Trust the French to dish up the best in airline business class cuisine on its long-haul flights.
Features editor John Newton recently boarded an Air France Airbus A380-800 flight and found the culinary delights in business class were as good – if not better – than those on certain Middle East carriers, more often than not favoured by the ‘experts’ when it comes to awards.
After at least half a dozen long-haul flights on the French national flag carrier, the service, food quality and wine selection has been exceptional with a touch of class not surpassed by other major international carriers.
Flight AF-188 direct Paris-Hong Kong was no exception.
From the outset, the service was impeccable and the flight attendants courteous and efficient.
Just the ticket after a late-night take-off was a stylish glass of bubbly – French, of course - Ayala Brut Majeur. According to Air France, this historic estate was a haven of tranquillity prior to being acquired by its neighbour in AY, Bollinger. Assuming the role of challenger to this illustrious flagship brand, its product is distinctly different from the Bollinger counterparts. Ayala Brut Majeur is remarkable for its fruitiness, its richness on the palate, its full flavour, its balance and is perfect complement with seafood.
And that’s exactly what was on the upcoming dinner menu, starting with a gourmet appetiser of scallop and lobster timbale, flavoured with vegetables, lime, foie gras terrine and Tahitian vanilla and strawberry-cranberry chutney.
Pan-seared shrimp, a recipe by Anne-Sophie Pic - the only French woman chef to have achieved three Michelin stars - headed the main course suggestions. One of her classic combinations comprises mozzarella cheese and warm tomatoes enhanced by a sprinkling of basil and a butter sauce with Madagascar vanilla. This tomato Caprese revisited offers the perfect touch of acidity to the firm flesh of the lightly seared shrimps.
Other suggestions included Penne pasta with turmeric – tomato and watercress, mushroom duxelles, Italian cheese and asparagus tips and a Chinese specialty (after all, we were en route to China) – stir-fried beef, black bean sauce with ginger, rice and Shanghai cabbage.
Dessert was fig shortbread or a selection of cheese – camembert, petit chevre and dried apricot.
The wine was, of course, French – and only the best:
Bourgogne Blanc - Pouilly Fuisse 2013 Louis Latour – this illustrious Beaune estate is ubiquitous in southern Burgundy;
Cotes de Provence Rose – from the Valentines estate located in La Londe - les- Maures, along the coastline of the Cotes de Provence appellation between Toulon and Saint-Tropez;
Vallee du Rhone Rouge: Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Closiers 2013 Ogier – over 150 years ago, the Ogier estate was set up in the heart of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Today, it produces a variety of wines by applying the irreproachable methods of cultivation that are its hallmark; and
Bordeaux Rouge: Haut-Medoc 2009 Chateau Maurac – this cru bourgeois from the northern Medoc is predominantly made from Merlot grapes, giving it a full flavour and just perfect with red meat.
A smooth Calvados was just what the doctor ordered for a good night’s sleep as Captain Bruno Durantel eased the four-year-old A380 to a maximum speed of Mach 0.89 (cruising speed Mach 0.85) on the 11-hour, 5614- kilometre flight.
But there are oodles of in-flight entertainment options if you don’t feel like dozing off.
The whisper-quiet A380 has about 600 hours of programming, including one hundred feature films and a jukebox of 300 CDs with 3000 pieces of music.
Other business class features include:
* Wider screens and easier navigation, enables passengers to access programmes in just a few clicks;
* Passengers can choose between movies – either by category or by alphabetical order – select those which are dubbed or subtitled in a particular language or follow the aircraft’s flight path in real time, in a second window; and
* Each seat is equipped with a USB socket enabling passengers to download contents, such as flight schedules, information on Air France, destination guides, games for children, relaxation videos and podcasts.
Business class also has two bars offering passengers the chance to meet up over a drink and a snack – available depending on the flight time.
On board the double-deck superjumbo were 512 passengers (capacity 516) in four classes on two decks– five in first-class (main/lower deck), 80 in business (upper deck), 38 in premium economy (behind business) and 389 in economy on the main/lower deck behind first class).
The specially-equipped business class flat-bed seats, each measuring two metres, are arranged in rows of six across (2x2x2) and provide unequalled comfort – even at take-off and landing. A storage container is at the disposal of passengers, together with an outlet to re-charge a laptop and a 37.5 centimetre (15-inch) video screen – the largest in the entire Air France fleet.
Business and first class passengers also have exclusive access to ‘the gallery’ – the first-ever art gallery built into an aircraft – which displays exhibitions designed specially for Air France in partnership with the world’s most famous museums.
After a smooth flight through the night and early morning, it was time to think about food again – this time breakfast. Croissant with preserves, fresh fruit salad and cereal and yoghurt were followed by a choice of ‘entrée’ – scrambled eggs with ratatouille, or bresaola beef, Gouda cheese with cumin, romaine salad and dried pear or Liege waffle with coffee sauce and apple-rhubarb compote.
Bon appétit, said the flight attendant. And enjoy it, I did.
Touch down in Hong Kong was on time, making it a flight to remember – and not just for the exquisite food.
For enquiries and bookings, consult your licensed travel agent or go to:
Currently, Air France operates 10 A380s with two more on order. It also has orders for 18 new Airbus A350-800s and 12 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. It is one of three airlines, together with Avianca and British Airways, to operate each variant of the Airbus A320 family.
More than 100 million passengers have flown on Airbus’ 21st century flagship jet since its 2007 commercial service entry.
The A380 has an instant messaging service that enables passengers to chat ‘live’ with other passengers without leaving their seats. They can also take part in discussion forums, debate with other passengers or open new discussion topics.