weekends, it is open from 7h45 until 12:00 p.m.

The only thing that I felt lets the place down somewhat are the rather basic menus. They are certainly adequate but they do not prepare you for the generous portions and the visually wonderful food that arrives at your table a short time later… The food looks and tastes really, really good and I felt that, though the menu’s descriptions are spot on, the occasional accompanying photos don’t do either the cuisine or beverages the justice they deserve but this is just my personal feeling on the matter, rather than an outright critique.

When it came to ordering my meal, which read “chicken and macon with mozzarella (toasted sandwiches)” in the menu, I asked the waitress whether this was your traditional chicken mayo. version (my friend ordered the standard “chicken mayo.“) and yes, it is and a tasty recipe at that! Also, I found the macon* to be a happy bonus.

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(*This is fried beef, which mainly Muslim and Jewish people enjoy as a convincing substitute for bacon, due to religious reasons. It honestly tastes a lo like bacon too, though it is perhaps slightly less salty and crispy.)

We also ordered a medium plate of French fries (the best I have had recently… They were perfectly salted and were crisp without being overly oily, kind of like oven-baked chips), which we shared. I can’t recall what these came to but if you want chips with your sandwiches, ask as only some of the options include chips; obviously, neither of our orders included them.

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My four, excellent toasted (really great wholewheat) sandwiches, which were stuffed to full capacity with chunky chicken mayo. and accompanying macon pieces, and lots of yummy, melted mozzarella cheese, cost R45, whilst my friend’s equally full and yummy-looking toasted quartet cost R32.

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We settled upon hot beverages as the day wasn’t particularly warm. I opted for the delicious and oh-so-wonderfully creamy “Hot Chocolate with Cream” for R21, whilst she ordered a R19 Chococcino.

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The meals and my dreamy drink didn’t take long to reach our table after we ordered but we did have to wait slightly longer for my friend’s drink to arrive. Not that this really mattered, as both drinks arrived on our table piping hot.

Whilst we waited for our orders, we took  few photos (or ‘selfies’) together. The owner walked past and jokingly said we should take photos after our meal as we’d look better once we’d eaten the good food…

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Since both of us could barely breathe, let alone move properly, after our decidedly filling meals, I am inclined to think the opposite is true but the meals were more than photogenic enough and I really loved photographing our orders! 🙂 Hopefully my photos have captured some of the meal’s quality and wholesomeness.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and was extremely blessed to be treated to such a tasty, great meal and accompanying drink, which is a new favourite of mine… The thick cream was a big hit with me and I imagine it’s a bit like the clotted cream people enjoy with their coffee and tea both here and overseas apparently.

All-in-all, my toasted chicken, macon and mozzarella sandwiches, which were perfectly toasted and served on a nice, spacious white plate, as were our fries, with dark red cayenne pepper (something else I really like now) sprinkled artfully around the edges, with a nice fresh lettuce, tomato and cucumber garnish to round of the simple, yet elegant presentation, easily deserve a 8/10 rating.

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As for my drink (it was nice and sweet, so I only added one brown sugar sachet but some might like it more/less sweet, so take a sip to test before adding additional sugar), it was presented in a good-sized glass mug (as was my friend’s), placed atop a side-plate with a stirring spoon. It was literally overflowing with yummy, fresh whipped cream – which had been sprinkled generously with cocoa powder – thus, concealing the hot chocolate found some way beneath. I really liked it and would give it a 9/10 rating for novelty.

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Both my friend’s meal and drink looked very good too and when I asked her to rate them, she gave her chicken mayo. toasted sandwiches a 7/10 rating and her drink a 6/10 rating but she appeared to enjoy both.

As for our accompanying fries, I personally give those an 8/10 rating too.

We had really wanted to try the rather decadent and tempting sounding chocolate brownie dessert option but honestly, we were simply too full even to share it so I suggested we head down to the Sea Point Promenade and walk it off, with the option of returning later… Sadly, we got a bit lost after wandering along the tempestuous, oceanic promenade and beach front but maybe someday we’ll head back to the excellent Atlantic Express/Blue Train Restaurant to make up for our missed opportunity.

(Note: You can pay by cash or card.)

Overall, this charming little restaurant gets a well-deserved 9/10 overall rating for the following: good food and drinks (with generous quantities and nice presentation), fair prices, which are not as outlandishly expensive as some eat-out places or even cafes in Cape Town can be, a sound and varied menu to choose from, good staff and pleasant service, a nice position in the most central (and thus, the safest) area of busy Sea Point, with close proximity to the crashing ocean and lengthy promenade, which certainly counts in its favour in my seaside-lovin’ opinion, for a cosy and well-kept interior (and exterior) and an all-round unique and characteristic venue!

After that, we did indeed make our way to the seaside Promenade, where we “took it back to the beach” by spending ages walking along ‘Sunset Beach’ collecting seashells, mistakenly stalking a fake ‘celebrity’, taking fun photos and just generally having a truly unforgettable and special time together…

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This was certainly a happy and great end to my 2015 stay in the Mother City and my friend couldn’t have picked a better place for us to enjoy our last meal together for this academic year than the Atlantic Express Train!
I loved every minute there and didn’t walk away with one complaint so I can really recommend this well-known, and equally well-loved, restaurant! 🙂

Many thanks to the Atlantic Express Train Restaurant’s owner and staff for making our time there so enjoyable and to their menu/boards for the additional info. cited in this post – and secondly, above all, to my dearest friend and CPUT Journalism classmate, Aaqeelah, for treating me to such a tasty, fun and unforgettable experience there! 🙂

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For more info. on the Atlantic Express Train Restaurant, you can contact Mr Showket Sonday via email at: showketsonday@gmail.com or call him on: + 27 (071) 134 2134.

Alternatively, you can check out their website for additional info./the menu (which is downloadable as a PDF, I think) using the following link: http://trainrestaurant.mycylex.com, find and follow their Facebook page at: ‘Atlantic Express Train Restaurant’ or visit them in the flesh at: 18 Regent Road, Sea Point, Cape Town.

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Author: Tamlyn Amber Ryan

Tamlyn Ryan is a writer and blogger, who runs her own travel blog, called Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust. Despite a national diploma in Journalism, her preferred niche remains travel writing. She is a hopeless wanderer, equipped with an endless passion for road trips, carefully planned, holiday itineraries and above all else, the great outdoors.

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