Airlines have woken up to the problem of poor in-flight food. Many now invest in executive chefs and test in a simulated environment to pinpoint what works – and what doesn’t – when reheated and eaten in mid-air. If you’re choosing between them, decent in-flight food and drink can make all the difference to a journey.
Pâtissier Eric Lanlard is taking afternoon tea to new heights with a partnership with Virgin Atlantic (who were the first airline to partner with the Sustainable Restaurant Association back in 2013). Pop into the Virgin Atlantic Heathrow Clubhouse between 3 and 5.30pm for a pre-flight tea which includes smoked salmon, cream cheese and dill mint mini croissants and broccoli, goat’s cheese and cress savoury tarts before sweets of apple and blackberry cake and Eton mess verrine. Plain and fruit scones with clotted cream will also be served. If you’re travelling on a day flight, a high tea of sandwiches, scones and macarons will be available in all three cabins from summer 2018 onwards.
Air New Zealand
Most of us don’t travel to the far side of the planet very often but Air New Zealand also stops in more frequent-flyer destinations including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Singapore. In Premium Economy (long-haul) you’ll be served the likes of Loch Fyne whisky-cured smoked salmon with citrus creme fraiche and marinated pickles to start, pan-seared cod, slow braised beef or Moorish chicken for main, and perhaps a chocolate tart for pud, all on proper plates with glasses and cutlery.
The airline is rightly proud of its association with chef Peter Gordon, who designs the menus and offers a level of integrity. He’s worked out which foods work best on a plane, with careful consideration of the problems of pre-preparing and re-heating that goes with in-flight dining. The food can be washed down with good Villa Maria New Zealand wines. Of, if you’re in Business Premier, bottles chosen by a clutch of experts tasked with choosing prestigious native wines. The selection changes every two months and may include Bordeaux-style (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) Te Mata Coleraine 2014 and superior Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, such as Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2013 and Greywacke 2015.
Saveur’s latest Good Taste Awards voted Singapore Airlines best for food, specifying its troupe of international chef consultants, quarterly changing menus, multiple meal options and extensive testing (they recreate the pressurised cabin environment for tasting new menus). Its Book the Cook system garners particular praise, allowing Business and First customers to pre-order dishes such as lobster thermidor or grilled fillet of beef.
Etihad is the best according to in-flight-dining expert Nikos Loukas, founder of the InFlightFeed website. It even employs the services of an on-board chef for passengers in First, who will cook steaks to order. Economy flyers on long-haul are offered a choice of three decent meals – one Middle Eastern, one Western and one which reflects the destination’s cuisine.
Nikos reckons Turkish Airlines is the best for short-haul food. Where some airlines are cutting back on this sector, or (as in the case of British Airways) switching to charging for pre-packed M&S food from next year, Turkish Airlines recognises the value in giving you a complimentary and authentic taste of their country. Think meze, feta, olives, maybe kofta, and baklava.
The Dubai-based airline has always been better than most at food (and service, for that matter), and regularly tops awards lists for both. It invests a lot of time, money and effort into partnerships with food producers around the world, including Burgundy Grand cru vineyards, French fromageries, and the best Champagne houses and is currently storing 2.2 million bottles of vintage wines to serve on board.
As ever, the options are always better the more you pay: long-haul, First class passengers are treated to a seven-course meal, while Business and Economy passengers get five courses (you can check the menu before you fly). Travel in First or Business on one of the company’s A380s and you’ll have access to an actual bar area with drinks and accompanying snacks (olives, meze and baklava), certainly a more pleasant way to stretch your legs than queuing for the loo.
One slightly unexpected entry to this list is Finnair, which serves airports all over Asia – including several Chinese stops – via Finland. It charges €10 for short-haul food which you can prebook (choose from generous salmon salads, enchiladas, and chicken korma).
It has also recently announced a new partnership with Finnish Chef Eero Vottonen for long-haul Business passengers from January 2017. Not well known here, Eero was selected as the Finnish candidate for the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon. Expect pretty fish dishes, if his restaurant fare is anything to go by.
Written by Sophie Pither, November 2016