Dining review: We try the food on board an Airbus A330
Dublin-New York- Dublin, Aer Lingus. www.aerlingus.com
The glamour of the jet age has faded to grey thanks to the advent of low cost airlines. A warm can of lager will set you back a fiver and if you want nuts, they'll count them out one by one.
I'm old enough to remember flying on juddering Air France Caravelles and roaring BEA Viscounts in the Sixties and the barely containable excitement we felt as small children once we were on board the plane.
As if this wasn't enough, once we had taken off, a stewardess would come round with trays of meals and drinks. At this point we were nearly fainting with the sensory overload.
Recently, I was reminded of those days on an Aer Lingus flight to New York. I queued happily in Dublin at the gate along with the other economy ticket holders.
When my turn came, I handed the woman my boarding pass and a small alarm went off as she passed it over the laser processor. She tried again and then went off coming back a few seconds later to say she was dreadfully sorry about that and that I had been upgraded to business class.
I thanked her (trying hard to remain calm and not to lose control of all my functions as I sensed that same excitement from all the years ago) and turned left after going through the plane's door.
You can tell you're in business class when the seat is that big you think it's a bench for two and the steward offers you champagne a minute after you've sat down. Also, there is a four page menu printed on a velum card the likes of which I last saw at a very posh wedding. What's handy about this is that it performs as a bluffer's guide to food and drink. Descriptors of the four wines being served today provide just the right amount of information. It's good to know that the Pouilly Fume is from the very charming Alain Cailbourdin who runs this small family estate in the heart of the Loire Valley. You never know when you might need that information.
I decided to stick with the Pouilly Fume and eschew the other offers which included a white Castello Banfi from Tuscany, a merlot from South Africa and syrah from the Rhone Valley. This proved to be a wise decision as the man from Londonderry next to me (who told me he flies this route every month - it's amazing the number of people who spend a large portion of their lives in business class) decided to get full from the outset and wanted me to match him drink for drink (I couldn't).
The food started to arrive, first in canape form including olives, chicken parfait and mozzarella balls, and eventually in full dinner format with proper crockery and cutlery. Those canapes were remarkable for being fresh and full of flavour. The deadening impact of pressurised cabins on certain foods had little effect on these. A Toons Bridge mozzarella salad with tomato and pesto was up to the job as well although, in this case, the tomatoes sang out sweetly while the cheese had slightly gone into itself possibly suffering from mild dehydration.
Choice of three mains included filet of beef with green beans, jus and roast potatoes, chicken braised in Bulmers cider with pearl onions and mushrooms or pas seared beechwood smoked salmon with spaghetti Florentine and sun dried tomatoes. Of the three I thought the salmon would fight off the 36,000ft challenges the best and I was right. Full of flavour with no bending or twisting of the texture or taste, it was as good as any salmon dish by Paul Rankin.
There was a selection of Irish cheese (too cold) and an unremarkable sweet apple and cinnamon crunch, but anybody unhappy with this would need a good slap.
Charmed by it all I wondered how they were getting on in economy. I'd find out soon enough because three days later I was on the way back in row 34. I had eaten in some of New York's best including Russ & Daughters and Cosme and had reviewed a joint culinary spectacular produced by Belfast's own OX and the famous Dead Rabbit bar, so I was braced for coming back to earth with a bump.
No sooner had we taken off than a choice of two dishes (chicken with rice or shepherd's pie) and a drink were offered (you can buy beer, wine, etc for a €5). Frankly, the chicken and rice dish was top class. It came in an aluminium take-away style container and the cutlery was plastic, but the flavours of the chicken and the rice were top notch. Little pre-packed cakes, buns and baps completed the meal which could not be faulted.
So there you have it. It may be a plane of two halves, the leg room may be three times bigger, the wide screen telly makes it easier to watch Alien, the drink is free and you're eating off crockery with steel cutlery. But judging by the food alone, Aer Lingus is looking after its economy passengers admirably too.
- Joris travelled to New York as a guest of Aer Lingus
business class ............€2,700.00 (varies)
economy .......................€219.00 (varies)