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"Palace In The Sky" - A First Class Meal on Air India
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Last week, I got a chance to sample the haute cuisine of Air India's First Class meal service flying between London and Mumbai. It's been over two years since I last flew Air India in First Class and the product has changed a lot since then, so I was looking forward to the experience. 

The flight time was a few minutes over 8 hours, of which the first 2 hours plus were taken up by the pre-meal cocktail service and the lunch service itself. I then reclined my sleeper seat into the flat position and slept for 4 hours, waking up just in time for the pre-arrival snack/light supper service. Since the flight experience pretty much revolved around the food, I figured that a "meal report" would probably be more appropriate than a "trip report". So voila, enjoy the illustrated experience of First Class lunch aboard Air India's "Palace In The Sky".

The experience started off soon after takeoff, when the Purser came around to take drink orders. I had enjoyed a few glasses of champagne earlier in the day, so I decided to take a pass on the alcohol and instead opt for a simple Coke with ice.

The drinks were accompanied by an assortment of cocktail snacks offered from a basket. The choices included Baked Lays potato chips, peanuts, smoked almonds, Moong dal mix and cashewnuts. I selected my favorite almonds and cashews and was offered a bowl with them, but asked for a plate instead so I could spred them out for better photographic effect. The plate itself was from Air India's award winning Royal Doulton bone china design series. 

Almonds and Cashew Nuts on a Royal Doulton bone china plate.

Soon after, the Assistant Purser came around to set my table for the meal service. He apologized for the plastic cutlery that we were being forced to use due to UK/US security regulations as he laid out the linen. The tray table was covered with a white tablecloth that sported a very fine Air India centaur logo in the weave. The knives, forks and spoons were laid out appropriately, as were two wineglasses in the top right. A bread plate was laid out in the bottom left, with a ceramic butter dish above it and Air India monogrammed salt-and-pepper shakers in the top left corner. A linen napkin was also provided that had the same fine Air India logo in its weave.

The first course to be offered was the salad course. Strangely enough, this was served in a small bowl rather than a larger clear glass bowl or plate that is more customary in North America. Nonetheless, a choice of dressings was offered and I chose Thousand Island. The Purser poured it for me from a silver gravy boat before placing the salad in the center of my placesetting. Bread was offered from a basket and I picked out a warm and fresh roll. To drink, I chose the champagne, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, as well as some bottled water. 

Fresh Salad and Veuve Clicquot champagne,

I'm not usually a salad person, so I simply pecked at it - using the bread to mop up a bit of the Thousand Island dressing. The Purser was very attentive and asked if he could add some dressing if the salad was not to my liking, but I declined and told him I would fill myself up on the other courses instead.

The next course to be offered was the caviar and Hors d'ouerve. This has always been my favorite course and today was no exception. The caviar was in a silver serving bowl on the cart and was scooped with what looked like a presumably imitation mother-of-pearl spoon. It was accompanied by a whole range of garnishes that included egg white, egg yolk, chives, chopped onions and sour cream. Melba toast was offered as an accompaniment.

The Hors d'ouerve were laid out on two silver serving platters (one each for vegetarian and non-vegetarian options) on the cart, but the Assistant Purser presented them for my inspection so I could choose what I wanted. I chose the Lobster and Shrimp Canape, the Smoked Salmon and the Chicken Breast Rondelle. Other options included Asparagus rolls, Dates stuffed with Mozzarella cheese and Grilled baby peppers with sundried tomato filling. In a nice touch, a shot of Stolichnaya Vodka was provided to accompany the caviar. My champagne glass was also refilled. Sliced Italian bread was offered from a basket to accompany the Hors d'ouerve.

Lobster and Shrimp Canape, Smoked Salmon, Chicken Breast Rondelle with Malassol Caviar and Stolichnaya Vodka

Onward to the next course in this feast. The assistant purser brought me a bowl of Cream of Mushroom soup piping hot from the galley, liberally sprinkled with croutons. This was accompanied by an offering of Italian crostini from a basket, to which I also helped myself. The champagne glass was topped up yet again.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

As I slurped my soup, I could smell the aroma of the entrees being heated with the faint sound of clinking china simply serving to whet my appetite. I was not to be disappointed, as the cart made its appearance again, this time laden with my choices for the main course.

Air India caters both Indian and Western food for their passengers and allows you to choose your items and quantity of each as they are served to you from the cart. Today's choices included Jumbo Shrimp Newburg, Jeera Pulao Rice, Lamb Nilgiri in a mint/coriander sauce, Black Lentil Kaali Dal, Chicken Biryani, Khichdi with Undhiyu (a Gujarati delicacy), Assorted Vegetables, Duchess Potatoes and Grilled Chicken Breast. I picked a nice fusion selection consisting of shrimp, rice, lamb, dal and biryani.

This was accompanied by a Pudinha (mint) Paratha, Papadums and Garlic bread offered from a basket. Spicy Indian pickle, sliced lemons, onions and yogurt raita were also available to those who wished to partake of them.

Finally, the purser recommended that I try the Beaujolais wine to accompany my selections and I took him up on that offer. It was an interesting flavor and complemented the food perfectly. Alas, I didn't bother to either save the menu or check the label so the oenophiles must go wanting for details.

Indian meal main course

Happily stuffed for now, I made the cardinal error of not saving space for dessert. This was in retrospect a bad move. As I leaned back with my wine, contemplating the tasty meal I had just devoured, the cart was slowly wheeling its way down the aisle towards me festooned with a wide array of sweet choices that my gastric system alas did not have sufficient space to process.

My first dessert option was the pastry platter featuring a selection of chocolate cake, fudge brownies and fruit tarts made from a variety of different fruits ranging from berries to oranges to kiwi.

Dessert selection from the cart.

The next option was a fruit salad platter - where the salad is mixed to order as you watch. The options for the salad were a fabulous medley of fruits that included melon, papaya, strawberry, kiwi, orange, sweet lime and pineapple.

Fruit salad platter

The option that I selected was the rasmalai, an indian pudding made from Ricotta cheese, milk and cashewnuts. This was accompanied by chocolate fondante offered from an elegantly arranged platter. Since I was photographing, the Purser insisted that I take one of each type available and include them in the shot.

Rasmalai and pralines

Yet another option for desert was the cheese tray, but I was not particularly impressed by the selection there. It appeared to me to have a selection of cheddar, camembert, brie and boursin along with celery and carrots - all served with a choice of crackers. The final option, which I was unable to photograph, was the ice-cream sundaes. I knew that I was stuffed when I had to decline the ice-cream!

Cheese selection

As we continued our flight over Eastern Europe, the Purser came around again to offer tea/coffee and liquers. I decided to skip the caffeine but requested a glass of Baileys Irish Cream with ice to put a perfect ending to the perfect meal.

Bailey's Irish Cream

And now in summary... where do I begin?

Not only were the portion sizes enough to feed a small country, but the food quality was also incredible. The only minor drawback was the plastic cutlery that has to be used on UK/US routes for "security reasons". Still, it was top quality plastic and I prefer it to a hybrid metal/plastic mix that many other airlines use. Nonetheless, the service was impeccable with everything dished out from silver platters onto Royal Doulton china. The Purser was also on the ball with some excellent wine recommendations to accompany each course (the Vodka shot with the caviar was a great touch). The crew also kept my wine/champagne/water glasses filled at all times. Alas, I was so stuffed by the time dessert rolled around that I could not sample everything I would have liked to despite the Purser's urgings. Special thanks to Purser S.K. and Inflight Supervisor R.R. for their great hospitality and a memorable flight.

This was an absolutely unbelievably fantastic meal fit for a Maharaja. Truly the "Palace In The Sky" experience.

 





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