Travel (Back In Time) On The Orient Express

The historical luxury train line comes alive as a pop-up exhibition at Gardens By the Bay opening on 12 December.

Travel (Back In Time) On The Orient Express
"Once Upon A Time on the Orient Express" exhibition will be in Singapore from 12 December 2020 till 13 June 2021.Image: Lola Hakimian

For those itching to travel again, here’s something to look forward to: After its 2014 run in Paris, the exhibition “Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express” will open in Singapore as a pop-up attraction, from 12 December 2020 until 13 June 2021. For the exhibition’s first stop outside France, it has chosen to set up at Gardens By the Bay, on the West Lawn, next to Bayfront Plaza. 

The exhibition combining history, culture and gastronomy was originally planned to launch in March, but Covid caused its postponement, so the period from December to June, bookended by major school vacations, was selected instead. 

Created in 1883, the train service was the epitome of exclusivity, leisure travel and lavish living — think embossed leather ceilings, tapestries, velvet curtains, crystal glasses and silverware — and the setting of the fictitious murder solved by Belgian detective Hercules Poirot in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Routes covered Paris, Venice, Istanbul, Aleppo, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo and other major cities stretching from Western Europe to the Middle East. 

The exhibition space has been designed after the Gare du Nord in Paris, and on display will be some 300 documents and artefacts — such as posters, menus, crockery, cutlery, suitcases, stained glass windows and furniture —  including items from the original Orient Express lines, and literature and film they inspired and the era they represent. The stars of the exhibition, a restored 158-year-old locomotive and two rail cars, made the journey from Paris to Singapore via Antwerp, Gibraltar and Suez, and the train interiors were refurbished with period-appropriate touches. 

To complement the experience, the exhibition includes a pop-up restaurant — housed in a replica Anatolia dining car built in 1925 — and the 40-seat Orient Express Road Cafe, both helmed by acclaimed chef Yannick Alleno. The former serves lunch, brunch, dinner and afternoon tea inspired by the era and reflective of French gastronomy and fusion cuisine — on the menu of the first dinner service are king crab coated with a farmhouse cream infused with a blackcurrant leaf vinegar and nori broth, and sole braised with vin Jaune, Comté crust and walnut. The latter offers coffee blends that reflect major stops on the train’s routes, from Venice to Vienna to Istanbul, along with a selection of dishes based on the same concept.

Tickets are available at Sistic. Tables in the pop-up restaurant can be booked here.