Today’s luxury traveller is more discerning, particular and knowledgeable than ever before. Especially when it comes to what they put in their mouth.
Luckily for them, the days when in-flight meals were a dreaded, hold-your-nose-and-chew type affair are long gone.
The best airlines are all making a point to indulge their premium customers’ sensibilities and create an onboard dining experience comparable to any fine-dining restaurant on stable ground.
Michelin-starred chefs have been brought on board to devise inflight menus; quality, exotic and healthful ingredients are sourced from all over the world; and drink lists are becoming ever-more extensive and diverse.
Airlines know all too well, however, that while food and drink is the crux of the dining experience, every last detail needs to be taken into account and polished. From designer tableware to flawless service, the airlines that stand out in this field are the ones that satisfy their First Class passengers’ appetites for splendour. And that means there’s not a plastic fork or tinfoil lid in sight.
Air France is one airline that provides its First Class passengers with an exquisite inflight culinary experience. In the La Première cabin, you get the luxury of composing your own meal from the gourmet menu. Additionally, on flights departing from Paris, you can try the prestigious Aquitaine Sturia caviar and enjoy dishes crafted by Joël Robuchon, Guy Martin and Michel Roth. Their signature meals alternate every two months so there is always something new to discover. There is also a special Japanese menu available on flights between Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Japan. Never one to stagnate, Air France’s wine list is updated every two months, too.
Emirates tailor their menus to reflect their destinations. Using the freshest, seasonal ingredients, regional recipes, and award-winning chefs, dining in Emirates’ First Class cabin is a pleasure. Choose your meal from a leather-bound menu, give your order to an attentive attendant, and your made-to-order food will be served on fine china to your suite in about 20 minutes. It will be placed on a large fold-out table laid with a white tablecloth, a full set of silverware, bread plate, bread basket, olive oil, salt and pepper shakers, and a wine glass. You can also request canapés, wild Iranian caviar or beef tenderloin whenever you please. The cherry on the cake, so to speak, is an international selection of cheeses served with crackers, grapes and crudités after your meal. As long as turbulence doesn’t interrupt your meal time, there’d be no reason to suspect that you weren’t dining at a world-class restaurant.
Qatar Airways is one of the airlines leading the charge when it comes to inflight dining. They have enlisted the help of a true master of his craft in Nobu Matsuhisa, the man behind world-renowned restaurants Nobu and Matsuhisa. Nobu spent months perfecting his specialty dishes for Qatar Airways, taking into account how taste buds are affected at 30,000 feet. The result is a delectable, on-demand menu, complemented by a wine list from in-house sommelier James Cluer. For a real treat, Qatar also serves one of the most prized and expensive types of caviar, Oscietra caviar from Gourmet House.
Here’s a sample of main course in Qatar Airway’s First Class on an international flight from Doha: A choice of thyme roasted chicken breast with supreme sauce, potato gnocchi and seared tomatoes; an Iranian mix grill consisting of lamb chops, kofta and chicken tikka with broad bean saffron rice; oven roasted mustard and dill salmon with dill pine nut rice, yellow dal with shredded cucumber and carrot salad; or stuffed spinach crêpes with mushroom, cheese and tomato sauce.
One of the most luxurious airlines, Etihad, with its impressive First Class Apartment and The Residence, sets its standards sky high. And this is reflected in its onboard dining experience, which is personalised, sophisticated and delicious thanks to qualified chefs on board the Diamond First Class cabins. The chefs have a well-stocked pantry full of fresh ingredients and space that allows them to craft and personalise dishes in the same way chefs in a restaurant kitchen can. Etihad’s “Dine Anytime” means you can order your food whenever you please, while Nikko bone china, Royal Oak cutlery and Lucaris crystal glassware make you quickly forget you’re soaring at 35,000 feet.
There is also a good selection of boutique fine wines handpicked from the world’s best vineyards, as well as Etihad’s signature XO Cognac service. Additionally, in the First Apartment, you can make full use of a chilled refreshments cabinet, stocked with a premium selection of beverages.
A slick airline from gate to gate, Singapore Airlines does not dither when it comes to meal time. Since 1998, the airline has been working with an International Culinary Panel of eight world-renowned chefs. The current crop, including three Michelin-starred Georges Blanc, come together from their diverse culinary backgrounds to create heavenly menus for Singapore’s First Class passengers. They even take cabin pressure into detail when crafting their recipes. Be sure to try Singapore Airline’s spectacular signature Satay chicken – skewered slices of chicken, mutton and beef flame-grilled and served as an appetiser with onions, cucumbers and a spicy peanut dip – simply divine!
Singapore Airlines is also the first airline to offer its premium passengers a bespoke pre-order menu, Book The Cook, which allows you to pre-order your meals from a gourmet menu up to 24 hours ahead of their flight’s departure. A meal isn’t complete without a tipple, however. Fortuitously, each year Singapore Airlines invites three of the world’s leading experts to taste its wines under cabin pressure, so you know you’re sipping something that has passed the most rigorous of tests.
All Nippon Airways
All Nippon Airways is another airline that takes its meal service seriously. In First Class, the Japanese airline offers a menu which has been developed by a team of internationally renowned chefs, with numerous Michelin stars among them, from inside and outside Japan, including three-starred chefs Pierre Gagnaire, Anny Fiolude, and Toru Okuda.
You can also take your pick from a fine choice of red and white wines that have been selected to complement the First Class menu. The list is devised by ANA’s Master of Wine, Ned Goodwin. Recently, for the first time, the airline is serving matcha green tea in First Class. The Japanese powdered green tea has 137 times more antioxidants than regularly brewed green tea, making it a newfound favourite in the health world.
Our very own British Airways, meanwhile, employed the expertise of celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal to reinvent their menus back in 2011. The First Class menu, which can be ordered form at any time during a flight, features classic British dishes with an emphasis on “simplicity, freshness and quality of ingredients,” according to BA’s website. On selected flights, you can also choose your main meal from the onboard menu between 30 days and 24 hours before your flight, for no extra charge.
British Airways is also introducing a new culinary menu for premium passengers on its London – Hong Kong route starting 1st May. The special menu offers a number of British- and Cantonese-inspired dishes that appeared on the airline’s special 80th-anniversary menu last year. Salmon with caviar, ginger and pistachio dressing is one that gets us salivating.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is one airline is another airline to make a foray into First Class fine dining by pairing with TV chef Lorraine Pascale. Lorraine spent six months working with the airline’s inflight catering team to create a range of signature dishes for the airline’s premium passengers.
Cathay Pacific has an ongoing collaboration with Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group to serve “contemporary fine-dining with a classical twist” in First Class, on Hong Kong, London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, and Milan flights. Ever-changing menus are created with locally-sourced, seasonal and sustainable produce whenever possible. Also, keep an eye out for Cathay’s specially-designed menu from celebrated chef Pino Lavarra of Michelin-starred restaurant Tosca inside The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong. It will be available on a variety of long-haul destinations, including Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States, until 30th April 2017.
Qantas is another airline with a long-standing partnership with a renowned chef. Award-winning chef Neil Perry has been designing Qantas’ First Class inflight menu for some 18 years. Passengers can choose from 12 delightful main courses, with the added opportunity to indulge in an 8-course tasting menu on selected services. Meals are served by the airline’s silver service-trained cabin staff. If you are flying out from Sydney in First, you can also experience the “Neil Perry Rockpool Market Inspirations Plate” in addition to the onboard menu. Each Market Inspirations plate is inspired by seasonal produce and changes every four to six weeks.