Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Putting on the Ritz

EK 903/902 to/from Amman from Dubai
Web: http://www.emirates.com

We've reviewed Emirates' food before. It's perhaps unusual to include a review of airline fare on a food blog, but when you're sitting 'up front' you have a certain expectation and our last review, some while ago, found EK's food to be worthy of note on a restaurant quality test scale. It's linked here, BTW.

So a recent trip gives a chance to compare then with now. And oh dear, but there's trouble in paradise.

Emirates' Business class service is nothing less than excellent. The staff are friendly, the purser's got a tablet PC with guest preferences noted and everything's handled with a personal touch, with ease and smilingly at that. A glass of something before we take off? Oh yes. A glass of something with a dish of nuts as we break the cloud layer? Sure - but cut out the macadamias, eh? Many of those turning left rather than right (Zuckerburgs excepted) are old enough to not necessarily want the saturated fat punch those things pack.

The menu's straightforward and sensible: mezze or a lobster and crab timbale; Gulf style biryani, tenderloin, prawns in tamarind or rigatoni - dessert's a yoghurt panna cotta. That's really taken care of Arab, European and Indian tastes and gives everyone a nice mix and match. I took the timbale and the tenderloin because I was feeling, well, straightforward.

The timbale was good - a little heap of shredded lobster and crab meat moistened with a touch of Mary Rose, a few clear, sweet cubes of pineapple jelly dotting the dish. Served with a lovely Craggy Range sauvignon blanc, it's a really nice starter.

Seared tenderloin beef fillet steak, as it's described on the menu, had me a little confused, it's like serving a seared breast of chicken breast. Served with 'a wild mushroom sauce, accompanied with roasted new potato skin on with herbs and sautéed free cut vegetables in a chunky tomato sauce' it was an overcooked little dish of strong and clashing flavours. Who would be mad enough to roast new potatoes for a start? What a terrible thing to do to them, sweet and clean as they are. And the steak was 'grise', the sauce burned on and the vegetables overdone to soft squishiness. It was simply a dish of over-baked stuff and really didn't live up to the description. It came with a lovely soft Torbeck, though.

The pannacotta was nice enough.

Once again, excellent service. I am a huge EK fan - have been for years - and this is just what it's all about. Relaxed and stuck in a book, somehow I miss the menu being handed out but that's just dealt with nicely. The choice this time is mezze or smoked salmon; lamb loin meloubeh, stuffed chicken breast, pan-drived pomfret or seafood pasta. Dessert in all cases is banoffee pie.

The salmon is served with triangles of feta and a green bean and 'sun-dried tomato salad along with celery heart and seasonal green leaves' - it turns out that 'seasonal green leaves' means some frisee but that's okay. The celery leaves are hardly a heart but I like celery. The salmon runs red when you squeeze lemon on it, which isn't a great sign - it's served as three thick tranches and they're moist enough, although hardly small smokehouse fare - this is farmed rather than artisanale, if I'm not mistaken. It's actually hard, up there, to taste the difference - but it doesn't scream smoked and salmon, as good stuff will. The salad's nice, though. The Meursault was lovely, but a bit warm.

I took the pomfret as a main. The hostie didn't recognise 'pomfret' as a fish and we settled on 'the fish course'. Served with a 'clear ginger sauce and spring baton, accompanied by stir-fried noodles and wok-fried seasonal vegetables', I should have thought my choice through and avoided. this.

How can you sensibly expect 'stir-fried noodles' to survive being dished up, cooled down, re-heated and served without becoming a mass of slightly soft stuff? Wok-fried seasonal vegetables should come from a wok - it's simply unreasonable to expect them to survive being stacked in containers and kept for hours before being lammed into a tray heater and banged out five miles above the earth. This was borne out by the dish of over-cooked fish, limp vegetable, over-salted gloopy sauce and soft, flaccid noodles. I'm not sure if EK is at fault trying to make this work or if I was at fault ordering it. Either way, I couldn't finish the dish.

The banoffee pie 'garnished with white chocolate shavings' was actually garnished with milk chocolate shavings and was heavy on the foamy cream stuff and light on the 'offee'. I'm not sure that banoffee pie needs to compete with a strawberry compote, actually. How about a créme Anglaise?

Both menus promise a cheese selection that simply didn't happen. It wasn't the end of my world, to tell you the truth.

So is reviewing business class airline food the work of a total twat? Probably, but you're paying the money and the food's a major differentiator - along with the legroom, fancy screen, funky electro-seat and the service - and you're paying double the cattle class rack rate for it. The experience is one of being diverted from the tiresome process of frequent flying by being well looked after and fed with a menu of things that delight. So it's worth bringing it under scrutiny, IMHO.

The trip, the service and the many creature comforts delivered. Sadly the mains didn't.

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