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Solo Goes Out

Railway dining

Table For One doesn’t always eat out in restaurants. In fact it prefers to vary its reviews to include a diversity of dining venues, which is why this month it’s about to tell you all about what it’s like to try and have a meal, courtesy of Irish Rail.

Irish Rail has never, of course, been known for its gourmet offering, however the recent addition of the new super-duper fleet of trains brought with it a hope that the menu might be upgraded as well. Not so, it seems. Months ago I made the mistake of ordering a cappuccino on my way to Dublin – it wasn’t that I even wanted one but I was so shocked they were available that I got one on impulse. Big mistake. It was one of those artificial efforts and the end result was a soupy mixture, which prompted me to suspect I’d been served up a lumpuccino. Ick.
Anyway, fast forward to a recent Saturday morning trip on the Dublin-Cork train and I was smart enough to get my coffee from the Butler’s dock at Heuston Station. By the time I boarded I was happily sipping, delighted with both the flavour and injection of caffeine. We weren’t far out of Dublin when the ticket collector came roaring into our carriage, all set to check we all had a legal right to be there. He collided with the trolley girl, who had also just arrived with her selection of refreshments to sell to the punters. Not that she stayed long. While serving her first customer the ticket man told her she was starting at the wrong end of the train and to go to the far end and work her way back. I didn’t mind too much as I still had my Butler’s coffee, but the majority of those sitting around me were pretty miffed at being deprived right before they were about the order. Of course they could have walked the two-carriage distance to the actual dining car if they were that parched/starved, but hey, nobody likes moving about on the train when there’s a risk it could lurch at any moment and send you flying into a stranger’s lap.
So off went the trolley and by the time it returned a long time later I was thirsty and asked for a bottle of water.
“We’ve no water,” she told me and she was right. All I could see was dodgy looking juice.
“Do you have decaf coffee?” the woman next to me asked and I almost laughed out loud. They might be serving lumpuccinos down in the dining car, but decaf would be a no-no surely.
“No we don’t,” the trolley girl answered predictably.
“Could I get some hot water?”
“No, I can’t give you hot water…,” the trolley girl trailed off, without giving an explanation as to why not. Perhaps because she would have had to give it away for free?
“What about sandwiches?” said my neighbour. You had to admire her persistence and optimism.
“We have one,” came the reply.
Again, I was struggling with suppressed giggles. The solitary sandwich was duly produced for inspection – a bacon, lettuce and tomato affair that seemed to be comprised mainly of wilted lettuce and which looked just plain rotten.
“Oh, no thanks,” the woman said, recoiling slightly.
While all this was going on I had the opportunity to read the ‘menu’ on the side of the trolley and note the prices. If the offending sandwich had been purchased it would have cost a whopping €4.95. For that? What a rip off. And the thing about food on the train too is that if you’re hungry you’ll end up paying whatever the price is because it’s not like you can say thanks, but no thanks, and head off in search of something cheaper. Meanwhile you could have got a cookie for €1.95. Unbelievable.
The woman sitting across from me wanted breakfast but was told that there wasn’t any being served. This was on the 9am Cork train – a busy route any day of the week – but all they could offer was sambos, cookies and muffins. And the muffins (at €2 a pop) were rotten too, or so I was told by the woman who wanted to have breakfast but had to make do with a blueberry one instead.
There was nothing appetising looking at me so I opted to just invest in another coffee. For €2.25 I received a semi-instant cup of something, which was neither tasty or refreshing. Although it was, at least, hot.
So, the moral of the story? The trains might be fancier – hell, even the stations are not looking all that bad these days. But the food and drink has a way to go yet. Bring your own. It will be cheaper, fresher and altogether nicer, and not likely to leave a bad taste in your mouth.


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  1. Ah the Irish Rail dining experience, a treat that awaits me this very evening. I have a weird pavlovian reaction to trains, whenever I see one I really, really want a soggy danish. You know the kind inbedded with apple flavoured cubes of god knows what. Mmmmmm

    Posted by Brigid | August 15, 2008, 3:32 pm