Emirates is well-known for its extravagant first class and business class perks. I assumed that would mean the food would be gourmet fine dining.
It did not disappoint.
The business class lounge alone has five main dining areas, three "concept areas," and partnerships with luxe brands like Moët & Chandon and Voss water. The flight featured three-course white tablecloth meals with craft cocktails and a selection of four wines.
My Emirates dining adventure began with the business class lounge, which I visited several hours before my flight. The Concourse B lounge I was in is one of six Emirates lounges in Dubai International Airport. It was refurbished two and a half years ago for $11 million and still looks sparkling new.
I got the greatest hits of the food stations. I ended up with the okonomiyaki rice, teriyaki chicken, a fish masala, an Oreo cheesecake, and a dark chocolate raspberry truffle. It wasn't Michelin-star food, but it was well made and light-years above what you usually find in a lounge.
After spending four hours exploring Emirates' business class lounge and all it had to offer, it was time for my first taste of business class. After getting settled and watching the safety videos, I was ready for the Emirates' culinary experience.
It started before take-off. A flight attendant dropped off the menu and wine list. We hadn't even taken off yet.
A few minutes after take-off, flight attendants came by with damp, lemony towels to wipe our hands with. They were piping hot.
Before we could get started with the meals, I had to read the novel-length menu. There were four wine choices ...
... a selection of cocktails, liquors, and aperitifs; a rundown of the night's dinner options (with a short essay on Red Leicester cheese for some reason?) ...
... and the options for any time snacks and breakfast. The flight attendant came around and took orders for both meals at once. I ordered the last Gruyere omelet for breakfast.
A flight attendant took drinks orders. I got a Manhattan, both my go-to drink and my destination. They used solid whiskey (Woodford Reserve), but went a little heavy on the vermouth, giving it an overly acidic aftertaste. It's hard to complain, though: I was playing Pac-Man and drinking a cocktail on a plane.
After pulling a thick table from the console next to my seat and laying down a white tablecloth, a flight attendant offered the wines on selection. Longtime readers will know I rarely drink on flights. It's a one-way ticket to a migraine for me. But I decided to switch it up and get the Spanish white wine. It was crisp and acidic.
The silverware is, in fact, silver. Or, at least, a heavy metal that doesn't feel like flimsy tin or plastic.
For my first course, I ordered the traditional Arabic mezze. I reasoned that cold dips would taste better than a mushroom soup.
Flight attendants came around with a selection of fresh breads to go with dinner. I selected the brown bread, but was disappointed there was no sourdough.
Each meal comes with a small seasonal salad and a little bottle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.
The mezze included four small portions of cold Arabic appetizers, including a roasted eggplant salad, hummus, sautéed spinach with chickpeas, and stuffed grape leaves.
Between the pita that came with the mezze, the brown bread, and the dinner roll, I had a lot of options to dip into my hummus. Having spent the last three months in North Africa and the Middle East, I consider myself a minor expert on hummus. Emirates' version was creamy yet textured and tasted like it had been made fresh, not scooped from a Sabra container.
The roasted eggplant salad had a sharp tang and a citrusy aftertaste. The sautéed spinach was forgettable and I ate the grape leaves so fast (they're one of my favorite foods) that I can't remember any of the flavors.
For dinner, I ordered grilled veal loin, which came swimming in a mushroom sauce with green beans, veal rashers, and potato gratin.
I was worried that the veal would be dry, having had my share of overcooked airplane meats. Instead, I found the veal was moist and cooked medium. It wasn't juicy, but the savory mushroom gravy took care of that. The sauce was sprinkled with cilantro, which brightened the dish with a fresh flavor.
By no means did the food taste as if it were cooked by Gordon Ramsay— I don't think there's a chef's kitchen at the back of the plane — but it adequately mimicked a fine-dining restaurant. The potato gratin, for example, was layered with gooey cheese throughout and topped with a cheese crust as though it had been finished in an oven.
Shortly after I finished dinner, the team brought over dessert. I ordered the cheese board. It included an aged Dutch gouda, a mild French rind cheese, and a creamy blue cheese. All three were excellent. The gouda, in particular, had an umami sharpness I typically associate with hard Italian cheeses.
As if reading my mind, the flight attendant brought over a two-pack of chocolates which consisted of a dark sea salt square and a white chocolate truffle.
After my meal, I took a nap. A few hours later, I got up to see what was in the lounge area in back. The best part of business class is that it is always stocked up with drinks and snacks like fresh fruits, sandwiches, pastries, chips, and other goodies.
The oranges were fresh, but the cherries were out of season.
The flight attendants are excellent bartenders. After watching a movie, I went to the cocktail lounge at the back of the plane for a drink. The bartender mixed up an experimental drink at my request, turning a cucumber fizz mocktail into an alcoholic drink.
A couple hours before landing, flight attendants came around with another round of hot towels.
After the hot towels came the final meal, final meal: breakfast.
It came with these two cute little salt and pepper shakers.
Breakfast came with pan-fried chicken sausages, which were crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside ...
... sautéed spinach ...
... button mushrooms, which were meaty and tender ...
... pan fried potatoes, which I wished were crispier, but had plenty of flavor ...
... and an omelet loaded with Gruyere cheese. After having so many airplane egg dishes that tasted like a sponge, this actual omelet was a revelation.
A flight attendant came around with coffee, tea, and a selection of pastries. I grabbed a croissant. It wasn't a croissant from Paris, but it was a lot better than most of the croissants I'd had in the Middle East and North Africa over the previous three months.
There was also a selection of fresh fruit, which included strawberries, pineapple, orange, blueberries, and melon.
The final part of breakfast was a mango yogurt. Then they cleared the setting and we prepared for landing.