I feel like a diva from the 60’s, in my pearls and red lipstick, all ready to climb aboard the little red choo choo train cabin that sits in the backyard of the Heritance Tea Factory, called the TCK 6685, and I couldn’t be more excited!
I have to give you a tad bit of history before we begin this exciting gourmet adventure, so that you too can appreciate the magic of the TCK 6685. So what was the TCK 6685? Well, this was simply the name of the third class carriage of the light railway line which ran from Kandapola to Nuwara Eliya, through the same track which now sits in the backyard of the Heritance Tea Factory.
Known as the “Gini Petti Kochchiya”, or “Matchbox Toy Train, this train ran through stunning cultivated tea plantations and forests and gave its passengers a jerky view of these vistas, for ten years from 1940 to 1950, when it was completely closed down.
But not quite – the Heritance Tea Factory at Kandapola gives its clientele the “nostalgic simulation of yesteryears” – they had the ingenious idea of converting one of the carriages of the toy train sitting on its small gauge rails into a gourmet restaurant! What creativity! Situated at an elevation of 6500 ft², this makes the TCK 6685 a restaurant situated at the highest elevation in Sri Lanka. A little snippet of info here – there is only one seating a night and only 4 booths available in this toy train, so if you wish to experience the gini petti kochchiya it is advisable to book your table as soon as you check into the hotel.
I step aboard the train, helped up by the steward Mr. Pushparaja, in his rail guards uniform and liveried gloves. As I always do, I checked out reviews of this restaurant on TripAdvisor, and a comment made by one writer stands out – Mr P was described to be as “mad as a hatter” however I beg to differ, I was very charmed by his hospitality and zeal for his job – which was to transport us into the jerky days of the toy train and make the evening memorable for us, which I am glad to say, it certainly was.
Mr. Pushparaja welcomed us aboard with a whistle and a cheery “all aboard” and played a recorded track that gave us a brief history of the gini petti kochchiya, while – get this, physically rocking the carriage from side to side with his foot to simulate a moving carriage, and I couldn’t help but giggle. Soon the rocking stopped, and Mr. P started us off with a hearty red cabernet sauvignon, and freshly baked bread with home-made butter, and as soon as he had us started off, the carriage began to fill up with its other guests and the rocking and history track was played 3 more times. Needless to say, the voice of the man on the track is now engrained in my memory, a fond one at that.
Onto more exciting things – the food! I must say, rice and curry aside, this was perhaps the best meal we have eaten in Sri Lanka. The freshest ingredients, picked from the chef’s own garden in the hotel grounds, cooked into a gourmet meal eaten in a romantic atmosphere, high up in the misty tea plantations of this country, with a robust and full bodied wine, and the love of my life. What more could a girl ask for?
Indeed, being a five course meal we started off with the appetisers. M had a smoked salmon starter, and I tried their spinach cheese roulade. Moving on to the soup course, M tried their mushroom cappuccino while I opted for the carrot and orange soup. It may sound like a cliché, but I can still taste the smoothness of the carrot mixed with the tang of the orange and this soup has indeed left a lasting impression. Being a gourmet meal, Mr P brought out palette cleansers before the main meal was served. For some reason we did not get the same cleansers – I got a lime and orange lollipop, while M was served with what looked like iced pineapple chunks.
I must say that the service was impeccable. Just the right amount of waiting before the next meal was brought out, and the meal only brought out when we were ready for it, fresh and piping hot. M thoroughly enjoyed his pepper crusted steak, as did I my lamb crusted in herbs and served on a mound of the most delicious dauphinoise potatoes I have ever eaten. Mmmmm. My mouth waters as I write this post, and I am magically transported into the musty carriage of the TCK 6685…
And to top off this fantastic evening- tiramisu, cheesecake and a cheese platter, served with a perfect cup of tea brewed, yes brewed and not tea bagged, from leaves that have come from no less than the mini tea factory situated at the Heritance! This meal has completely restored my taste buds and has more than made up for the earlier disappointing English high tea, and is worth every penny of its hefty RS10,500 a head pricetag. I am ready to turn into my freshly made bed, which has been warmed for us by traditional hot pans, and slumber off to dreamland in the misty tea plantation that has won itself a special place in my travel memoirs.