If there was an award for the best steak in the sky, the crew on Korean Air Flight KE 121 from Seoul to Sydney would be top contenders.
They nailed “medium rare” and the roasted beef tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce was a superlative piece of meat that could happily have graced any number of restaurants.
There have been a couple of other airlines that have hit this carnivorous sweet spot but it doesn’t happen often
Yet steak is not the most fun you can have with food on Korea’s national carrier.
That honor lies with its trademark Bibimbap, something I’d tried on a previous flight.
This tasty traditional Korean dish of mixed rice with meat and vegetables comes in kit form with its own set of instructions and is something not to be missed.
It’s all part of the experience in Korean’s Prestige Class on the Airbus A330 flying between Sydney and Seoul.
The outbound flight from Sydney is an early departure that begins in winter watching the sunrise from the airport’s SkyTeam lounge, a facility that ticks the business class lounge boxes without being particularly memorable.
A breakfast/brunch is served after take-off followed by a main meal quite a long time later, although you could request it be served earlier.
Korean’s business class seat is wide enough for bigger folk and the open footrest meant there were no worries about cramped feet.
Settling into the seat, the first order of business was to play a game of “find the headphone socket”.
I’ve seen headphone sockets in some obtuse places but the Korean placement is particularly challenging on the inside of the side pocket. It’s not only hard to see but tricky to connect.
Once connected, though, the effective noise-canceling headphones were clear-sounding and particularly comfortable.
The generous 17-inch video monitor is controlled by a wired 3.7-inch touchscreen handset that’s easy to use and understand. The resolution was good and easy on the eyes.
Korean’s entertainment options are not as wide as those on Qantas, Emirates or Singapore Airlines but there’s enough to keep a sleepless body occupied on a 10-hour trip.
That was assisted somewhat by the fact that I flew into Seoul at the end of May and left at the start of June so the program had changed.
The seat feels comfortable and unconstrained. It is in 2-2-2 configuration but the outboard seats are staggered to give everyone aisle access.
I had an aisle seat on the Sydney-Seoul trip and while there was less privacy than the window seat I’d occupied on a previous trip, it was enough so that you didn’t feel others were intruding.
The seat was 21 inches wide and folded down into a 75-inch flat bed with an acceptable comfort level, although I’ve experienced a couple of seats that were better for people who sleep on their side.
I didn’t find a lot of storage but later discovered there was a spot for my laptop. In any event, it was easy enough to hop up and take things in and out of the overhead bin and there was space for shoes under the ottoman.
The seat controls were intuitive and easy to use and there was a handy individual light as well as the usual power supply and USB port for charging devices.
A privacy screen was also available to separate you from your neighbor.
One gripe was the small pillow unsuitable for people with big shoulders — or anyone with shoulders really — although a colleague got a bigger version on another flight.
A welcome surprise came from the Tardis toilets — much bigger on the inside than they looked on the outside and some of the most spacious I’ve encountered in business class.
They were equipped with razors and mouthwash to supplement a good amenities kit which included a shoehorn and one of those incredibly useful folding hairbrushes.
The second welcome surprise was that Korean has dropped first class on a bunch of routes, including the Aussie service, and opened that cabin to business class customers. This happened from June 1 on 27 routes operated by Boeing 787-9s, 777-300ERs and Airbus A330s.
Get there early enough, or presumably have a high enough frequent flyer status, and you can secure a first-class seat with business class service.
This is essentially what happened to me on the return leg.
The main differences between first and business seat appear to be a giant TV screen compared to a very big one, some extra space, more places to put stuff and a much bigger pillow.
This was an overnight flight offering dinner and breakfast and the one with the fantastic steak.
Korean does what is potentially a six-course dinner service that in this case included a snack of smoked salmon tartar and lavosh with the pre-dinner drink, followed by lemon herb marinated prawn with mushroom, the prize-winning steak main course, a cheese tray and, if you allow the cabin crew to tempt you, dessert.
You can kick off with cold glass a Perrier Jouet Grand Brut or, as I did, pick from an impressive scotch line-up of Chivas Regal 18-year-old, Johnnie Walker Gold or Glenfiddich Select Cask single malt.
Wine choices were more limited with one white wine (a 2015 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay), one rose (Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel) and two choices of red (A 2007 No. 6 shiraz cabernet and a Frie Brothers 2015 reserve merlot). The wine glasses were a bit old school but that didn’t affect the enjoyment of a very pleasant product.
In between meals, there was a snack list that included pizza and tantalizing freshly-baked cookies.
The service was good and consistent over the three flights I’ve taken with Korean. The crew members were personable, proactive and responsive.
The crew on the way to Seoul seemed a bit surprised when I asked for my lunch ahead of the main meal service but quickly swung into action to deliver it as requested.
The crew on the night flight coming back were adept at periodically asking insomniacs if there was anything they needed.
In terms of potential improvements, a bigger pillow in business class and additional programming on the in-flight entertainment system would be plusses.
However, Korean is a good option for anyone flying to North Asia.
Steve Creedy flew to Seoul courtesy of Korean Air and IATA.