Food Review

Food Review: Virgin Atlantic A330 Atlanta to London

Aboard my Virgin Atlantic flight from Atlanta to London, we sat waiting for everyone to board. Flight attendants made their way around the cabin offering pre-departure drinks for everyone in the business class cabin. I decided to try the campgne that was available. The campagne was middle of the road, nothing spectacular, definately didn't finish drinking it prior to takeoff.

Once in the air, service started for dinner. On this particular flight, I had ordered the VGML meal meaning that it was vegan. I make this warning to vegans out there, while I am currently vegetarian, I was a vegan for year, so I know what to look for when being served food. Many airlines will provide the main course as vegan, but snacks and other parts of the meal may not be as you specified. Making my case for me, the first thing brought over to me was a small bowl of chips (or crisps being that it was a London based airline). The chips were sour cream flavored... definitely not vegan, so keep an eye on what they are serving you. Since I am vegetarian, I tried the chips and wasn't impressed by the flavor, kind of bland.

Next up was the bread basket brought around by the flight attendants. Passengers were able to choose which type of bread they wanted, I decided to try the parmesan diamond, which was pretty good, but it's pretty hard to screw up bread.

Once all the bread was passed out, the meal began with everyone's starter. Since my meal was vegan, my starter was different from everyone else's. My starter consisted of some orange slices, lettuce and a lemon vinaigrette. Really the starter seemed odd, like the catering company just didn't know what to do. Settling on slicing some oranges, they added a vinaigrette... for some reason. The lemon vinaigrette didn't really go well with the oranges, the orange flavor ran over the lemon flavor of the dressing. At no point did I really understand this dish, but it was everything you'd expect from orange slices, they tasted like oranges. 

Following the starter came the main dish. When this dish arrived, I was a little skeptical because it was basically some sliced veggies in a tomato sauce. The dish just looked like little thought had been put into it. Presentation wise, the dish was well plated and the sliced vegetables reminded me of a ratatouille. When I took a bite of this, I was sold. This dish ranks up there amoung the top dishes I've ever been served on a plane, let alone vegan meals served on a plane. Virgin really knocked it out of the park.

The main dish was well seasoned, flavorful and cooked perfectly. Mixed in was a starch like a potato or something similar that gave the meal some weight and made it stick with you longer. I really enjoyed this meal. 

Once it was time for dessert, things were a bit confusing. Having ordered the vegan meal, I expected to get fruit for dessert, seems to be the only thing airlines think is vegan and sweet. Much to my surprise, I was told that they do not carry dessert for the VGML meal option... this seems like quite the oversight for a business class ticket. If paying full price for the ticket, I'm not sure I would have been all too happy with them on this one. 

Since a VGML option wasn't available, I chose to try the cheesecake. While it wasn't in line with the meal I had ordered, the cheesecake was quite good. Most cheesecake that I get is very heavy, but somehow this one didn't feel like that, it was more light and fluffy. Also inside the cake was cherries baked right in. In my opinion, I wish more cheesecake was made like this.

After dessert, we settled down for the remaining flight time to London.

Just before landing, the flight attendants woke me to have breakfast. Before the first meal out of Atlanta, we had filled out a breakfast card, once again no VGML meal was made available for breakfast... not exactly sure what is up with Virgin Atlantic but if I order a special meal, I really want that meal not some of a meal and a complete lack of breakfast. Either way, I tried some muesli for the first time and it was awful, just not my thing I guess, it was bland and tasted roughly like cardboard. 

Overall I found what meals they did offer to be decent. I was a little upset that after requesting a VGML meal option, they only carrier part of meals and missed some entirely. Virgin could stand to improve in this arena, more of their meal options need to be on the level that the dinner main course was.

ATL Restaurant Review: Fly Burger

Walking through Concourse B of Atlanta's main South terminal and you will cross paths with Fly Burger. The little burger restaurant near gate 27 features a hostess, waiters/waitresses, a long bar, and fast service. Sitting down to eat at the start of my 3 hour layover in Atlanta I was ready to try what Fly Burger had to offer. This restaurant had caught my eye on my first walk through 3 days earlier. 



One problem that flying as a vegetarian can quickly bring up is that food at the airport heavily features meat and can often make eating a decent meal difficult. Of course we can always go to the little convenience store that is found in every airport, but those options are mostly along the lines of candy, chips and a few granola bars. Places like these do not give a great flight experience, the more I eat chips and candy crap, the worse I feel. Smaller airports have this problem in abundance since they lack the customer draw at these smaller airport that would justify a restaurant opening with vegetarian options. If you are vegan, it's even harder. 

Fly Burger stood out to me on my way to New York because they offered a vegetarian option while laying over in the worlds busiest airport. When I found out my flight to Greenville would set me up in the exact same area as my flight to Syracuse did, I figured I'd stop and try their veggie burger on the return trip.

Fly Burger, as the name telegraphs, is a burger restaurant specializing in just that, burgers. When I sat down, I knew what I was ordering so I didn't look over the menu in detail. There are certainly other options such as sandwiches and the like, but why eat anything but a burger at a burger place, so I ordered my veggie burger and fries.

The menu splits all the meals, sides are sold separately from the burger. If you are vegetarian, you likely know that being vegetarian often means our meal choices tend to be lower cost. The veggie burger at Fly Burger was no different, being the lowest cost burger on the menu, just under $10. Of course the fries were more than $4, which is a little steep, but we're in an airport. Captive audience and all, we know to expect this type of pricing here.

Service was quick at Fly Burger, they turn tables over fast and for good reason. Most people in the airport aren't there for a leisurely meal, they want in and out to catch the flight they are waiting on. This restaurant delivers speed, and the waitress helping me was decent, she wasn't blow me away nice, but she wasn't rude either. After placing my order with her, it was not too long until the food was sitting in front of me. 

Veggie burgers can range in what constitutes them. In this case there was certainly some black beans, some corn and definitely a grain base as many restaurant level veggie burgers often are. The burger comes with tomato (I dislike these so I asked for the tomato to be left out), lettuce and red onion. First thing you'll likely notice is how huge the burger was. It looked like a small frisbee and overhung the bun by quite a large margin. 

The burger was soft and with ketchup added to the mayo that comes already applied, the burger was hard to keep on the bun. It kept trying to run away in one direction or another when you gripped the bun. Once I took a bite it was pretty obvious this was a pretty well made veggie burger and likely made in house. Take a few more bites and the one flaw becomes glaring, it is way way too salty. Now I enjoy a decent amount of salt on my food, but this was like a salt lick, way overboard. It's not immediately obvious, but that salt taste builds and builds on itself. The side of fries was very good, well balanced salt, but added to the burger it became too much.

So what would I suggest for this restaurant. Well if you like salt, try the veggie burger, it was a bit overwhelming toward the end of the meal, but that does not negate the fact that the burger was very tasty otherwise. I want to love this place, but salty food is pretty basic stuff, so at the end of the day I'm going to tell you to pass on this restaurant. It's got so many good things going for it, and maybe they had a bad day, but this was not well executed and salty food is something that puts people off. I hope they get a handle on this, but for me, I'll try something less salty next time.

Food Review: American Business Class 787-8 PEK to ORD

Airline: American Airlines

Flight: 186

Route: PEK - ORD

Aircraft: Boeing 787-8

Class: Business



Booking my trip to Beijing, I had taken advantage of a very cheap fare out of Chicago, only $500 for a round trip to the other side of the world. One issue with that is the length of the flight. Chicago to Beijing is a route that takes you over the North Pole and requires about 13 hours in the air. If I can at all help it, I want to stay out of economy class as much as possible these days, it gets more and more uncomfortable every time a new seat configuration is added. Business class is quite the opposite, so while business class was full on the way to China, the return trip had some open seats available, so I took advantage. Using some points and a little bit of cash, I upgraded to an open business class seat.

One minor issue here is that you only upgrade at the airport if seats are open. You can upgrade prior if there are upgrade seats open, but they were already taken on this flight, so I had to wait until at the airport to see if any seats were open, or if someone was upgraded ahead of me. Luckily I got the seat, but waiting until the last minute means you don’t get your requested meal if you ordered prior to the flight.

Boarding the aircraft, I was in seat 1H in the middle section, I’d prefer to have the seat next to a window, but I wasn’t going to complain about getting a lie flat seat for a 12 hours return flight. When the flight attendants came around with a menu, my flight attendant mentioned they had boarded a special meal for me… awesome, they had just told me they hadn’t back in the terminal. This was actually a half truth, they boarded 1 main dish that was vegetarian, the rest I was on my own. This sucks if you are vegan, but I do sometimes go off script for these reviews, so it was fine seeing as they always seem to carry a vegetarian option anyways.

The menu read as follows:

Before takeoff we were offered drinks. I chose the champagne here, though I’m not a big drinker, and this was the only alcohol I had the entire flight. The pre-departure champagne wasn’t too bad. Something I wouldn’t mind normally drinking at an event or celebration of some sort.

Shortly after, we all took our seats, made a really fast taxi to the runway and took to the skies. We climbed out of Beijing and made our way to cruising altitude. The ride was a bit bumpy, but soon we were cruising along with service starting.

Starters were brought out that consisted of a salad, bread and duck spring rolls. This is where I first got a feel that they didn’t actually board full vegetarian meals. I immediately had her take the duck back, and stuck with the salad. Dressing on the salad was between a honey mustard and something the flight attendant couldn’t actually figure out. Not a great sign when your server doesn’t know what's being offered. I stuck with the honey mustard and it was actually very good, along with a well made salad. As always, the pretzel bread was fantastic.

Next up was the main course. This was the only thing that was boarded as a vegetarian special meal. Not exactly sure why this option was offered and nothing else on the entire plane unless it was left from a previous business class passenger on the outbound flight since it seems they don’t cater much out of Beijing anymore due to very poor past experience with their catering services.

Plated was a pasta dish… *groan* the vegetarian go to for airlines. It was well cooked but had the most confusing sauce I’d ever seen. What was expected was a tomato based sauce, it sort of was, but it seems like they were attempting an Asian flair. Tasting the sauce immediately told you it wasn’t exactly tomato, it was more of a sweet and sour sauce, maybe, sort of… I really don’t know what it was, just that it was weird and I would never have ordered it on the ground, nor would I want to. Not that it was terrible, but it certainly wasn’t good. Food purgatory if you will.

Last up was dessert, I grabbed the berry tart, seemed to be the least dairy based option. Personally, and I know this is subjective, I like berries to be tart, or sour. Overly sweetened berries ruins a dessert for me, and this berry tart was a little too sweet. The sugar content didn’t completely ruin the food, but it was riding the border for me.

After this, the table was cleared and I settled in for some sleep, a lie flat seat can never be overstated, this is all I want for my flights anymore. Soon after lying back, I fell asleep… for many hours. When I awoke, all I heard was the plates of other passengers being cleaned up, I guess I missed the mid flight snack. Flight attendants handle midflight or even pre-arrival meals very differently depending on who you get. This flight attendant never woke anyone for anything. My preference is for an attendant to ask if I want to be awoken, as I review food and want to try what is offered so I can pass that on to everyone here. Needless to say, I was mixed on my feelings here, as I wanted to try some of it… but there were no fully vegetarian options available, so I would have had to have them custom make it without meat for this one. Maybe better I slept through this meal. Back to sleep I went.

Waking just before landing, the flight attendant asked what I wanted to try. The only option that was vegetarian was the quiche. Now no matter if I am giving in from vegan a little to review these meals or not, I still never want eggs, never have been a big fan, still don’t want them now that I don’t eat meat.

Only option is the only option though and I tried it. Actually a very, very good quiche, fairly close to some of the best I’ve had. This is quite impressive seeing as this may have been catered in Chicago, flown to Beijing, sat overnight and flown all the way back to Chicago before it was ever served and it still was on point. Well done American, good show.

Alongside the quiche was some grilled squash, potatoes, and a side salad. All of these were pretty great, though I always find a salad for breakfast weird. Last up was dessert, a sour cream ginger cake. I think I’ve mentioned how I’m not a huge ginger fan if it is prominent. Personally, ginger is a subtle added ingredient, not in your face and this cake was dense and in your face with ginger. Once again, not terrible, but I would have preferred something else.

Soon we were on the ground and performing a normal Chicago taxi fo roughly the same length as your flight time. Overall the food was actually pretty good with the exception of the main course for the first meal. Other than that misstep, the food was very well done. Nicely put together American, as a vegetarian meal goes it was something I actually quite enjoyed.

Vegetarian Food Review: American Economy 787-8 ORD to PEK



Airline: American Airlines

Flight: 187

Route: ORD - PEK

Aircraft: Boeing 787-8

Class: Economy

From start to finish, the flight attendant on our aisle was quite good. He had no problem joking around, a slightly dry sense of humor like my own, so I appreciated it. Service is certainly made better by a good crew, and this crew did not disappoint.

Food was another story though. When I experience the vegetarian meals out of Philadelphia, it has been historically bad, and Chicago managed to one up Philadelphia on this occasion. There is one thing that is very important when preparing a vegetarian meal, remembering that his too includes vegan, so don’t put milk in things!

As is the normal case for economy class meals, everything is shoved down in front of you in one single go, a case of needing to serve hundreds of people with a limited cabin crew in a short period of time. This is fine, comes with the territory of economy class, though often leaves me trying to find room to move trash and items around to find a place to get a utensil in to my food.

We started shortly after taking off with the dinner service. The meal started off with a drink, as has been the case recently, I went with my favorite sparkling water, I like this because my previous go to was cranberry juice, which has become so full of sugar that I actually feel terrible after drinking it during a flight. The drink was accompanied by a small bag of pretzels, yes they have in fact returned to the cabin for American Airlines economy, snacks are back.

After this, the main meal was delivered to me as the flight attendants made their way to the front of the cabin. The meal consisted of a salad, which is very common for economy meals. A piece of bread, and some balsamic dressing. The main course was called a 3 pepper bean medley. Fancy sounding name for the main, too bad the name was about the only creative thing about the meal.

First off, I opened all of the containers and immediately was greeted by cheese on the main course. A quick facepalm later, I read the dressing ingredients and saw milk. At this rate facepalming was going to give me brain damage. This was a properly labeled VGML meal, so it is in fact supposed to be both vegetarian and vegan according to American Airlines guidelines, and this is common across the industry. VGML meals are supposed to be both vegetarian and vegan. So right off the bat, Chicago had completely missed the mark, wildly. This give little confidence in meal preparation services, and make me question what other ingredients are being used that either aren’t labeled, or immediately obvious.

 Vegetarian/Vegan Economy Meal

Vegetarian/Vegan Economy Meal

After moving on from the massive blunder of not evening making a proper special meal, I dug into my meal. The bread was terrible, gritty, and mildly bitter. Not a pleasant piece of bread. Next up was the salad, with the dressing it was decent, hard to screw up leaves and dressing. Mixing up the main course, the 3 peppers were not obvious, I saw yellow peppers, not other kinds were obvious. The dish was mildly spicy and may have had a spicy pepper in it as another pepper. The beans were chickpeas and were well cooked. Really the sauce wasn't very pleasant, and I would  ever want this as a meal if I had the option.

Last was the classic dessert course, which is always honeydew melon for a vegetarian meal, would be nice to see this mixed up a bit. There are desserts that are vegan, while I like fruit, it would be nice to see some effort here. Also, the fruit was frozen, a bit of a thaw before placing it on board would have been great.

After that everyone settled in for a long flight. Somewhere over the north pole though,  everyone was woken up for a snack service. This was a small meal mid flight, though I found the timing odd as it was 1am Chicago time, the way things were run basically woke everyone up to serve a snack, might have been better to offer a quiet option of a snack and let other sleep if so desired.

The snack consisted of an apple and a wrap. Not hard get the apple right, so of course a good piece of fruit is always welcome. As for the wrap, it seemed to be made of rice and some other difficult to discern ingredients. Inside the wrap was a sauce/dressing of sorts, it was rather sweet but not terrible. Not exactly something I would order, but halfway good for an in flight economy meal.

A few more hours in the air and we were close to landing in Beijing. The last meal was considered a pre-landing snack. This consisted of more of the crappy bread they gave at the beginning of the flight, along with pasta, and some more damn honeydew melon. At this point I'm not sure I ever want to see honeydew melon again in my life, I get it so often on airplanes. The weird thing about the fruit is that the standard meal included a slice of melon, orange, and strawberry. So why couldn’t a similar fruit plate be included for the vegetarian meal?

The main was some kind of small pasta with a sauce that tasted like nothing. There were peppers in the pasta which is about the only flavor you received. Really this was probably the worst meal of the flight.

Soon after this we landed and disembarking into China. Overall, the flood was a pretty big flop here.

 

Vegetarian Food Review: American Airlines 777-200 Business Class London to Chicago

Airline: American Airlines

Flight: 91

Route: LHR - ORD

Aircraft: Boeing 777-200

Class: Business



As I boarded for economy class in London last week, I received a surprise free upgrade to business class. There is one major issue with a last minute upgrade like this, the food. While I had ordered food in economy class that was a vegetarian/vegan meal, I knew it wouldn't carry to my upgraded seat. Changing my class of service so late means there just isn't enough time to remake the meal and have it loaded onto the plane. The plane had already landed about 1 hour late and was delaying us as it was, so cater had long finished for this flight.

After boarding and taking my seat, I spoke to the flight attendant and he gave me a few options. I could either have my economy meal moved up to business class, or choose the vegetarian option available on the standard business class menu. I opted for the standard meal, as this was an unexpected business class review for me, I wanted to try a business class meal. Unfortunately these meals were loaded with dairy… not ideal, but I’ll try it and see how it is.

 Warm nuts and Sparkling Water

Warm nuts and Sparkling Water

On the menu, a pasta dish was the vegetarian option for this flight. This seems to be pretty standard for the regular meal portion, pasta always seems to be the go to. So I ordered that meal prior to takeoff. The rest of the menu was vegetarian as well, so there was no need to worry about that.

Let me take a quick moment to praise this crew. My previous experience with American Airlines international business class was out of Buenos Aires and completely terrible. Jeff was the flight attendant assigned to my aisle on this flight, and he was fantastic. Jeff was proactive, pleasant, and kept us informed when an oven wasn’t working during service. He immediately came back and explained that one oven wasn’t working and that meant that the main course would be slightly delayed. Still I think everything came out in a timely fashion, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the delay, but I really appreciated him informing us. This level of service carried through the entire flight.

Now for the first course, we were started off with a standard side salad. What was different from the salads I’ve received before, was there were a ton of toppings. Lots of peppers, some parmesan cheese, though once again we received some bad balsamic vinaigrette. It always seems to be the same brand that I have an issue with, the oil always tastes off in the dressing. Overall, the salad was quite good though, despite the sub par dressing.

Alongside the salad was the appetizer, a caprese salad with a pesto sauce. Now I don’t eat cheese almost ever, but this cheese and pesto combination was fantastic. I’m already a huge pesto fan as is, put that on top of what tasted like fresh mozzarella and it became a winning combination. As for the tomato portion of the dish, I can’t say, personally I dislike tomatoes so that portion of the dish is going to have to be left to your imagination. Quickly on the topic of presentation, the attendant preparing the meals was great, the presentation for this meal was spot on and nowhere was it more apparent than with the appetizer.

 Appetizer

Appetizer

Other portions of the first course were a seltzer water, yes I’m that boring, though the champagne on the ground was actually quite good. We were also offered our bread choice… naturally my love for pretzel bread won out here and as per usual it was fantastic.

After a few minutes wait due to the oven issue that Jeff had made us aware of, it was time for the main course. I had chosen the pasta with a cheese filling and a cream sauce. It was paired with some vegetables. Now the vegetables really needed to be more of a star in this dish. There were only two small pieces of asparagus and two small pieces of green bean. Neither of them went  particularly well with the cream sauce that was plated with the pasta. Preferably the dish would have been far less cream sauce, if any, and many more veggies.

 Main Corse

Main Corse

One thing the sauce did go well with was the pasta. Even though dairy is cut out of my daily life, cheese is probably the one thing that I still want to eat. From the cheese filling, to the pasta, to the sauce, this part of the dish was very well executed. It is fairly difficult to screw up pasta, other airlines have proved in the pasta that pasta can be very poorly executed. Not on this flight, the main course was quite good. Also, the portions for the other dishes seemed to be much larger. I really appreciated that the portion size for this dish wasn't too big. There are many courses to a meal like this and it is good that I never felt like I was overeating.

Lastly was dessert… which i didn’t have. Most people seem to choose the ice cream. My guess is that under this assumption, the other options are not stocked very well. Since I am toward the back of the business class section, the chocolate mousse was gone by the time I had a chance to choose. So I was left with dairy or dairy… i.e. cheese plate or the ice cream. I chose to pass on this, as I really didn’t want any more dairy in this meal.

Once dinner was cleared, I lounged in my seat and slept for a few minutes… angle flat seats suck. We passed over Canada and just as we were crossing back over into the US, it was time for our pre-landing snack… or lunch…. Weird to call it lunch since it was 7pm in the US and 3am in London… not sure which timezone they were referring to, oh well, time to try some more food.

The pre landing snack is all brought out on a single tray, which is fine for this portion of the flight. Once again a salad was served, and again many veggies on top were much appreciated. This time though, it was served with a lemon vinaigrette. I have never seen a lemon vinaigrette on the ground, but this is the second time I’ve had it in the air, I find that a little odd. However, once again, the lemon dressing was very very good.

For the main portion, there was a red pepper flat bread. I’d call it more of a pizza, but flat bread sounds more fancy so let's go with what they called it. Cheese topped, sauce and indeed red peppers. This was very well executed and tasty fantastic. Really this meal was one of the best I’ve had on a flight, surpassed only by the amazing Indian vegan food on United. Credit to the catering team out of London, what great meals came out of their kitchens.

 Pre-Landing Snack

Pre-Landing Snack

Overall I have to take one more chance to praise this crew, they were professional, pleasant, and proactive. Every course came with the offer of a beverage, and even in between service portions of the flight, they responded quickly to coffee requests from my seat mates. Really top notch crew, and showed the night and day service options when compared to the terrible crew out of Buenos Aires. While I would suggest avoiding the angle flat seats, the soft product (food and service) was incredible. 10 out of 10, would fly again as they say… fantastic flight.