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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Victorian Railway Food vs 21st Century Railway Food

Continuing my
London Underground homage to Charles Dickens, I came across a lovely piece from The Cat's Meat Shop blog of a Victorian gentleman's impressions of railway food in London 1863. As @VictorianLondon aka Lee Jackson rightly says: "The descriptions of railway food are priceless and still hold true today".

Eating on the tube :-s by fitzlaurafitz
Eating on the tube :-s by fitzlaurafitz

Here's some of my favourite bits & a few photos of food you will find in London mainline stations today that show we still have the same problems:

West Cornwall Pasty Company by jovike
Hot Cornish pasties at Kings Cross Station by jovike

"... it is an incontrovertible fact, that at railway stations generally, and at London termini in particular, the 'commissariat department' is disgracefully managed. For a period of some weeks last year I was compelled (as the phrase goes), by circumstances over which I had no control, to lunch at a well-known terminus in this metropolis....

The rooms are large and commodious, the servants numerous, and the appointments, to all appearance, good; yet the viands exposed for sale on the counter, the quality of the meat supplied for an early dinner, and the attendance of the waiters are, one and all, execrable. 

The Underground Toast by dwro8ea
The Underground Toast by Dwro8ea

If you are inclined to ' feed ' at the bar, you will find nothing but stale pastry, musty ham, and flyblown buns. If you resort to the dining-room, you will be regaled with coarse-grained beef and flavourless mutton, underdone potatoes, and bad butter......

 As for the ladies behind the bar, they appear to have entered into a solemn compact not to wash their hands more than once a week, and to eschew the use of the nailbrush altogether. One damsel is in the habit of using a toilet-pin in a manner for which it was certainly never intended; another appeared to me one morning in the act of mending an old boot.......

Smelly Food Ad

Add to these peculiarities a general sulkiness of demeanour, and you may form some idea what it is to be waited on by these terrestrial Hebes. To give them their due, however, I will say that they all zealously defend the reputation of the establishment. 'The buns was always considered excellent,' - 'We never had no complaints of the pastry before,' - 'These ham sandwiches musty and dear! Well, you was the fust as said so,' and so on. 

Burger King, Waterloo Station by Mïchael
Burger King, Waterloo Station by Mïchael

There is one traditional article of food that they persist in tendering, and the bare recollection of which is enough to induce dyspepsia. It is a huge oblong box of half-baked dough, containing dice-shaped nuggets of cold pale meat and pork-fat. This is cut up into slices, revealing a crust of some half an inch in thickness, and is dignified by the name of veal-pie.

Cornish Pasties at Paddington station by vissago
Cornish Pasties at Paddington station by vissago

Joking apart, the managers of our railway refreshment rooms have reason to be heartily ashamed of the manner in which they cater for the public. Everything they offer for sale is as bad as it is dear, and dear as it is bad. A man may dine comfortably in the City for less than a miserable lunch costs at these places. Let the Metropolitan Company look to it; and as their carriages are more commodious, and their fares cheaper than on most lines, let them see what improvement they can effect in their restaurants"

Pizzas, Sausage Rolls & Pasties at Bank by kaszeta
Pizzas, Sausage Rolls & Pasties at Bank by kaszeta

The one vaguely good thing about food at railway stations is the Bite Card, so at least we can get discounts at some of the places. You simply apply for it at this site. It takes a couple of weeks to arrive in the post and then you can use it at mainline railway food outlets like The Pasty Shop (often the saviour of  late night train travellers who've had one too many to drink), The Camden Food Co, Millie's Cookies and going rapidly down the fast food chain to Burger King.

If you have some suggestions of good places to eat at railway and Tube stations please let us know in the comments.

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