Tuesday, July 15, 2008
EK 058 from Dusseldorf to Dubai
Nobody likes eating on an aeroplane much. Unless you’re sat at the pointy end, meals are a tray of mild inconveniences, awful food and a drinks trolley that always manages to lag by just enough to ensure that your drink gets to you just after you’ve finished the main course.
The whole experience isn’t necessarily helped by the fact that you (probably) know you’re eating mass-produced meals of low food-cost ingredients drenched in anti-bacterial washes, churned out in a factory where wellington-wearing minimum wage workers sling around buckets of sauces and squeeze part-cooked ingredients into little foil-covered trays ready for reheating and slinging out to a couple of hundred punters five miles up.
Many years ago in another life, I interviewed the BA station manager in Dubai. He was terribly pleased with himself and surrounded by a fawning marketing and PR team and so, when I got to my last question, it had to be: “Tell me one thing. You know you serve breakfast on that red-eye flight to Heathrow. How do you store an omelette for seven hours on an aeroplane and serve it precisely at the very moment...”
“Yes? Yes?” from the excited team waiting for their compliment from the over-awed young passenger/journalist.
“...When it’s become just like a housemaid’s flipflop?”
But sitting at the pointy end and quaffing Taittinger, now that’s quite another affair. And on this flight, I had the best meal I have ever eaten on an aeroplane: food that was quite exceptional and which I’d have been delighted to have been served on the ground. And that’s saying something, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
Dinner starts with a tray of nuts (including heart-attack inducing pecans and macadamias for the health-conscious executive to pick his way around) and a drink: a chance to move on from the Tatty to a G&T, what?
The first course, ‘grilled scallops on a vanilla skewer, served on a marinated fruit salad, dressed with papaya sauce’, was the start of what was to be a unusually delightful experience. They were simply stunning: a salad of three tender scallops that had been quite literally skewered in a neat little line on half a vanilla pod (Oh, the food cost!), which meant fun digging out the tiny, crunchy seeds and playing with them combined with tastes of scallop and fruit like a true food obsessive. A green salad later and I’ve moved from a cheeky Porcupine Ridge sauvignon blanc to a stunning Chatea du Tertre Margaux to go with my ‘Pan-seared lamb cutlet topped with a coffee bean crust, served in a cardamom just, accompanied with a medley of grilled vegetables and saffron rice.’
The coffee thing should have warned me away. I should have gone for the fire-roasted chicken breast in a creamy herb sauce or the pasta bonbons; filled with ricotta and served with a béchamel on a tomato rucola coulis. Or the fillet of trout, poached and served with saffron vegetables and parsley chateau potatoes (257 calories, if you please).
But I’m glad I was brave: it was amazing, enjoyable and grin-inducing. I’ve always wondered about that particular combination but never felt quite mad enough to go for it. I will now. The lamb was excellent, tender and the vegetables and rice just perfect. The coffee crust worked – just. Scallops and vanilla, lamb and coffee. This was hardly a 'safe' menu, particularly to be serving in the insane catering conditions of an aircraft. That it delighted rather than disgusted has to count as a major feather in EK's cap.
This all followed by more Margaux and cheese: I took a rain-check on the clotted cream panna cotta or croissant butter pudding (which looked suspiciously like James Martin’s wicked butter, egg and white chocolate version) and did for some excellent Stilton and perfectly matured Camembert instead.
It’s always nice to have something great meeting your low expectations and this was no exception: a really nice meal of memorable and interesting food, served well and all that on a flight, too. Even as pointy end standards go, this was an outstanding experience. But it isn’t going to make my next flight, down the back, any easier to bear!