Here's what it's like to dine in first class at 35,000 feet

ANA 777-300ER First ClassDavid Slotnick/Business Insider

  • This past winter, I used credit card points to fly in first class on Japanese airline All Nippon Airways, or ANA.
  • While bigger and more private seats are an obvious feature of first class, the biggest differentiator between first and business class is the food and drink service.
  • From sashimi to steak, it was an incredible experience. Read on to see what it's like to dine during a flight in first class.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As airlines compete with each other for premium passengers, international business class cabins are becoming more and more luxurious, getting closer to what first class seats look like.

However, for airlines that still offer international first class, the difference between first class and business class can cost thousands of dollars - so there's a need to make the top product distinct enough to command that price premium.

Aside from bigger and more private seats, the main way to do that: offer more over-the-top service, featuring lavish meals, top-shelf liquor, and champagne that normally retails for hundreds of dollars.

This past winter, my wife and I used our credit card points to book $20,000 roundtrip first-class tickets to Tokyo on the Japanese airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) for about $250 each - you can read about how we did it. The seats were great, but the meal service was over-the-top fantastic.

From sashimi, to waygu beef seared to a perfect medium, to a perfect miso soup, here's what it's like to dine in first class.

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The feast began with an amuse-bouche plate, consisting of four bite-size morsels: a roasted duck and kumquat pincho, a grape and goat cheese ball coated in crushed pistachio, smoked salmon and scallop tartare served in a puff pastry, and a sharp cheese and pepper bar.

The feast began with an amuse-bouche plate, consisting of four bite-size morsels: a roasted duck and kumquat pincho, a grape and goat cheese ball coated in crushed pistachio, smoked salmon and scallop tartare served in a puff pastry, and a sharp cheese and pepper bar.

As we snacked on the amuse–bouche plate, flight attendants came by to take our lunch orders. There was a Japanese cuisine option, and an "international" one. I went with the Japanese — I mean, how could you not?

As we snacked on the amuse–bouche plate, flight attendants came by to take our lunch orders. There was a Japanese cuisine option, and an "international" one. I went with the Japanese — I mean, how could you not?

After she took my lunch order, the flight attendant came to set my table for lunch.

After she took my lunch order, the flight attendant came to set my table for lunch.

The first course, the "zensai" appetizer, was an eclectic mix of small Japanese bites, most of which I'd never tried before. All of it was delicious.

The first course, the "zensai" appetizer, was an eclectic mix of small Japanese bites, most of which I'd never tried before. All of it was delicious.

Here's what the menu listed.

Here's what the menu listed.

Next came the soup — a clear broth with vegetables and a scallop fish cake. After the strong flavors of the first course, it was a nice palate cleanser.

Next came the soup — a clear broth with vegetables and a scallop fish cake. After the strong flavors of the first course, it was a nice palate cleanser.

Next came a fabulous sashimi course, consisting of a lightly seared yellowtail.

Next came a fabulous sashimi course, consisting of a lightly seared yellowtail.

Next came the entree. There was a grilled sablefish in a sweet soy-based sauce, steamed alfonsino fish with grated turnip, a tasty crab meat salad with mascarpone and avocado, steamed rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables. It was incredible, and quite filling.

Next came the entree. There was a grilled sablefish in a sweet soy-based sauce, steamed alfonsino fish with grated turnip, a tasty crab meat salad with mascarpone and avocado, steamed rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables. It was incredible, and quite filling.

For dessert, I had a few different things: a red bean pastry, a flan-like pudding, and a cup of fresh green tea.

For dessert, I had a few different things: a red bean pastry, a flan-like pudding, and a cup of fresh green tea.

One of the highlights of the airline's first class service is an extensive list of "Light Dishes Anytime." While I was very full after the initial feast, the flight is a long 14 hours, and I woke up from a nap a few hours later feeling peckish.

One of the highlights of the airline's first class service is an extensive list of "Light Dishes Anytime." While I was very full after the initial feast, the flight is a long 14 hours, and I woke up from a nap a few hours later feeling peckish.

I had the "Tea-and-rice" with shredded chicken and chopped Japanese plum. It was a light savory, salty snack — perfect for mid-flight.

I had the "Tea-and-rice" with shredded chicken and chopped Japanese plum. It was a light savory, salty snack — perfect for mid-flight.

Before we landed, the flight attendants came by to offer a final light meal. Who was I to say no? I had the udon noodles with deep-fried tofu, which, despite the fact that we were on an airplane, was actually crispy...

Before we landed, the flight attendants came by to offer a final light meal. Who was I to say no? I had the udon noodles with deep-fried tofu, which, despite the fact that we were on an airplane, was actually crispy...

And a small fruit salad.

And a small fruit salad.

On the return flight, I decided to try the "international cuisine," just for a point of comparison.

On the return flight, I decided to try the "international cuisine," just for a point of comparison.

It started with a slightly different amuse-bouche plate: a pistachio-coated nut stick, duck prosciutto wrapped around a marinated mushroom, an apricot and butter roll, and a smoked scallop with mandarin orange sauce.

It started with a slightly different amuse-bouche plate: a pistachio-coated nut stick, duck prosciutto wrapped around a marinated mushroom, an apricot and butter roll, and a smoked scallop with mandarin orange sauce.

For the appetizer, I had the "gâteau style of homard and its consommé gelée," or lobster served in a gelled stock, which was served with caviar. The lobster was tasty, but the texture wasn't my favorite.

For the appetizer, I had the "gâteau style of homard and its consommé gelée," or lobster served in a gelled stock, which was served with caviar. The lobster was tasty, but the texture wasn't my favorite.

Next was a crisp and fresh garden salad ...

Next was a crisp and fresh garden salad ...

... followed by the main course, for which I ordered a grilled wagyu beef with pancetta and tarragon sauce, which was served with a tasty lotus root pancake.

 ... followed by the main course, for which I ordered a grilled wagyu beef with pancetta and tarragon sauce, which was served with a tasty lotus root pancake.

Considering that this was steak served on an airplane, I was tremendously impressed. It was melt-in-your-mouth, and while it wasn't quite as rare as some might like, it was delicious, and not overcooked.

Considering that this was steak served on an airplane, I was tremendously impressed. It was melt-in-your-mouth, and while it wasn't quite as rare as some might like, it was delicious, and not overcooked.

For dessert, I had the blood orange and lychee mousse, which came with a meringue.

For dessert, I had the blood orange and lychee mousse, which came with a meringue.

Finally, for the pre-landing meal, I had a fruit plate with a couple of rolls.

Finally, for the pre-landing meal, I had a fruit plate with a couple of rolls.
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