Flight: EK421, Perth-Dubai
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Cabin: Business Class
Class act. Business cabin steward Etienne handed me one of the finest mojitos I’ve sipped anywhere, in the air or on the ground. Classic: a perfect balance of sugar and alcohol; perky lime and vegetal mint leaves and a damn good muddling. It even looked nice. I had a second, not bad for a bloke who barely drinks when flying.
Etienne was rightly very proud of his cocktail prowess. His family has owned a smart bar in Beirut for many years and his skills with a muddling stick or Boston shaker are something he loves to share with Emirates customers – especially an appreciative audience like the airlineratings.com resident foodie in 8F.
It was a memorable beginning to the 10 hour trans-Indian Ocean flight, and especially welcome after the depressing, third world privations of Australia’s worst airport at Perth in Western Australia.
When it comes to assessing the food and service on aircraft, one quickly gets a nose for genuineness. In fact genuineness is one of the best compliments this reviewer can bestow on an airline and its cabin crew. Most know how to deliver a professional smile and how to be attentive in a by-the-book kind of way, but it is the rare airline (with a rare culture) which allows – important word that – cabin crew to be relaxed enough to demonstrate a real affection for their job and their customers. It is one of the hardest things to achieve in the customer service business. Emirates cabin crews are perhaps the best in the world (and bear in mind, no one has paid for me to say these things and these reviews are independent and, hopefully, fearless when needs be). There’s none of the aloofness one tends to find on the large western legacy carriers; none of the “you’re lucky I’ve deigned to serve you today” haughtiness. Emirates crews don’t want to be your best friend, but they seem to have an innate capacity to interact with customers in a way which is just right for the individual customer. Casual formality? Perhaps that’s the best way to explain it.
Business class dining is more telling for an airline than that of first or coach. It’s a given that they throw everything but the heirloom cutlery at first and at the back of the plane the expectations are not high – it’s price point driven. But business class dining is a hybrid of price point sensitivity and brand-defining cookery designed to wow and comfort in equal measure. The competition for the taste buds of the travelling wealthy and business customers is more focused in this cabin than anywhere else on the plane. It’s also where the cracks first appear in an airline’s food and service.
Emirates is at the top of its game, so the expectations are high too.
EK421 is a dinner and breakfast flight. Dinner service begins about midnight (local time) and kicks off with a serious collection of made-to-order cocktails, spirits and aperitifs. It’s gratifying to see the world-wide trend for proper (no umbrella, no fruit, no cream, no frappe) cocktails built on good spirits and mixers, has made it on to the world’s first tier carriers. Having said that, Carrie Bradshaw’s libation of choice, the Cosmo, makes the list, and you’ve got to love the retro irony of a screwdriver, the vodka orange juice hi-ball from the Starsky and Hutch era.
My mojito wasn’t even on the list. Three cheers Etienne.
The menu covers most bases and does it well, even without the breadth of Emirates’ first class menu. Two starters, a soup, a salad and three mains – chicken, cod, lamb – round out the card.
A bresaola starter is simple. The menu doesn’t tell us where the air dried beef is from which is pretty much required information these days, especially among serious eaters – A/B demographic travellers – who increasingly care about provenance, animal husbandry, sustainability, organics and whether a salami is made artisanally or in an industrial factory in the backblocks of Guangzhou.
It was a fine product though and nicely garnished a caprese salad made with cherry tomatoes, balsamic and virgin olive oil.
Grilled lamb cutlets for main course were the hero dish. Meat cookery is about the hardest thing to do on a plane and yet the large frenched cutlets were well charred on the outside but as soft as a baby’s sigh on the inside. Perfect cooking. A potato dauphinoise was creamy and firm (there’s nothing worse than a sloppy dauphinoise) and the re-heated vegetables came, as advertised, with some caramelisation from the grill. Tidy dish.
Pudding included a key lime tart, Opera cake and massive cheese board.
Service in the business cabin is a little more frenetic than in first – which is to be expected – but the engaging staff keep it real with constant checks and offers of top-ups.
The single greatest irritant when it comes to food on planes is how long the finished tray sits in front of you. On this flight, the crew were on the money, ready to take away the detritus the moment one had finished.
The Emirates B777 cabin has one of the best business class cabins in the air: service, food and the drinks program are at the higher end of the scale. This is no mean achievement in a cabin where business travellers and well-heeled vacationers expect first class service in a mid-plane cabin.
Emirates secret? Simple food, basic cookery, excellent produce, genuine service.