Often, airline food is looked upon with a lot of suspicion, and considered inferior. I have never had a bad experience, except for an overcooked fish and stiff puris. As a matter of fact I think getting food ready for a long distance craft requires much more scientific precision than molecular gastronomy. Temperature of the food when loaded onto the craft, the degree of processing/cooking on site and while heating in the craft, freshness and contamination control are just some of the strict norms that need to be followed for the food served on board a craft. All this is simply because 20000+ metres up in the air if you fall sick because of the food, the ever ready and capable air-hostess/steward may not be able to control it. Not to mention you suing the airlines.
Gourmet cuisine (food) is also something that full service airlines use as a differentiating factor; especially for business and first class. It was my lucky break that on my way back from a professional trip on the Mumbai-Frankfurt route, I got upgraded to business (my first). This gave me a first-hand experience of the service standards of Lufthansa. As a background to the airline, Lufthansa is one of the biggest commercial and civil aviation companies in Europe. Under their umbrella they have Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Austrian. As part of an elite class of full service carriers, the company obviously boasts about the special treatment to the better paying customers ie first and business class. Gourmet cuisine and exotic beverages are part of this. They take pride in the fact that they have a menu designed specially for their business and first class by renowned global masterchefs which changes every two months. The company has also taken the pain to work with some Indian chefs to design an Indian menu for the India sector that they fly.
Over the two main course meal on board, my plate saw courses designed by The Leela’s Farman Ali, master corporate chef and Surender Mohan, corporate chef, and Stefan Wilke, chef de cuisine of the ship MS Europa. After the customary glass of bubbly – Champagne Duval Leroy Brut from France – as a welcome drink and enough time to settle into the bigger seats and the gizmos around –customisable seat position, personal entertainment system, bigger folding-table and some more odds and ends (The distinction between business and economy in a Lufthansa’s India bound carriers is quite stark). The most elemental of the entire experience would be the service of the stewards on board. Unobtrusive, definitely; extraordinary, not so much – that may also be because I tend to be self satisfied with whatever I have around me.
Lunch was not so far off since the take off, and out popped the folding-table and placed on it was crisp starched white linen, and on service was liquor. The difference again between economy and business was the quality served, nothing less than the best for the business class. Apart from the Bombay Sapphires and Jack Daniels, there was a detailed wine list on offer as well. Wines from France, Germany, South Africa and Bulgaria. The last one definitely caught my eye, especially since India in the last five years, has been introduced to some of the best wines from across the globe. The regions from Bordeaux to Loire to Napa Valley have been discussed in great depth amidst the connoisseurs, and being in midst of those conversations can often be daunting. Here, I had the opportunity to try out something which I had not heard of, and make my own judgement before listening to the theories. The wine in question was the Bulgarian wine under the name Enira, 2008 vintage from Pzarjik region, Bessa Valley Winery. The blend is old school French with Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot (they may seem complicated names but they’re just the different varieties of grapes that went into making the wine). The wine itself, unlike typical French did not overwhelm me. One of the biggest tests for my kind of red wine are the tannins, this one was mild and left a great aftertaste. If someone asks me about the nose, it was pleasing and the first taste was berryi-ish with a tinge of sweetness – I am still trying to develop my wine palate to reach more specific conclusions. All in all, I would definitely look forward to its entry into Indian shores.
While a great wine got the ball rolling, the hors d’oeuvres did nothing to disappoint me. Asparagus and chantrelle salad with king prawns, was a great way to start for a sea-food junkie. No stinginess when it came to the size or the numbers served (in most cases it is never enough), especially since it was all plated. And to add, the prawns were not massacred by over-cooking. The asparagus was nice and fresh, not too crunchy and not over cooked. The entrée or the main course offered fried breast of poulard in barbecue jus with stewed bell pepper and polenta. The barbecue sweetness of the jus and the earthiness of the polenta were a nice blend of flavours; the poulard was succulent, but it would have been preferable if the flavours of the jus married better with the flesh. The meal ended with a trio of fruit salad, chocolate mousse with Hawaiin sea salt and Key lime pie for the last cheese and dessert course. The stand-out here was the chocolate mousse and the slight drizzle of the sea salt on top was just a perfect end the richness of chocolate and the salt cutting right through the sweetness created a zing on the tongue. The key lime pie, with which I had great hopes, stood no where in comparison to the mousse while the fruit salad was quite forgettable.
The dinner did not leave a very strong an impression, but I was pleasantly surprised at Lufthansa’s chefs dexterity to make a perfect entrée – Macchi Tari Walli, Bhindi do Pyaza, Pulao Zeera (The in-flight menu described it as Marinated cod cooked in savoury tomato and tamarind sauce, stewed okra with red onions and, basmati and cumin). Most often Indian food is loaded with unnecessary pungency. Here the fish was moist and well cooked the tari had clean flavours and subtleties of the spices and ingredients coming through very well, same with the okras. In comparison, the couscous salad hors d’oeuvres was exceptionally bland, while for the dessert of the banana cake the saving grace was the good dash of cinnamon that went into the batter. The piece of banana topping on the cake was the worst, seemed like I had bitten into a piece of rubber – chewy, dry and flavourless.
If I were to compare the food, it was mediocre, and this is when I compare it to another flight I took back to India from Paris – on economy, the meal seemed more memorable to me. The service wasn’t bad either; the stewarding team did take the effort to ease any possible hassle a passenger may have. They were polite and not mean as often it is heard of. The upgraded experience over all wasn’t bad, and I wouldn’t mind getting used to it.