Rovos Rail has been wowing its local and international guests for decades, offering outstanding hospitality, fine dining and excellent wines to accompany its luxurious train journeys throughout Southern Africa. What’s particularly impressive is that the Rovos team manages to do this with all of the restrictions that working on a moving train involves.

However, with substantial growth over the last few years, there was an opportunity to make the F&B department more efficient. Tiffany Vos, who joined Rovos Rail in February, applied her decade’s worth of experience from working in London’s hospitality industry to analysing the processes and procedures in place. This has led to a complete overhaul of the F&B operation, including a full renovation of the company’s central kitchen. We chatted to Rovos Rail’s Brenda Vos about what the overhaul will entail, some of the new features that have been introduced, as well as some of the limitations involved in the catering.

What are some of the new features that will be introduced for the operations side?

Once the renovations [on the Rovos Rail central kitchen] are completed, we will have introduced designated areas, new equipment, new flooring, new roles and responsibilities within each team and introduced a new warehouse system to manage all of our stock. The kitchen on-site will be a training kitchen as well as a production kitchen to the trains.

Can you tell us a little bit about the new menus and the thought process that went into their creation? How does it differ from the current menus?

We operate eight journeys, each with its own lunch and dinner menu which we have revisited and refreshed. In addition to this, we have added new options to the breakfast menus of our long five longer journeys.

Each train will have their own bespoke menu designed around the trip that allows guests to go on numerous journeys without repeating the culinary experience.

We want to cater to the expectations of the international traveller whilst working within the confines of a small mobile kitchen. The focus of our planning and for the chefs will be simple and elegant fine-dining that will satisfy even the most discerning palette.

Ethical farming has always been important to us and we have revisited all of our meat, dairy and egg suppliers to ensure that the livestock is indeed free-range. Once the on-site renovation is complete we will also be planting a vegetable and herb garden.

What are the limitations that need to be taken into consideration when planning menus?

Planning is integral. Once the train leaves the station it’s like a boat leaving port and only the supplies on board can be used to create the food. We make sure pack-lists are in place for each individual journey so nothing gets left behind. Space is at a premium in the kitchens on board the train, so this limits the amount of kitchen staff and cooking space.  Dishes have to be designed with this in mind.

Will there be any new training involved for the Rovos team regarding the new F&B dept? 

We are undergoing training with our F&B teams and will continue to provide extensive menu, wine and stock management training as we progress through this project. We have recently revamped the bar menu and our teams had training sessions on all the new spirits that were introduced.

As Rovos is a luxury experience, what are some of the elements on the F&B side that add to this?

We are incredibly proud of the experiences we help create for our guests when they travel with us. For many guests what they eat and drink is an emotional experience they will never forget, therefore it is imperative that we leave a lasting impression through every element throughout our service. Our barmen take great delight in mixing cocktails and serving our delicious South African wines and bubbles and the excellent produce that South Africa is famous for will be celebrated on the menus.

With many international travellers experiencing Rovos, does this play a part in menu development?

We keep abreast of international food trends but celebrate the local produce, flavours and dishes of the areas through which the train travels. The traditional bobotie dish we serve on the Cape Town journey is by far one of the most popular we serve on board with the recipe often being requested.

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