The 18:03 train from London to Penzance, also known as the "Golden Hind" to those who read the very small print in the timetable, offers on-train dining that is reminiscent of the "good old days". And it really is good once you understand the rules of engagement.
The main rule is to know which platform the train will leave from so that you can be first to grab a seat in the limited dining space. That's right, you apparently cannot reserve a seat in the dining car even though you can in any other part of the train. (Apparently is an important word here as it would appear some people can and do reserve dining car seats).
The First Great Western team who stand around the concourse can be really helpful, particularly if you are reasonable in your request. We happened to have a lot of luggage and this helped to get more than average assistance.
We found out five minutes ahead of the indicator board that the train would be leaving from Platform 8, so we joined two others who knew the MO.
The next piece of information that came our way was from the on board dining car manager, an interesting chap with a good sense of humor that is probably a very necessary qualification for the job. Although HST-125s all look the same, they are not. FGW are currently upgrading the 30 year old train sets and not all cars in any one set will have been upgraded - a strange fact but true. Our restaurant car (always Car F) was of the old style with a limited kitchen. As a result, there were fewer dining places available than if the kitchen was of the larger, upgraded design. Interestingly, there is a third kitchen design on some trains which the staff call the "wendy house" as it is so small.
The menu and wine list is extensive, certainly better than in the 1950s and better than on Amtrak. More important, the quality of the food is much better than you might expect and the dishes are cooked on board, not just reheated (though I would guess the dishes were already prepared and ready to cook). Service is excellent and you have to marvel that all the beans and carrots do actually end up on your plate when the train is negotiating a bumpy piece of track at high speed!
A starter and main, followed by coffee and a seasonal mince pie lasted the full two hour journey to Taunton, making the time pass quickly. And we had good company at our table of four, which undoubtedly helped.
All in all a good experience for us, but not for those who were turned away as there were more diners than seats.