Tanya Gold

‘The potential for jeopardy’: Pullman Dining on the Great Western Railway, reviewed


I am lazy and nosy, and so I spend a lot of time on the GWR service from Penzance to London Paddington. Each journey is a play with a unique atmosphere. Some are seething, particularly in summer when an eight-carriage train cannot fit everyone who wants to swim in the ocean but dine in west London that same night. Some are non-committal; some restful. I rage at usual things: luggage in the disabled space, which is almost always occupied by the non-disabled, though they may be fat; videos played without headphones; young people swearing at older people because they grapple with a rage they cannot understand. You can measure the social contract on any long train journey, and I have. It’s broken.

A restaurant on wheels has the potential for jeopardy, and therefore excitement

But there is always consolation if you have money. I didn’t know there is a restaurant car on the GWR service from Penzance to London Paddington. It is called Pullman Dining. I thought common train dining went the way of train windows that opened, which had to be abolished when someone stuck their head out and was hit by a branch, because stupidity is infinite. I used to like the bar car, which served floppy bacon sandwiches and gin and tonics at 11 a.m. but it was replaced by a trolley service, manned by charming people. It is the Flying Dutchman of snacks, appearing once every seven years with a Wispa and a sigh. It is semi-mythical, and I do not trust it.

But on Friday we explored the 3.15 p.m., and learnt that, like Cinderella at the ball, a small green and grey first-class carriage had transformed itself into a dining car with paper tablecloths and fine tableware. If you have a first-class ticket you can reserve a table: otherwise you must throw yourself on the mercy of the train manager.

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