World’s Best Foreign Airlines For Food Lovers
By Janice Wald Henderson
On most airlines, the food resembles the blankets — rarely free and small in size. Add a list of ingredients that’s weird and unrecognizable, and you’ll understand the less than enthusiastic response people have when presented with meals in the sky. But some carriers, mostly long-haul foreign ones, are embarking on a new culinary flight path. They’ve hired star chefs to create signature dishes tweaked for cabin altitude, built better-equipped galleys, and introduced onboard chefs and bartenders. Some of the high-end gastronomic perks are for first and business class passengers only, but on these five airlines, economy passengers also benefit from the attention to quality food service. So next time you take to the skies, you might find the experience just a bit tastier.
It’s a food lover’s fantasy: A chef in starched whites and towering toque greets boarding passengers at the plane door as if to welcome them into a restaurant. The ‘flying chef’ is in charge of all cuisine, for first and business classes, served on long-haul flights. These chefs work at preparing meals both pre-flight (at ground catering facilities) and in-flight (a perk reserved for business-class passengers only). With everything served fresh, enticing aromas of traditional Turkish dishes waft through all cabins shortly after takeoff, and portions for all classes are generous.
Coach flyers can relish starters like olive oil–poached artichoke and entrèes such as delicately spiced meat-stuffed eggplant. The culinary ante is upped further for Comfort Class guests: Business-class flyers receive a personally inscribed three-fold menu and a separate wine list. A meze, or small-plate, menu offers purslane with homemade yogurt, soups, and fresh artichoke with olive and pepper croutons. Entrées and desserts are just as excellent: Beautifully garnished grilled sea bass with red lentils, followed by homemade sour cherry cake paired with a foamy cappuccino, almost make you wish the flight would never end.
Cathay Pacific Airways
At 35,000 feet, are free-range organic scrambled eggs with freshly toasted bread a breakfast must-have? On Cathay Pacific, the first-class galley stocks skillets, toasters, and rice cookers, so celestial morning meals are made-to-order — and served with fresh-brewed espresso or cappuccino, no less.
Passengers in all seat classes can enjoy expertly prepared Asian and Western dishes, such as braised duck with taro in preserved red bean sauce, or slow-simmered veal shoulder with parsnips. Those in the premium seats may see a menu of signature dishes from Hong Kong hot spots like chef Gray Kunz’s Michelin-starred CafèGray Deluxe and Feast (Food by EAST), paired with glam pours like a 2007 Château Lynch Bages Grand Cru ClasséPauillac. And Cathay Pacific’s famously attentive staff comes through the entire aircraft with a soothing serving of Chinese tea before bedtime.
Like many long-haul carriers, Cathay Pacific accommodates a myriad of dietary requests — and then some. With advance notice, the airline can serve you one of 20 special meals that adhere to various religious and dietary restrictions: Muslims, Hindus, Jews, celiacs, and raw foodists alike all have options.
The menus on Singapore Airlines read like Michelin-starred restaurants thanks to heavyweight chefs like Suzanne Goin of Los Angeles’ Lucques, Georges Blanc of the Michelin three-star restaurant of the same name in southeast France, and Singaporean über-chef Sam Leong. All three are members of Singapore Airlines’ International Culinary Panel, which works closely with the airlines’ own chefs to design menus for all seat classes.
Singapore Airlines is one of the few carriers to create menus in a test kitchen specially built to mimic the food-prep conditions found in an air-pressurized cabin. New dishes for all seat classes are developed and critiqued the way generals review battle plans: They are run by top brass multiple times. In-flight wines are also selected and tested here; they can lose precious nuances at high altitude.
Business-class, first-class, and suite guests are spoiled rotten. Galleys are equipped with three different ovens (including steam and convection) and each entrée component is cooked separately before being plated on Givenchy china. These fortunate flyers also sip Krug or Dom Pérignon, nibble malossol caviar, and choose from nine different types of bread. Even the chocolates are house-made.
Economy-class passengers also benefit from Singapore Airlines’ dedication to maintaining its stellar culinary reputation. While less lavish, the menus include appetizers like potato salad with baby shrimp, plus a choice of two entrées (such as wok-fried chicken and bamboo shoots in sesame oil), a cheese plate, desserts such as a strawberry mousse cake, and Asian and Western teas.
Wild Iranian caviar? Check. Dom Pérignon? Check. Charger plates? Yup, it’s just like eating at fancy restaurants on terra firma. With seven-course lunches and dinners, it’s fortunate that these Emirates flights are long-haul or there’d be no time to sleep in first class.
But who would want to snore through smoked tangerine chicken on lentil salad, duck breast glazed with wild forest honey, or exotic Arabic meze and hamoor? Business-class customers dine on five-course lunches and dinners, including a cheese course served with port. On the Emirates Airline A380 aircraft, business and first-class passengers sip grand cru wines and nibble on canapés in lounges manned by a dedicated bartender.
Emirates’ economy passengers don’t get shortchanged. Most drinks, including wine, are complimentary, while meals feature five courses. Smoked tuna with marinated vegetables, a seasonal salad, charcoal-grilled lamb brochette with cinnamon-scented sauce, sticky date pudding, cheese and biscuits, and chocolates are par for the course. It’s royal treatment for all.
Etihad lavishes first-class travelers with exquisite food and personalized service. Armed with top resort and restaurant experience, the onboard chefs do much of the cooking à la minute, and can customize sauces, poach eggs, and brew macchiato. “The Mezoon Grille” menu, available to all its first-class customers, re-creates a top-notch steakhouse in the sky, with beautifully grilled rib-eye steaks ranging from rare to well-done and a choice of sauces and sides. Like most of the best long-haul airlines,
Etihad rotates its menus. Six-course degustation menus showcase modern Arabic cuisine, although passengers can dine on what they want (including available Western selections), whenever they want, rather than just at set dining times.
In business class, a food-and-beverage manager caters to every whim. They work hand-in-glove with Etihad chefs and wine producers to guide guests through in-flight course selections and beverage pairings, and will even recommend restaurants in your destination city.
Coach flyers can choose between three entrées (Western, Middle Eastern, or destination-specific), served with a warm dessert and wine, spirits and beer. Etihad also provides surprises mid-route, like popcorn or ice cream. Cappuccino and espresso are also offered — a rarity in economy class.