8

The food on TGVs is just snacks in plastic and some bottled sodas.

In contrast you have restaurant-like food in the dining cars of many trains in, for example, Switzerland.

Did TGVs ever offer restaurant dining on board? If so, when was it discontinued and when was the changeover to pre-packaged snacks?

5

I cannot comment on the quality of sandwiches in the 1980s and haven't found a detailed history but AFAIK there never was a traditional dining car on TGV. At most, you would get an airplane-like meal-tray, as you can currently get on the Thalys for example.

The story is simple: TGV are designed to go really fast and bring you to your destination in under 3 hours. Everything else was secondary, the seating is relatively cramped, power outlets were introduced comparatively late, the restaurant car was always a stand-up bar/snack shop, etc.

By contrast, Swiss and German trains are still relatively slow (with a few exception like the Frankfurt-Cologne link opened with much fanfare … in 2002!)

  • For a (relaxed ;) ) comparison of TGV vs ICE bathrobeman.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/… – chx Jul 3 '17 at 6:41
  • @chx The first-class on ICE is really great. But they are slow (well technically the network is and it's more difficult to see how to improve it given the geography, the trainsets themselves can do 300 in France and between Frankfurt and Cologne). – Relaxed Jul 3 '17 at 6:57
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    @Relaxed Please have a look at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail_in_Germany , especially the map and you will see that there are a lot more high speed tracks in Germany than just the one you mentioned, not forgetting the 300 kph line connecting Berlin and Munich opening in Dec '17. Generally speaking, the average speed is faster in France, that is correct. But in Germany you have de-centralized connections all over the country while in France you essentially always have to go through Paris which will take you similarly long when going non-Paris to non-Paris. – Sebastian Jul 3 '17 at 8:30
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    @Sebastian I am fully aware of that and don't think this contradicts my earlier comments: There is one bit between Erfurt and Leipzig and I forgot about Nürnberg-München but for the most part, those high-speed services are only 250 kph and below. In Switzerland, 160 counts as high-speed. And decentralised connections is precisely what I was alluding to when I talked about geography. But the conclusion stands: The market and design of the trains are very different. – Relaxed Jul 3 '17 at 9:38
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    @Relaxed I guess you have given the key information: the restaurant car was always a stand-up bar/snack if that's true, that's the actual answer. Thanks! – Fattie Jul 3 '17 at 12:41
14

I travelled on TGV from Paris to Nimes in 1999. I was only eighteen but I travelled first class because my french pen friend's dad was the train manager! I wasn't expecting to be fed, but then one of the train staff brought to my table a delicious rare steak with a green bean salad, some very runny cheese, crusty bread and a dessert. I don't remember whether it was served from proper plates, but I remember it was great food! The same was being served to other passengers in my carriage.

So that's an existence proof, but I can't say any more about the dining or when/whether it ended.

  • Just to help clarify - this (fantastic) story refers to food, good food, being brought to your seat. That's a wonderful thing (like in 1st class on an airliner!) but the question is about fancy restaurant cars as such. – Fattie Sep 18 '18 at 10:18
10

In brief

The restaurant car was conceived as a bar/snack shop, mostly (and now on many lines exclusively) stand-up. The meals served at one's seat were introduced on some connections in 1st class and remain on select routes in 1st class, with variable offerings from airplane-like to a bit nicer.

The situation as of mid-2017

  • Meals included in 1st class on long routes:
    • TGV Eurostar to the UK;
    • TGV Thalys to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany;
    • TGV Lyria to Switzerland (connecting to Austria);
    • scheduled from 2017/2018, TGV d'Affaires ("Business TGV") between Paris and big regional cities;
  • Meals as an option in 1st class, with or without reservation, on the following routes:
    • TGV Alleo to central and southern Germany;
    • TGV France-Italy;
    • TGV d’Affaires with the TGV Pro offering on weekdays excludings school holidays, on select trains leaving between 6h00 and 8h00, 12h00 and 13h00, 19h00 and 20h00 -- this is now suspended and should be replaced by the above TGV d'Affaires offering, included in the 1st class ticket price
  • As an option, in both classes, with or without reservation, as a simplified menu offering breakfast and snacks on board these trains:
    • TGV d'Affaires between Paris and Lyon;
    • TGV Elipsos France-Spain;
    • IDTGV in the Zap class.

The situation before

Meals served at one's seat were gradually suppressed in the 1980s.

Most seats in the "wagon-bar TGV" were removed in the 2000s.

See (in French)

  • merci dieu ! So, basically on international routes. (Regarding on the "affaires" trains, eg -> Lyon. I have not seen a meal at the seat? Maybe there is a misunderstanding, or, I was drunk?) – Fattie Jul 3 '17 at 16:51
  • It's only if you pay for the TGV Pro option on the Paris -> Lyon connection. Most passengers don't. – tricasse Jul 3 '17 at 16:58
  • hmm, they bring it on a little trolley or ? there's no real kitchen for preparation right? what sort of meal is it - I've never seen it. Maybe it's so rare to do I have never seen it, then. – Fattie Jul 3 '17 at 17:45
  • what do you think of Mat's report above from 1999 ? – Fattie Jul 3 '17 at 17:47
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    I don't think the Eurostar and the Thalys are to be considered a "TGV". They are different from both a marketing point of view as well as from a technical point of view. From a marketing point of view the service levels differ and from a technical point of view the trains are modified as well [e.g. for a higher redundancy level while inside the chunnel a Eurostar could move it's passengers into one half, be split in two, and ride out of the tunnel abandoning a defective half if it would be needed]. – user63434 Jul 4 '17 at 0:16
7

I am not sure whether TGVs ever had them but the Nouvelle Premiere introduced in 1985 had dinner prepared under the direction of Joël Robuchon. If that's not fine food, I do not know what is.

Everything is preared by traditional methods but then preserved sous vide, in vacuum-packed bags.

The vacuum process, which is becoming more widely used in restaurants in the United States and by some airlines, keeps freshly cooked food in perfect condition for up to three weeks without freezing or, for that matter, any refrigeration. A typical dish on the Nouvelle Premiere, raie au chou vert, or skate on a bed of cabbage with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, was composed on board the train from three items, each in its own bag: the fish, the cabbage and the sauce. Each was steam-heated separately, then arranged on the plate by Mr. Cliche.

"Only" an aide of Robuchon because it was the weekend.

There's no fine dining on the TGV for sure since at least 2009 March when Cremonini won the catering contract even though Compagnie des Wagons-Lits won it back later. It's hard to find earlier data.

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    "1974 Les Forts de Latour, which the menu inaccurately lists as a chateau"—I wonder how often the New York Times finds errors in French wine lists nowadays. – Calchas Jul 3 '17 at 2:57
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    “If that's not fine food, I do know what is” Branded rubbish? I mean the guy has a bunch of restaurants, hours and hours of TV shows, and a line of frozen food… How much input can he really have? – Relaxed Jul 3 '17 at 5:29
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    Note that there were no TGV between Paris and Strasbourg in 1985. There was still a need and a market for a sit-down dinner in night trains or during a 6-hour journey. By contrast, I don't know what the quality was like at the very beginning but AFAIK, the TGV only ever had a “bar” with sandwiches and maybe the odd salad or warmed-up pasta dish, no proper dining car and this “nouvelle première” was never extended there. Thalys does have decent airplane-like food and I believe something similar was available and is due to resume on domestic TGV trains. – Relaxed Jul 3 '17 at 5:31
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    @Relaxed You have a point, because airlines often claim that their menus are designed or overseen by renowned chefs [I think Mark Sargeant has been doing AA's menu for a year now?], but I have never had a meal on a plane I would be pleased to receive on the ground. – Calchas Jul 3 '17 at 9:48
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    This was, to the extent I understand it, very far from frozen branded rubbish and it was finalized by Cliche, himself a Meilleur Ouvrier de France award winner who later became the head chef of Disney hotels at the Paris Disneyland but what do I know especially after three decades. I found it a fascinating example, that's all. – chx Jul 3 '17 at 10:18

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