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Gourmet graze at 38 000 feet!


IN the past, I’ve not been the greatest fan of in-flight airline food, often declining it and invariably refusing to pay the surcharge (usually 15 British pounds) for “optional” meals served on no frills, no fuss, cheapo overseas operators, such as Thomas Cook Airlines.

Dusty Miller

Reasons are several: a perceived lack of quality or quantity in airline offerings; lack of appetite, often related to the odd and unusual times meals are served and sometimes the anticipated difficulty in physically eating and digesting sub-standard bland graze in cramped conditions.

Few people would want to devour an underwhelming helping of plastic stodge, using plastic cutlery on plastic plates at (say) 6pm when Expected Time of Arrival is 7 and there’s an invitation to a gourmet supper at 8 o’clock!

Returning (but not really looking forward to it) from Adelaide in South Australia to Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital) recently I told my family I didn’t want a heavy farewell dinner at their home before checking in at 9pm, but lunch out at a quaint pub simply called British (established 1838) would be fun. (Soup of the day: creamy cauliflower A$8,90; Cooper’s Pale Ale-battered fish – two huge fillets — and chips and salad A$21,90)

So we had tea and the last of my daughter-in-law’s excellent Christmas cake at around 7pm. I avoided temptations of the buffet in the Qantas Business and First Class Lounge but even so couldn’t do complete justice to Emirates’ dinner served somewhere above the Outback at around 11:30pm!

Predictably, I managed a starter of juicy, plump Thai-style prawns in a salad, with cherry tomatoes and cashew nuts, drizzled with a sweet chilli dressing. This came with my third (and last) glass of chilled Moet & Chandon NV Champagne and lovely bread rolls.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a guided tour of the spotless Emirates kitchens in Dubai, when they produced a mere 166 000 meals a day for airline passengers circumnavigating the globe, plus prestigious Emirates-sponsored sporting and cultural events in the UAE. The bakery was especially impressive.

I enjoyed Arabic-style tomato soup and a seasonal salad, but declined main course dishes of roast rack of lamb with rosemary and mashed green peas, or pan-seared barramundi (a delicious Australian fish) with lemon veloute sauce and roast sweet potato, or chicken biryani.

The courses arrived on sensibly sized trays with crisp linen and heavy stainless steel cutlery including serrated-edged steak knives!, good quality glassware and china. A far cry from Thomas Cook’s fifteen quid meal in a flimsy cardboard box!

I caught up with neighbours at pudding stage, relishing a lime (not lemon and much nicer) meringue tart with raspberry coulis. There was also chocolate and caramel dome, a selection of wonderful fresh fruit and/or a faultless cheese board, tea, coffee and luxury chocolates.

A signpost near Adelaide says it’s 10 324km to Pretoria, so I guess it’s about the same distance (as the Jumbo flies) to Harare. But from Adelaide, you fly 11 017 km to Dubai, then another 8 000km to Zim!

You get to Adelaide’s magnificent airport just before dusk and take off in pitch black; fly 14 hours in total darkness outside the plane and land in Dubai just before dawn! The jet-lag is cruel!

Roughly half way into the journey, “light bites” are served: a cold snack of smoked chicken panini or hot seafood thermidore croustade, spinach and ricotta pie or beef and bean enchiladas. There was a selection of continental pastries and more hot drinks. And folk attacked these dishes as if they hadn’t eaten for a month!

An hour before touchdown, breakfast comes! Fruit juice, fresh fruit, great yoghurt, which were enough for me with a croissant, jam and coffee. For real gourmands there was a choice of cheese and chive omelette served with grilled smoked chicken sausages (I loved these at the Copthorne Hotel in Dubai en route out) rosti potatoes, baked beans and roast tomato.

There are scores of restaurants at Dubai Airport to help kill a four hour wait for the Harare flight and the Business Class lounge food and drinks range is world class. I envied a bunch of Australian guys about my age slurping bottle after bottle of free Peroni beer at 6:15am local time!

Soon after takeoff for Harare, between conventional breakfast and lunchtime, you are offered a deli platter of gourmet sandwiches, curried vegetable pie, mini cheese ravioli or the dish that got me: lovely fried udong noodles with prawns and white shimeji noodles. Just a small portion, you understand! Strawberry and mango tart was available afterwards.

Then came lunch at what my notebook says was 3pm. Whether that was three o’clock Dubai time or Harare time I can’t recall; or maybe 3pm over the Horn of Africa? It certainly wasn’t 3pm South Australian Daylight Saving time, as they are eight-and-a-half hours ahead of us: hence my chronic jet-lag.

The “midday” meal comprised a choice of appetisers: traditional “local” Arab mezze, marinated lamb loin, or tomato soup with fried croutons. These preceded prawn machbous (a bit like a biryani) or roast chicken with Portobello mushrooms or beef rendang with pak-choy and coconut-infused rice.

I had soup and the prawns and ended with dried fig flan; or there was caramelised walnut cheesecake, the splendid cheeseboard, or fresh fruit.

Can you believe Emirates even try to feed you on the last leg between Lusaka and Harare…a 45 minute hop? At least one couple in Business Class accepted and hurriedly wolfed down a tray of selected fruits, cold platter of smoked salmon and roast beef, bread basket, berry cheesecake and tea or coffee!

I crashed out for three hours on arriving home and, after a scolding shower, really enjoyed Heinz Baked Beans on toast with HP Sauce and a mug of cocoa. All made with my own fair hands.

The next night and the last three I couldn’t have showered, cooked or made a brew as we’d no Zesa. Welcome back to Zanu PF’s idea of reality, Miller!


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