You know the first thing I order when I arrive in the UK, but what is the last thing I eat before I leave? Even though I love plane food, I think if it were British Airways's fish pie, I would be too depressed for words.
Instead, since the culinarily inspired Terminal 5 opened at Heathrow this year, my last bite out of Britain is Gordan Ramsay's Plane Food. If you have time to kill, by all means, take a seat and order à la carte. The restaurant serves such refined fare as Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Parfait with Sauternes Jelly and Red Onion Marmalade or Roast Barbary Duck Breast with Orange Braised Chicory—beats my La Guardia slice of pizza. Even if you're short on time, the restaurant offers 25- and 35-minute menus, sure to get you to your gate well-fed by take off.
But my choice for the seven-hour return home is the plane picnics: three courses plus bread and olives all served in a covetable and keepable Gordon Ramsay insulating picnic bag. Choose from 4 selections in 3 courses, to create your own perfect plane meal. I had the Caesar Salad with Pancetta and Soft Boiled Egg, the Roast Beef, Truffle, and Watercress Sandwich with Green Bean Salad, and the English Cheese Selection with Quince and Biscuits, as well as the Tiger Prawn Salad with Watercress and Soy Sesame Dressing, the Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Sandwich with Apple and Walnut Salad, and the Pear Cheesecake Tart with Caramel.
At first I was skeptical: I harbor suspicions of disappointment for big names and takeout, independently. So, I was elated when I could taste truffles with the roast beef--they were not there in name alone. I adored the Smoked Salmon Sandwich, which, unlike most traditional plane food, had a distinct sharpness of flavor, as did the Caesar Salad with its sweet pancetta and briny dressing. The biscuits in the Cheese Selection were slightly soft, but the cheeses ran the gamut from piquant to inoffensive perfectly.
The appeal is the balance that Plane Food strikes: the picnic does taste restaurant quality, with a meticulous amount of consideration paid to both flavor and presentation, but the meals also have the inherent appeal of regular plane food—the many little courses all assembled to be picked at and indulged in while watching the latest James Bond flick out of the back of the seat in front of you.
As I looked around me in coach, and heard the other passengers choosing between beef lasagna and chicken with ratatouille (both admittedly unrecognizable), I smiled away my lack of elbow room and unzipped my picnic. As I opened one little package of mile-high happiness after another, I noticed a few covetous glares from the rows nearby—looks of jealousy that I usually reserve only for first class passengers. In times like these, there may not be room for a lot of luxury—but at £11.95 per picnic, it was worth the upgrade. For the duration of my meal, I felt like I was up at the front of the plane—proving that food, like airplanes, can take you places.
Plane Food reminds me of a Scottish classic: I'll take the high road, and you'll take the low—and I'll feel full, fall asleep, and arrive in customs afore ye.
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