Review: The Restaurant Car on Swiss Trains

By Edward | Dining Cars

Jan 10
Swiss Dining Car SBB Elvetino Restaurant Car

Before I begin: I digress

Before I get going on the Swiss railways' restaurant car, have I told you about the Edward Scale?

No, I haven't. The Edward Scale is my way of ranking restaurants.

How to rank restaurants on the Edward Scale

It is simple: a restaurant’s food should be better than its furnishings.

Good food is always good. Bad pizza does not become good pizza if you screw a Vespa to the wall and drape Italian flags everywhere.

A restaurant with a contrived interior doth protest too much. It is fur coat and no knickers.

Swiss restaurant car review

This restaurant doth protest too much

You give points from 1-10 for food, 10 being the best, and points from 1-10 for the interior - furnishing, decorating etc, 1 being the most basic, 10 being the most elaborate. Then you subtract the interior points from the food points to get your result on the Edward Scale. 

The best possible score is +10, the worst score is -10. Any restaurant that scores more than zero on the Edward Scale is worth visiting. Even zero on the Edward Scale is OK. Anything below zero, avoid.

The best-ranking restaurant on the Edward Scale

For a long time the place with the best result on the Edward Scale was a small Russian dumpling stand, Pelmeni Welt, in the square outside Berlin Ostbahnhof. 

Pelmeni Welt got a whopping 9 points on the Edward Scale: 9 points for its food (I grudgingly had to deduct one point because of the microwave) - minus 0 points for the interior.

Swiss Dining Car review

Pelmeni Welt at Berlin Ostbahnhof

It simply has no interior. Pelmeni Welt is a sort of shack, odd bits of wood nailed together and covered with a tarpaulin. There is a gas burner heating it and toddlers’ scribblings on the wall, possibly by the great-grandchildren of the 85 year old Latvian proprietor, Vladimir Egozov.

Every time I make it to Berlin Ostbahnhof I pray that Vladimir is still alive and that the muddy early-90s post-communist reserve outside Berlin Ostbahnhof in which Pelmeni Welt stands hasn’t been bulldozed.

As my train pulls into Berlin Ostbahnhof I tremble as I open the train door. Then I dash down the stairs and out the north exit and into the square overlooked by what was once a Centrum Warenhaus, East Germany’s department store chain.

Five minutes later I sit hunched over a steaming, mismatched, chipped bowl of Pelmeni doused in broth and piled with fresh herbs, adjika (a hot, Georgian tomato-pepper sauce) and sour cream, as Vladimir tries to talk me into opening a franchise in Munich.

Swiss dining car restaurant car review

Pelmeni at Pelmeni Welt

The food is absolutely mind-blowing. The shack creaks in the wind and an old CRT television blares Russian music videos.

OK, OK, I’m digressing, but I want you to know about the Edward scale so that you can follow my future food reviews.

Meet the Swiss Restaurant Car

So this post is about the Swiss restaurant car usually found in international Swiss rail services and about Elvetino, the people who run it. Elvetino is the catering company owned by SBB for servicing their trains with food.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

The Swiss restaurant car

In my case, I was on EuroCity 8, which runs from Zürich HB to Hamburg-Altona. Though most of its journey is in Germany, this service is run with nice SBB coaches.

To go on a Swiss train is to enter a world in which rail travel gets the devotion it deserves. Everything works. Especially the loos. There are power outlets. Everything is clean.

Me, I’m a compartment gal. I resent that all the SBB have to offer is saloon seating. Especially after dark, when the lighting comes on and you can’t see out the windows due to the bright strip lighting.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

Fine during the day, but depressing at night: saloon seating in SBB Eurocity coaches. Is like a morgue. Best go to the restaurant car...

Ambience

What is gorgeous, though, is the SBB restaurant car, even at night. Especially at night.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

Heavy black leather chairs, white table cloths, red walls. Same theme as the SBB livery

The overall atmosphere is restrained, elegant and discreet. It has heavy black, leather, movable chairs and plain white table cloths. Crockery and cutlery are china and metal respectively, and they feel opulent.

Warm, emmolient spotlights instead of the cold, morgue striplighting everywhere else on the train. All the tables are aligned with the windows. 

Everyone talks in murmurs. The waitress glides about like a vestal virgin, nodding her head at whispered orders. Germans come and are in awe. In such awe in fact that they pay €5.00 for a tin of insipid Feldschlösschen beer without complaining.

Menu

The menu is equally restrained and elegant, and surprisingly unpretentious. There is choice, but not too much.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

The main courses on the menu in the Swiss restaurant car

All classic, salt-of-the-earth Swiss food, with meat, without, and even vegan. Not the ostentatious seitan vegan, where the worse it tastes the holier it makes you. Just food that happens to be vegan.

Some appetizers and salads, some main courses, some puddings. Some hot and cold drinks, and that is it.

My actual meal

I spent almost six hours in the SBB dining car. I got on at Koblenz, where I live at the moment, and stayed all the way to Hamburg.

Drink! Drink! Drink!

I kicked things off with some fancy beer from Ticino. Craft, artigianale and all that. Read: expensive. Apart from the permanent selection of beers Elvetino have a constantly changing offer of regional Swiss special beers. This is what I went for.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

The Rhine as seem from my vantage point in the Swiss restaurant car

I had had this beer a couple of weeks before, had wanted to hate it but loved it. Afterwards I had opened the Ukrainian Obolon’ Zhihulivs’ke beer that I had brought with me - which I had wanted to love but hated. My days of drinking warm beer from 1 liter plastic bottles are over.

The standard beer in the SBB restaurant is Feldschlösschen from a 0.5l tin. Feldschlösschen tastes like Swedish supermarket beer - weak and bland. Better to pay a tiny bit more for much better beer.

I drank it slowly and soaked up the atmosphere as the train twisted along the Rhine. The sun was already setting, and it bathed the tables in shimmering orange light. Just before Cologne I decided to stay and have something to eat. I promised myself I would write a review for it on the blog, to justify the indulgence.

Swiss restaurant car review

The Swiss restaurant car

As a main course I ordered the Polenta with Ratatouille and another Ticino beer. The Vestal Virgin had made me pay straight away for my first bottle (which I resented), but now she saw I meant business and brought everything else I ordered and merely added it to my bill.

Hot through 

The Polenta took reassuringly long to come. I didn’t dare look to see if there was a microwave. Obviously, this stuff is cooked off the premises. It is not food, it is catering. But it is good. Most probably it was warmed up in a steamer. It was properly hot through and showed no tell-tale signs of having been microwaved. Fantastic.

Swiss Rail Dining Car Restaurant Car Review Elvetino

My polenta looking great

It tasted great. The polenta was nice and maizey, soft but grainy, and the Ratatouille was sweet and tomatoey. The whole thing was well balanced and very satisfying. The beer went very well with it.

I lose control

I don’t remember what happened then, but what I do know is that I must have read the menu again and ordered the “panna cotta with raspberry coulis”.

Somehow, the Swiss manage to use French without sounding pretentious.

Anyway, I couldn’t resist it. I had an espresso to go with it and it came in a proper china cup and was also just right. Strong and smokey and not at all bitter.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

Panna cotta and raspberry coulis and espresso

By now it was past 9 PM and the waitress had shut up shop. So I still sat in the empty dining car and watched the darkness whirl past the window.

Cheaper than a psychologist

Well, it was hardly going to be cheap, was it? I hear you already:  Yeah, Eddie, tell us, what was the damage?

Swiss Restaurant Car review SBB Elvetino

What I paid

Well, I blew all 30 of my Swiss franks and then parted with some euros as well. But if you compare it with real restaurants in Switzerland, the price is OK. It isn’t cheap, but it is exquisite, so on balance, you get your money’s worth. I think.

Expect to pay between €30-€50 per person for food, drink, pudding and coffee.

Verdict

First, the Edward Scale. The Swiss restaurant car gets 4 points on the Edward Scale.

The food gets seven points. Remember this is not freshly cooked, it is warmed up. But it is the best warmed up food I've ever had on a train.

SBB Swiss Restaurant Car Review Elvetino

The interior gets three points - it is tables, chairs, table cloths and cutlery. Only the necessities, but Elvetino don't skimp. They have the best necessities. Otherwise the decorations are restricted to red panelling and vague mountain scenery.

So we subtract three interior points from seven food points to get four points on the Edward Scale.

Overall experience

Imagine this: you spend one or two hours (in my case five or six) in a sumptuous atmosphere, sitting very comfortably and watching the scenery flit by. Everyone is nice to everyone else, no one is in a hurry. It is so civilised

A visit to the Swiss restaurant car is like a little holiday - a holiday from austerity. It is like a sojourn to some older Europe in which the small things still matter and haven't been sacrificed to efficiency and the bottom line. 

Swiss Restaurant Car review SBB Elvetino


I left feeling mellow, relaxed and civilised. I had been feeling depressed about the impending five days away from home, battling with broken heatings and loos on the Flixtrain. This made me feel better than any psychologist could have done.

As I wrote in my rapturous tweet, you feel like you are in a more glamorous, exciting version of your own life. 

So, next time on a Swiss train, plan for the restaurant car. Factor it in to your budget.

Have a look at their current menu right here.

It may not be cheap, but it is worth it. 

About the Author

After crisscrossing Europe for 6 years as a train conductor, I guide intrepid travellers roaming Europe by rail.

  • Sandra says:

    Little holiday with this delicious looking meal while traveling. Ive been to Switzerland and i can really warmly recommend to have a seat at the SBB restaurant! Everybody will be amazed. The staff on board is doing a great job! Thank you for your article and for refresh my good memorys.

  • R says:

    I’m new to this site but that’s exactly the kind of review that gets me off my backside and start travelling again. I’ve travelled extensively across Europe by train in my youth and now feel like doing so again (the Edward scale would help with this). I felt like I was back ‘in the old days’ with the description of the Pelmini Welt, which I now have to go to. Glorious (and thank you)

  • Alfonso says:

    I love the digression about Pelmeni Welt and the review of the dining car. It’s also nice to see what look like tables for 5 in the restaurant car. So much in life is set up for 2 or 4 people, and doesn’t fit our family of 5!

  • Lars Helmin says:

    To the point review, down to the Swedish supermarket beer remark! Yes, I’m swedish so it’s true : )

  • Claudio says:

    Bravo to Daniela and her team for achieving this starting point. Now let’s get to the next level. Small remark from a “Ticinese” “polenta mit ratatouille”? No ticinese or Italian guest will ever order this strange combination 😉

    • Edward says:

      I think it is fantastic already. If they take it to the next level they will have world domination. I had no idea about the polenta and ratatouille. Being British, I would have had chips with my polenta given half a chance.

  • Gilbert says:

    I have not been in proper restaurant cars for quite a long time, in the days when it was quite safe to leave your luggage above your seat and walk down to the restaurant for a meal. How does one manage these things today, even in trains with Swiss dining cars? And by the way your blogs are always very interesting and pleasant to read.

    • Edward says:

      Thank you very much for reading and for your comment. I’m very glad you like my work.

      I think it is safe to leave your luggage even today – when I do so I take all important documents and my money with me. When abroad, I keep everything I would need to get home on my person.

  • Gerben Vos says:

    Aw, this review came a few days too late for me: I was at Ostbahnhof last weekend, but didn’t know about Pelmeni Welt yet. Next time!

  • Seraina says:

    Edward I love this post! And the Edward-scale is both funny and genius. I’ll start rating my restaurant experiences according to your standard from now on 🙂
    Good on you for spending nearly 6 hours in the SBB restaurant. I only recently had the «Zürigschnetzlets» because I received a voucher from SBB. So of course I bought the most expensive meal. And as you said, considering it was «only» warmed up food, it was absolutely delicious.
    I will definitely share this post with my audience in my next newsletter. Thank you for this.
    Take care, Seraina

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