Friday, 4 August 2017

James Bond and railway station restaurants

We know from Goldfinger and the short story ‘From a View to a Kill’ that James Bond is rather partial to the hotels and restaurants of French railway stations.
 

In Goldfinger, while driving through Orleans in pursuit of the eponymous villain, Bond decides to stop at the Hotel de la Gare and eat at the station buffet. Bond tends to choose the station hotels, we’re told. They were adequate, and ‘it was better than even chances that the Buffet de la Gare would be excellent.’ Just as Bond expects, he finds his room cheap and comfortable, and he is able to eat one of his favourite meals – oeufs cocotte à la crème and sole meunière – in the restaurant.
 

Even in Paris, Bond opts for the station hotel. In ‘From a View to a Kill’, Bond stays at the Terminus Nord opposite the Gare du Nord, which we’re told is the least pretentious and most anonymous of the station hotels in the city, although on this occasion, he decides to eat out.
 
Bond's hotel in 'From a View to a Kill'
James Bond would find a kindred spirit in Walter Hillyard, a character in the 1961 espionage novel, The Arena, by William Haggard. While waiting at Paris’s Gare de Lyon to board a sleeper train destined for Milan, Hillyard visits the station restaurant and orders ‘the set dinner unhesitatingly.’ He reflects that ‘you could eat much better at the Gare de Lyon than at many more famous restaurants,’ adding that there was less fuss in the service too. We’re not told what Hillyard eats, but he orders a bottle of Beaujolais, ‘confident that here at least the label wouldn’t be lying.’
 

Such views are probably all that Bond and Hillyard have in common. Hillyard is a City banker, and is unaware that there is a plot to murder him on the train. There is, however, more of a Bond figure in Major Mortimer, a British secret service agent who’s been keeping an eye on the situation and might just be able to save the day.
 

Is it still the case that station restaurants in France are the best? Was it ever the case? Of course, I can’t comment on all stations, but I can certainly vouch for the restaurant attached to the Gare d’Agen in southwest France, where I once had a superb meal of foie gras mi-cuit and steak tartare. You wouldn’t get that in the chain restaurants and sticky-carpeted pubs typically found in English railway stations. As Walter Hillyard says, ‘nobody in their senses would eat at an English terminus at all.’

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