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Emirates Flight Catering and a comparison of Business vs Standard Class Travel:
I’ve been flying for over fifty years. That’s a scary thought, but my first journey, at the age of 5, was also my longest ever, from London to Singapore. I remember we had several stops for refuelling, the first in Frankfurt. And I remember being dressed up in my best clothes to fly. I don’t believe there was a business class in those days – but, if I am honest, I don’t really remember much of the journey other than it took a few days from start to finish with various stops along the way.
Of course, air travel has changed immensely since then and for me, some of the romance has gone. We certainly don’t dress up to travel – it’s seen as sensible to wear a tracksuit and comfy shoes. And, snacking on sandwiches from Pret makes dining before flying much the same as any working day. I much prefer the refined atmosphere of the business lounge to the shopping malls that now dominate airside, and I have to admit that if I don’t have lounge access I tend to head to one of the champagne bars and lurk there with a glass of fizz. I want my trip to start at the airport – and I want that experience to be luxurious!
Amazingly, travelling business class with Emirates starts before you ever reach Heathrow or Gatwick. A chauffeur driven car (and, by the way, the drivers are contracted to work for Emirates so they really know how the flights work) will pick you up at your door and the driver will take you and your luggage directly to check-in. What a lovely way to start your travels.
Once you are airside (and there is a fast track security queue too), the business lounge offers an excellent choice of food and beverages. Champagne, not prosecco, is on offer and I noticed an open bottle of Margaux on the counter. The food would be enough to satisfy the hungriest traveller – there are hot and cold dishes to choose from.
On board the Airbus A380, first class and business class travellers are seated on the top deck. The cabin crew offer you a mattress for your flatbed seat, a quilt and a pillow with a proper cotton pillowcase. There’s a little toiletry bag filled with Balenciaga goodies, and there’s space in your ‘pod’ for pretty much everything you’ll need for the journey, including a charging point for your phone and your own personal drinks cabinet with water and juices.
When the seatbelt sign is off, if you’ve managed not to eat and drink too much in the lounge, it’s worth heading for the sky bar where you can order a cocktail of your choice and indulge in a range of snacks and canapes. I found there was something slightly surreal about standing at a bar drinking and gossiping knowing I was 40,000 feet or so in the sky. After a quick kir royale, I went back to my seat to watch a film before dinner. Everything was just so.
I was impressed with the dining menu too. I picked the Scottish peat-smoked Salmon on fennel salad with lemon oil and watercress to start and then Roast Chicken with wild mushroom sauce, sage and shallot stuffing, vegetables and roasted heritage potatoes for my main from a choice of three options.
The salmon was delicious, with a strong smoke and a very generous helping of salad. I had chosen the Pazo de Barrantes Albarino 2015 to drink, looking for something a little more minerally and fresh than the alternative white, a Napa Valley Stag’s Leap Chardonnay. The wine list did impress me – proper dining options which wouldn’t be out of place in a fine dining restaurant.
Roast chicken was the kind of comfort food that my body really needed by now. A braver option would have been the seared monkfish with veloute, topped with a scallop and served with spinach risotto, green beans and baby carrots, but there are times for me when pushing the service to its limits makes way to actually enjoying the occasion and since it was now around midnight UK time, I felt I deserved a break.
I didn’t read the menu properly and ordered the Rhubarb delice, which came with poached strawberries. When I explained my allergy, the dish was quickly taken away and replaced with a strawberry free version.
And then I slept. Like a baby. Till about an hour before landing I woke to find the cabin crew passing out hot towels. My only issue with service is that at this point I asked for a cup of tea. I suspect it was somehow overlooked because 15 minutes later I got up and asked again. It arrived so late that I had little more than a mouthful before the cup was removed for landing. Another time I’ll try asking in advance, it seems a small issue but having slept so well I really wanted a hot drink to help wake me up.
So, that was Business Class.
Our next stop was to see how this kind of food is prepared, although what we ate flying from London to Dubai would not have come from the Dubai Catering Facility which only caters for airports within 4 hours of Dubai itself. Nevertheless, Emirates Flight Catering provides in-flight catering and support services for more than 120 airlines and can produce over 175,000 meals a day. I was curious.
We toured the kitchens, learning how different cuisines are catered for with different sections and getting a feel for how the food is presented. I was particularly impressed that everything we saw was being prepared from scratch. From breads and pastries to curries, sushi and sashimi and Arabic mezze. Nothing is brought in. Even the chocolate for desserts is properly tempered in the Flight Catering Facility.
I really enjoyed watching the very skilled teams plating up, using a single, ‘perfect’ example, ‘Najm Standard’ as the basis for the remaining hundreds!
We went on to take part in a blogger cooking challenge. I am not sure that, in my jet-lagged state, I was particular effective, though I did enjoy the mushroom soup I made after following the direction of Emirates Catering chefs Haiko-Michael Schafer . Mine used his original recipe but kept more of the mushrooms in pieces rather than blending to a veloute. And, I added cream and truffle oil and garnished with chives, just because I could.
The second dish we attempted was considerably more complicated and involved deep frying in a wok. Wang de Xiang made everything look very easy when he showed us how to make Stir Fried Prawns with Cucumber served with Stir Fried Snow Peas and Carrot Flower. And, it all looked and tasted wonderful but I was somewhat nervous at the idea I should attempt the dish.
Particularly since it involved hot oil and sharp knives. Actually the team at the Flight Catering Facility stepped in pretty manfully and I rather suspect the fact I won the overall blogger challenge (judged by one of my culinary heroes, Gary Rhodes amongst others) was that my dish was largely put together by Executive Vice President of the Catering Facility, James A Griffith
Nevertheless, I’m sharing the recipe for the Stir Fried Prawns with Cucumber, which I will undoubtedly try again at home.
- 450 g Prawns Butterfly cut
- 1 pinch White Sugar
- 2 g Chicken stock powder
- 1 pinch White pepper powder
- 1 drizzle Sesame oil
- 1 heaped teaspoon Cornflower
- 1 teaspoon Corn oil
- 1 tablespoon Corn oil
- 1 heaped teaspoon Minced Garlic
- 1 heaped teaspoon Minced Ginger
- 2 teaspoons Mirin
- 200 g Chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon Oyster Sauce
- 2 teaspoons Light Soy Sauce
- 1 teaspoon White Sugar
- 1 pinch Hondashi
- 2 teaspoons Cornflour Diluted in 4 teaspoons of water
- 40 g Cucumber Cut in half, deseeded, then cut into half moon shapes about 1/4cm thick
- 1 teaspoon Red Chilli Finely julienned
- 1 heaped teaspoon Spring Onion Chopped
- 1 teaspoon Sesame oil
- Mix the prawns with all the dry ingredients, then add the corn oil and mix again. Marinade for 15-20 minutes
- Heat enough corn oil in a wok to deep fry. Cook the prawns for about 2 minutes on a low to medium heat till the prawns start to turn pink. Drain and put to one side for later
- Drain off the frying oil and heat a tablespoon of corn oil in the same wok. Infuse with minced ginger and garlic and stir till the garlic starts to turn brown. Add the mirin, then add the chicken stock.
- Once the mixture starts to simmer, add the oyster sauce, soya sauce, sugar, hondashi and then slowly add the cornflour liquid till the mixture thickens and starts to boil
- Add in the cucumber and prawns and stir well for a few minutes till the cucumber is just starting to soften and the prawns are fully warmed through
- Add the chilli, spring onion and sesame oil and serve
After all that excitement and the luxury of travelling Business Class with Emirates, I was not particularly looking forward to the return trip. But, we’d learnt that the food served is much the same, though with less choice and a different selection of wine. And, the entertainment is exactly the same. The differences are predominantly in the superficial details. A standard seat on Emirates is a good size, but not flatbed. And the pillows and bedding provided are not as luxurious. Instead of a starched linen napkin, you’ll get a paper one, and the china and glass is replaced with plastic. But, there’s still an excellent ratio of crew to passengers and still the same level of hospitality. I actually really enjoyed my lunch of salmon with saffron rice and, for me, the slightly smaller portion size was actually the right amount of food.
Would I pay to go Business Class? Yes, without a doubt if my budget allowed. It does feel luxurious, it does feel special and if you are travelling on holiday or for a special occasion it would certainly be the perfect start. Would I worry about travelling to Dubai in standard class? Certainly not – I might pack a few extras in my hand luggage to give myself a nicer experience – a pashmina, an eye mask and a travel pillow for example. And, then I’d just sit back and enjoy the journey.
Right now, Emirates have some remarkably good deals on offer.
- Economy Class: £299 – bookable until 16 November
- Business Class: £1,769 – bookable until 15 November
After that the current prices are:
- Economy Class: £607
- Business Class: £2,689
I travelled to Dubai with Emirates.