Q Train, Drysdale to Queenscliff brings glamour back to rail travel in Victoria

The 1970s hit Old Time Rock and Roll is rocking the Q Train's bar as we board at Drysdale, east of Geelong. And this is no ordinary bar car. As well as stools it contains a small square of dance floor, lit from above by multi-coloured flashing disco lights.

A tourist train offers a trip into nostalgia, but it's usually a journey to the Golden Age of rail rather than the pop hits of my childhood. But the Club Loco bar was once the disco car of the Sunlander, the Brisbane-Cairns sleeper train that was retired in 2014.

Now, painted sky blue, former Sunlander carriages comprise a new dinner train that runs to the coastal town of Queenscliff and back. Diners are served a six-course degustation menu featuring ingredients from the region, in either "Q Class" (food only) or First Class (including wine matches).

After sampling the bar's signature cocktail, a blend of honey vodka, ginger wine, Szechuan pepper and lime,  we walk through the train. 

We pass first through Q Class, an open carriage filled mostly with tables for two or four. It looks very convivial, but we're heading to First Class, passing briefly through the tiny galley in which chef Greg Egan and his staff are busy lining up the initial courses.

First Class is a pleasant surprise. Each couple's table has been fitted into a former sleeper compartment, with the long cushioned bench of the lower bunk as seating. There's a tablecloth, cutlery and lamp on the table, artwork on the walls, and a view out the window to one side. It's a perfect romantic table for two. 

As we set off at a measured pace, we pass farmland framed by eucalypts, and the odd herd of sheep or cows. Farther on there's a vineyard, then water views near sunset as we approach Queenscliff.

I had wondered whether the private table might feel isolated, but it's a delight. There's a sense of luxury and pampering, as if we're being served in a private dining room.

The food itself is excellent, equivalent to the quality you'd expect of an accomplished restaurant. 

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Having selected the vegetarian version of the menu, on the outward journey we're served dishes featuring house-made ricotta with local honey and quail egg; salt and pepper silken tofu; a salad of Vietnamese snake beans; and salted butternut pumpkin (the non-vegie equivalents involve similar ingredients, worked around beef, mussels and pork).

At Suma Park there's a 20-minute break to stretch our legs, and I have a brief chat on the platform with the chef. He confirms that cooking in a moving space has its challenges ("We've lost a few plates"), but is easier than at a restaurant because you know everyone's order in advance.

"Though tonight I've had some last-minute cancellations of the mussels," adds Egan, who attributes that to meals booked by friends unaware of allergies. 

There's another break at Queenscliff's attractive old railway station, then we're Drysdale-bound through the darkness, our final two courses being served en route.

The mushroom pithivier turns out to be a small tasty pie in the middle of purple, orange and red streaks composed of potato, capsicum and a Shiraz glaze (the meat-eaters' equivalent being sage lamb).

For a finale there's an impressive dessert of complex flavours, a chocolate parfait with toasted sesame, candied citrus zest and orange blossom honey curd.

As we draw closer to Drysdale, I consider making my way back to that improbable disco bar. But I'm relaxed from the fine food and wine, the train is swaying gently, and I'm happy to sit and digest. The John Travoltas of the Bellarine Peninsula will have to strike a pose without me.

TRIP NOTES

MORE 

traveller.com.au/victoria

theqtrain.com.au

 visitgeelongbellarine.com.au

FLY

Jetstar (jetstar.com) flies to Avalon Airport, 40 minutes by road from Drysdale. Otherwise, Drysdale is a 90-minute drive south of Melbourne via Geelong. It can also be reached by train and bus, see ptv.vic.gov.au

STAY

Drysdale House, B&B accommodation in a beautifully restored 1890s house, from $165 per night. See drysdalehouse.com.au

DINE

The Q Train runs Thursday to Saturday evenings. Fare is $99 per person for Q Class, $139 in First Class. Book via theqtrain.com.au

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Tourism Greater Geelong & The Bellarine.

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