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.
Meals served at one’s seat were gradually suppressed in the 1980s.
Most seats in the “wagon-bar TGV” were removed in the 2000s.
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.
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!)
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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