It’s not every day you get to eat a meal on a plane that’s not going anywhere. But it does happen. Last month, Qatar Airways hosted a phenomenal dinner party inside one of its planes at Dulles International Airport, which serves Washington, D.C. A handful of local bloggers and journalists were invited to attend a dinner showcasing Qatar’s business-class dinner service, without ever leaving the ground. I was lucky enough to participate, and it was one of the greatest dining experiences I’ve ever had.
At around 5:45 p.m. about 20 people gathered at the Qatar Airways counter, and we received our "tickets" to Doha, Qatar. We were then escorted through security and continued onto the plane. I sat down in seat 3F, wrapped myself in a soft Qatar Airways blanket, and made myself comfortable. The seat, which reclined all the way flat, had so much leg room that I (all 5 feet, 9 inches of me) could extend my legs straight out while sitting up. Before I had a chance to introduce myself to my neighbor, I was presented with two glasses of bubbly. With Bollinger Rosé and Billecart-Salmon Champagne in-hand and warm toasted nuts in front of us, we listened to the pilot playfully tell us over the loudspeaker that we were experiencing some "technical difficulties," and we’d be staying on the ground tonight. "Enjoy your dinner," he said. And we did.
To kick off the night, Qatar Airways master of wine James Cluer gave a brief description on how he and his team select wines to serve onboard. Attention to detail, understanding how wine behaves at various altitudes, and initial budgeting are all key to developing a broad and varied wine portfolio. Cluer has even tasted many of the wines on the menu at the base of Mount Everest to gain a better understanding of how the flavor profiles change at cruising altitudes. At this point, you might be wondering, as I was, how an airline based in a sovereign Arab state negotiates serving alcohol onboard. According to Cluer, international airline Qatar Airways serves alcohol as a way to appeal to a wider market.
Following the wine discussion, the flight attendants started taking orders for dinner. The menu was extensive and developed by world-renowned chefs Nobu Matsuhisa, Tom Aikens, Vineet Bhatia, and Ramzi Choueiri. In business class, meals are served à la carte, and I chose a mushroom-rice fritter as a starter. It was so flavorful — crispy on the outside, earthy and rich on the inside — and served on a small salad. It was a delicious precursor to what turned out to be a fantastic meal. Next, I opted for some vegetarian harira soup and was not disappointed. It was fresh and lemony, with a slight heat. I wanted to eat all of it, but figured I should probably leave room for my main meal. I’m glad I did. My entrée, a lemon and goat’s cheese ravioli with basil cream sauce, was amazing. Rich goat cheese with a light, herby cream sauce and balanced with bright lemon, was something that I’d expect to find in an upscale restaurant, not on an airline menu. I’m not knocking airline food; it’s great that we’re able to eat safe, mostly palatable food on airlines, but this makes every other airline meal I’ve eaten (and I’ve had my fair share) pale in comparison. With each course, we were treated to a delicious wine pairing from the à la carte menu. I chose a Terra-Barossa shiraz to go with my main course and really enjoyed it.
For dessert, I ordered chocolate delice with saffron ice cream, but unfortunately, the event was running late, and I didn’t get to eat it. My rate of consumption wasn’t fast enough to taste everything. Had we actually been flying to Doha, I’m sure I would have been able to keep up.
As all good things go, the evening came to an end. The plane was being cleaned for an actual flight, with actual paying customers, and the airline was actually taking them to Doha. I debated offering to stay to serve as quality assurance, as the airline prides itself on the caliber of its in-flight food and drink options. At one point, Cluer mentioned that they strive to pour wines fit to serve the queen. Well, if you ask me, if it’s good enough for a queen, it’s good enough for me.